Fergus Bisset headed out to catch an hour of the practice day action. Here he gives a synopsis of what he saw out on the links.
I love practice days at The Open Championship. There’s a relaxed atmosphere intermingled with a buzz of anticipation. The players are ostensibly playing it cool but you can see they’re building themselves up for battle with the course, and with each other.
The spectators are more chilled out too: less jostling, more friendly chatter. The people in this part of the world are very nice mind you. It takes ages to get anywhere out on course here, not just because there are big crowds to negotiate but also because you can’t go more than about 100 yards without stopping for a little blether with someone about the weather, who’s playing well or who’s coming down the fairway next.
I strolled out from the media centre just before lunch to spend an hour on the fairways and to simply see what I could see. Here’s a summary:
Patrick Reed flies solo
The characterful American was playing all by himself down the ninth hole, right behind Jon Rahm and Sergio Garcia. His tee shot flew long and slightly less than straight and landed in a clump or rather thick rough. Whether it was the pace of play, that he was having a shocker or perhaps that he had a lunch date, he decided he’d had enough. He plucked his ball out of the cabbage and continued to walk on back towards the clubhouse.
Bubba surprises himself
By his own admission, Bubba has been having a poor year and his reaction to a holed putt on the 8th seemed to provide verification of that. He drained a testing left to righter before dropping his putter and throwing his hat and sunglasses to the ground in apparent astonishment. It was the response of a man who hasn’t had an awful lot go right for him recently on course.
Bubba then dropped two balls off the front of the green – one white and one yellow. He looked like a junior from the early 1980s who’d just raided his grandad’s golf bag and headed out to play a game of “Jack Nicklaus versus Brian Barnes.”
A photography exhibition
As I walked back up the 8th I could see in the distance a huge throng of people coming down from the tee towards the fairway. I wondered what on earth was going on until I saw Hideki Matsuyama out in front of a swarm of Japanese photographers and reporters. I lost count at 26 of them… there were more! They love their golf in Japan and a Japanese Open champion would be a big story. I fancy they might just have one to report on. I hope so anyway as I’ve just put a fiver on young Hideki.
Some good, some bad on the 13th
I bought myself a pint on the side of the 13th and walked along with Matt Kuchar and Padraig Harrington. The 499 yard par-4 was playing into the breeze and was evidently quite tough. Kuchar needed a wood for his second and, although he seemed to stripe it, the ball only just crept onto the front right edge. Harrington then played a blistering shot with a strong long iron that never rose more than 20 feet in the air, turned right to left a hair and chased up to within six feet of the pin. It was a brilliant links shot and confirmed to me he has a great grip on his game right now. I hope so anyway as I’ve just put a fiver on the experienced Irishman.
Kuchar then had a go at a second drive he’d hit into a fairway bunker down the right side. He had three attempts in the sand to advance it a reasonable distance down the fairway, each one clipped the top of the face and only two actually came out. If he faces that shot in the tournament, he’ll be playing more cannily. I hope so anyway as I’ve just put a fiver on the jovial American.
The crowds are incredible, the biggest I can remember on a practice day at any of the Opens I’ve been at. Hordes of fans are scampering over the dunes and circling greens and tees and they’re enjoying every shot. As a cynical old golf journalist, I sometimes forget how cool it is to be out there watching the great stars of the game displaying their skills but just stopping for a few minutes to listen to the chat is enough of a reminder. “Who’s coming through next?” An excited voice called from the back of the 15th tee… “It’s Chris Wood.” …. “ooohhh, there he is. Isn’t he tall!” Brilliant stuff. Wood then spanked one nicely down the fairway and played a strong iron to the green… He’s another player with a links pedigree and could contend. I hope so anyway as I’ve just put a fiver on the lofty Bristolian.
A different test on the 17th
With the wind slightly into and from the right, the 17th looked to be a different prospect today. Generally the breeze helps on the par-5 but today it’s hurting and Branden Grace and Ernie Els were unable to get up in two. Grace had a go and lost it off the planet to the right and then both South Africans practised lay-up shots that ended some 50 yards short of the green. It seemed to be a good tactic as they proceeded to pepper the pin with precise pitches. Grace in particular looked to be clipping them beautifully off the turf and he seemed pretty relaxed out there. I hope so anyway as I’ve just put a fiver on the talented South African.