GM Columnist Dan Walker recaps a spectacular 2017 Open Championship at Royal Birkdale, paying tribute to the cobra-like Jordan Spieth

Dan Walker: 4 Lessons Learnt At The Open 2017

The first shot I ever struck at Royal Birkdale hit the starter on the chin. I’d been held-up in traffic on the M62 and was woefully late for our tee-time. As I pulled into the car park I saw the other 3 guys waiting for me and tapping their watches.

I snuck my shoes on, grabbed a jumper from the boot and jogged to the first. After apologising profusely whilst trying to make sure I hadn’t left any clubs in the car, I stepped up, shirt out and tried to swing freely. 

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Sadly the 3 hour car journey had left me a little ‘tight’ and I fired a pitiful effort flush into the tee marker in front on me. The ball ricocheted back off my golf bag – which thankfully took almost all of the sting out of it – and then up into the chin on the starter.

The good news: he was unhurt but I’m not sure he saw the funny side of that, or thinned second with a 3-wood.

Despite the shoddy start and inevitable bogey – bogey start I became the latest in a long list of golfers to fall in love with that particular stretch of territory. It has a rugged beauty to it and – although you don’t see the sea – you certainly feel its effects.

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At The Open Championship this summer Royal Birkdale proved again why it is so highly-rated. Here are a few of the things which will remain in the brain after those 4 days in July.

England’s No.1

Birkdale is top of the tree. It is a great course which produces great winners. Invariably the best golfers on the planet work their way to the top of the leaderboard. The likes of Peter Thomson, Arnold Palmer, Lee Trevino, Johnny Miller, Tom Watson and Padraig Harrington had all raised the Claret Jug at Birkdale before young Spieth joined the list of worthy winners.

Americans Do Like The Links

There is often a lazy assumption that those from the US either don’t understand or don’t have a love for links golf. I’m sure there are some who fall into that category or wince slightly as they dismiss it as ‘a lot of fun’ but the best all appreciate the challenge. I listened to Tom Watson at a dinner on the Saturday at Birkdale this year talk about needing to approach links golf as a test of your attitude and ability. He spoke with great affection of his memories of taking a 1 shot lead up the 18th in 1983 and said “nothing about your game or your mind can be average round here. The golf course doesn’t accept average”.

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Bring On The Clowns

One of TV highlights of The Open this year was a ‘Ken On The Course’ piece where Mr Brown was talking about some of Birkdale’s brutal bunkers. As he approached a particularly deep one out popped Andrew Johnston. Beef played his part with style, looking magnificently sheepish before shuffling off into the distance.

I followed him around for a few holes over the weekend. I didn’t need to look to see which hole he was on but just followed the cries of ‘Beeeeeeeeef’. While he was doing his thing at Royal Birkdale there was a heated debate on a radio show about whether Beef was ‘a clown’ or an ‘inspiration’.

Related: Beef bites back after radio duo ‘clown’ claim

He took exception to the subsequent poll on social media and fought his corner. Johnston has built ‘Brand Beef’ on being different, approachable and engaging. My children aren’t massively into golf at the moment but they know who he is. He spends hours with fans before and after his rounds and they love him for it both here and in America. Golf needs him. Thankfully 61% of those asked thought he was an inspiration rather than a clown.

The Value Of A Bogey

“Just when you think he’s got nothing left… just when he looks weak… he comes at you like a cobra. That is all about his intestinal fortitude”

Those were the words of the commentator after the epic encounter which saw Ultimate Warrior beat Hulk Hogan at Wrestlemania VI. They could easily have been used to describe Jordan Spieth’s performance over the last 5 holes at Birkdale.

I remember a lengthy interview with the American just before his second open at Hoylake in 2014. He’d finished tied 2nd at the Masters earlier that year and great things were expected of him. During the interview we talked about many things but I remember his answer to a question about what he’d learned from the older pros on tour.

“Sometimes you have to appreciate the value of a bogey. The older guys all understand the importance of keeping the big numbers off your card”.

That’s exactly what he did on the 13th at Birkdale. After a major carve into the cabbage he took his time (20 minutes) to find the best possible chance of escaping with a 5 rather than a 6 or 7. That was perhaps the most valuable bogey of his career.

Related: Should the driving range have been out of bounds?

Walking off that green Matt Kuchar had a 1 shot lead with 5 holes to play. He birdied 2 of those but still lost by 3 shots. That tells you everything you need to know about Spieth’s remarkable run. 

Whatever clicked it was incredible . Whether it was fear of choking, memories of the 12th at The Masters or just finding his swing at the right time it was extraordinary to witness. Spieth’s 4 hole blitz will live long in the memory and, perhaps most crucially, he will never forget that on the biggest occasion, when he really needed it, the cobra struck. Intestinal fortitude.