The evidence shows that competing in the Scottish Open greatly boosts a player’s chances of Open success the following week.
The top professional golfers take differing approaches when it comes to their preparation for the sport’s most significant championships. Some like to be well rested, others to be battle hardened. When it comes to The Open Championship, recent evidence would suggest that the latter strategy is the most fruitful.
In 2011 the Scottish Open, played the week preceding The Open Championship, moved from Loch Lomond to the links at Castle Stuart. Since that year, The Open Championship has been won only once by a player who did not compete the previous week in the Scottish Open.
Darren Clarke won at St George’s in 2011 having played in the rain-shortened Scottish Open at Castle Stuart. In 2012, Ernie Els played at Castle Stuart before heading to Lytham and claiming his second Open title.
In 2013, Phil Mickelson won a playoff at Castle Stuart and took that form on to Muirfield where he produced a fabulous final round of 66 to claim the Claret Jug. It should be noted that Henrik Stenson finished second to Phil in East Lothian that year. He too had played at Castle Stuart… Both were back to compete on the coast of the Moray Firth in 2016 before heading south to do battle for the year’s third Major at Troon.
2014 saw the Scottish Open travel to the links at Royal Aberdeen. Rory McIlroy teed it up there and played four solid rounds before he went and tore it up around Hoylake and claimed his first Open title.
In 2015 Zach Johnson won at St Andrews; the only year in the last six that the Open champion had not played in the Scottish Open the week before. That might say something about the unique nature of the Old Course – It’s so different to any other track that playing links golf in preparation is less important, the skills required on The Old are slightly different to those demanded by more typical British links tracks.
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Last year both Henrik Stenson and Phil Mickelson honed their links games in the Scottish Open before their epic encounter at Royal Troon. In fact, looking at the top-10 finishers at Royal Troon, no fewer than seven had competed the previous week in the Scottish Open.
In his press conference yesterday at Birkdale, Stenson spoke about how important he feels it is to play in the Scottish Open, “It is a big benefit,” he said. “Looking at my last four Open championships before this one, I went and played the Scottish Open twice, and finished second and first at the Open. And the two times I didn’t go I finished around 40th. I think for me it’s crucial, both to play the week before the Major is ideal for me, and also playing links because you just get in kind of that mindset of where you’re going to land the ball and playing the three-quarter shots in the crosswinds. It is a bit of a different game. It will be like coming from clay going into Wimbledon; you wouldn’t do that. It’s certainly a benefit to play the week before.”
So five of the previous six Open champions competed on the links the week before the Open and last year seven of the top-10 finishers had played the Scottish Open. It seems to pay to play Scottish.