Enough Olympic talk: It’s time for the British Open
TROON, Scotland (AP) — Jordan Spieth, going for the third leg of the career Grand Slam, spent more time talking about a golf course he will never see.
The majority of his press conference was taken up with questions about the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro and why he chose not to play. Spieth knew that was coming. It was only when he was leaving the room that the 22-year-old Texan smiled and said to no one in particular, “Do we have a tournament this week?”
Colin Montgomerie, who lived across the street from Royal Troon when his father was the club secretary, hits the first tee shot when the British Open begins on Thursday. That should put to rest three days of consternation about another tournament — the Olympics — that doesn’t have nearly the history or the tradition of golf’s oldest championship.
The International Golf Federation, run by former R&A chief Peter Dawson, took over Open week on Monday to announce that Olympic qualifying had ended and that Spieth (along with Rory McIlroy, Jason Day, Dustin Johnson and 16 other men) was not playing.
The next day, Spieth stood by his decision (“health concerns”) and said his goal would be to get to the Tokyo Games in 2020, assuming the men are still in the games. McIlroy followed him into the room and blasted golf officials who for the last seven years have preached the Olympics as an opportunity to grow the game.
“I didn’t get into golf to grow the game,” McIlroy said. “I got into golf to win championships, and win major championships.”
Even on Wednesday, the day before the 145th Open began, another press conference was held with the IGF backdrop to announce Britain’s golf team.
Claret jug, anyone?
Spieth let it slip through his fingers last year at St. Andrews going for his third straight major, and he wound up holding it later that evening — but only because he was with Zach Johnson, the champion golfer of the year, when it was over.
“I crave to have that trophy in my possession at some point,” Spieth said. “And to reach a third leg of the Grand Slam this week would be a fantastic achievement.”
History is on his side, even if it’s more of a coincidence. The last six British Open champions at Royal Troon dating to 1950 are Americans, and it didn’t escape Spieth when he looked at photos of the winners in the clubhouse. The last two winners, Todd Hamilton and Justin Leonard, lived in Dallas.
Spieth arrived on the weekend and already saw the unpredictable nature of these Ayrshire links off the Irish Sea.
The wind was into his face on Saturday and Sunday on the easier opening holes, and the prevailing wind at his back returned the following three days. Royal Troon is clearly a tale of two nines. The front nine typically is downwind and doesn’t have a par 4 longer than 422 yards. The back nine turns into the wind and doesn’t have a par 4 that his shorter than 430 yards.
The common denominator? Bunkers dot the landscape on both sides, along with thick, prickly gorse bushes more prevalent at the turn. Fairway bunkers effectively are a half-shot penalty, possibly a full shot or more if the ball rolls up against the vetted faces.
“We looked at the holes, and on paper it looked relatively simple,” Masters champion Danny Willett said. “But you start knocking it in a couple of the bunkers, up near the faces, the bunker design is a little bit sneaky.”
The closing holes into the wind can be a three-club difference.
“You can see when it’s flattened out, you can have a go at the golf course,” he said. “But if you get it breezy, like in any Open venue, this place really shows its teeth.”
The record score at Royal Troon is 12-under 272 when Leonard won in 1997.
McIlroy has been feisty this week. Along with taking on the purpose of golf in the Olympics, he was annoyed by a newspaper headline that referenced the Fab Four and suggested he was close to becoming Ringo Starr, regarded as the least of four Beatles.
It was only two years ago that McIlroy ended the summer of 2014 by winning two straight majors and leaving no question who was No. 1. Spieth, Day and Johnson have combined to win four of the last six majors, and McIlroy is now at No. 4 in the world.
“I can’t worry about other guys,” McIlroy said. “I’m pretty confident that if I go out and play my best golf I’m going to win more times than not. I’ve got four major championships, and I’d love to add to that tally — just as those guys would love to add to their one or two majors that they have and just keep going.”
What the Fab Four has in common is all of them want a claret jug — and none are going to the Olympics, anyway.