On the big screens in the media centre a continuous loop of footage from past Lytham Opens is playing. I’ve just watched Seve’s heroics in 1979 and 1988 then the US triumphs by Lehman and Duval in 1996 and 2001 respectively. It’s a great way of building the anticipation and excitement amongst the throngs of eager journalists who are gathering to cover the 141st Open Championship. Well, they look pretty eager at any rate.
The course I’m looking at on the screen is rather a different one to that which lies outside the doors of our cosy tent right now. The old coverage is showing: drives that hit the ground and run forever, chip shots that release and scamper up the green, sandy lies and … yes, yes ok, it looks like links golf.
Well, a quick tour on arrival confirmed the inevitable. Rather than being brown and firm, Lytham is very green and not very firm. But, with as much rain as the UK has been subjected to over the last month or so, I’d say it seems to be holding up pretty well: The fairways and greens look pristine and the bunkers immaculate. The rough is up (as you’d expect) but it doesn’t, perhaps, look quite as brutal as I’ve seen at other links courses in recent weeks.
There are, apparently, real concerns about standing water (in the bunkers especially,) and there’s talk that the water table is so high that another couple of downpours could tip it over the edge.
On my first stroll onto the course I watched Luke Donald and Lee Westwood play up the 2nd. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a huge gallery following a group on the Monday of Open week. It’s indicative of the huge level of support and expectation these two guys will carry on their shoulders this week. There’s huge pressure on both these guys to break their duck at the outset of every Major championship, but that pressure is ramped even further when the Major in question is being hosted in their home country. Let’s hope one, or both, of them can thrive on it this week and silence the critics.
So, because of the weather in the build up to the week, this is going to be a slightly different Open Championship. Unless the wind blows, the players will likely be able to play a far more aerial game than we would normally see beside the seaside.
That was reflected by what I witnessed out on the practice ground. There, Jason Dufner was booming high-flighted long-irons while Angel Cabrera launched towering drives off towards the horizon. There was no sign of anybody trying to perfect the low punchy chaser. Even two-time champion Padraig Harrington was flopping up high shots with a sand wedge.
That theme continued on the chipping green. I watched Martin Laird, Thongchai Jaidee and Branden Grace for 10 minutes or so. All had out a lofted wedge and were practising flop shots that were landing softly on the green and rolling on only a few feet or so.
When Cabrera turned up, his display took the cake. He dropped about 10 balls at one end of the chipping green – roughly 35 yards long – and proceeded to flop each of them about 50 feet into the air, landing them at the most distant flag at the far end. He was taking a full-blooded swing with no fear of the crowds behind the small wooden barrier, just 10 yards behind where his shots were landing. Either he has nerves of steel or he just didn’t care if he thinned it straight into the gallery… or maybe a bit of both.