Tournament: The Open Championship, July 20-23
Course: Royal Birkdale, 7,146 yards, par 70. Technically Southport England, on the northwest shore of England, just north of Liverpool, and on the banks of the Irish Sea.
Purse: $10,250,000; $1,8450,000 to the winner
Defending Champion: Henrik Stenson. In one of the best final pairings in recent memory, Stenson’s Sunday 63 allowed him to overtake Phil Mickelson by a stroke and capture the Swede’s first major.
Fun Fact: The purse will be awarded in US Dollars, not British Pounds Sterling. This was recently announced by the Royal & Ancient (governing body of golf in Europe and the British Open), based on the devaluation of the pound thanks to Brexit.
Television: Thursday-Friday, 1:30 am -4 pm ET (Golf Channel); Saturday 4:30 am - 7 am ET (Golf Channel), 7 am - 3 pm ET (NBC), 4:30 pm - 6 pm ET (NBC, encore presentation); Sunday 4 am - 7 am ET (Golf Channel), 7 am - 2 pm ET (NBC).
Former 'Dawgs in the Field ( Four ): Bubba Watson, Russell Henley, Brian Harman, Kevin Kisner.
They’ve been playing golf here for hundreds of years, but the course wasn’t formalized until 1886. Of the British Open course rotation, Birkdale is pre-pubescent. It is a true links-style format with long, wispy fescue and wind-hardened gorse bushes just off the fairways. The biggest factor is the nearby Irish Sea, capable of whipping up rain squalls and delivering umbrella-inverting winds. Even with somewhat decent conditions here in 2008, the winning score was 3 over par (Padraig Harrington). The weather forecast for this week is currently.... optimistic. Thursday looks nice with temps in the 60s and wind only in the high teens. Friday is potentially fun with 80% chance of rain and wind around 25 mph. The wind and rain look to decrease slightly after that. Personally I love for the rain to blow sideways, the temps to drop into the 50s or below, and players forced to get out of their comfort zone. I don’t want to see this every week, but I do love to see it once a year.
But aye, there’s the rub. Thursday’s weather is supposed to start out damp and windy, but improve through the day. Friday is supposed to have short bursts or squalls. With pretty serious daylight hours up there in those latitudes, and with sandy soil capable of absorbing everything but lightning, they play all day long. So if your tee time allows you to finish before the bad weather sets in, you’re golden and will likely advance. If you draw a tee time that puts you in the thick of the rain and wind, you will suffer and likely have a poor finish. So the tee time draw becomes uber-important but nothing that can be adjusted or accounted for much in advance. Just gotta play the hand you’re dealt.
Being British, you can expect slightly different patron fare than you would Stateside. And there is also a bit of British pride exhibited: the haddock for the fish & chips is from sustainable and certified stock. The coffee is “100% fairtrade” - whatever that means. No word on the sausage rolls, but the Glenmorangie House serves up Highland Single Malts and the Champagne Bar is there for the asking. Here’s the weird thing... they serve up ice cream. It appears odd to see visitors under umbrellas, wearing full raingear, freezing their baguettes off, yet licking away at a double scoop. Maybe it’s just me. And enough of that anyway, here’s who to root for:
Bubba Watson (Round 1 3:21 pm local, 10:21 pm ET) has played every British Open since 2009, yet with mixed results. His finishes are between T23 and T39, which was last year at Royal Troon. He qualifies for being inside the top 30 of the 2016 FedEx Cup points list, top 50 in the world earlier this year, and being a Masters champion. His short game has let him down this year, but this course will likely be who can get it on the flat and relatively slow greens the quickest. So Bubba might surprise some folks. He is playing the first 2 rounds with New Zealand’s Scott Hend and Spain’s Rafa Cabrera-Bello (who won the Scottish Open this past Sunday).
Russell Henley (Round 1 8:47 am local, 3:47 am ET) also has mixed results in the Open. He tied for 73 in his first in 2013, missed the cut in 2014 and 2016, but tied for 20th in 2015 at St. Andrews. He gained entry by his June position on the FedEx Cup points list, which was buoyed by his win in Houston and a T11 at the Masters. Very streaky, Russell can hit his irons and roll the rock with the best of them. If he can keep his tee ball in the short grass, he can make noise on the leaderboard. Henley is paired with fellow American Peter Uihlein and Italy’s Fabrizio Zanotti.
Brian Harman (Round 1 12:31 pm local, 7:31 am ET) is the other lefty from UGA playing this week. He tied for 26th in 2014, but missed the cut in 2015 and missed the qualifying in 2016. His win at the Wells Fargo showed he’s got game and his 2nd place showing at the US Open in June proved he’s got brass too. He’s played very well in the warm weather this year, so we’ll see what weather the Irish Sea dishes out. Brian will tee it up with local favorite Martin Laird of Scotland, and Michael Hendry of New Zealand.
Kevin Kisner (Round 1 1:48 pm local, 8:48 am ET) has won twice on the PGA Tour in the last 20 months, and has six 2nd place finishes. He has played the British Open the last 2 years, missing the cut in 2015 and 76th last year. Since he’s inside the world top 50, and made the PGA Tour championship last year, he qualified for this year’s Open. He’s playing the first 2 rounds with little known Scot David Drysdale and UNLV product and fellow Yank Charley Hoffman.
If you thought Breakfast at Wimbledon was cool, it’s even better to wake up to British Open golf, when those blokes have been at it in the cool and wet, and you’re struggling to keep the A/C above 72. I just love the contrast, the heritage, and the carnage. So join me in cheering on our Bulldogs as they brave the elements and the world’s best, all in an attempt to win the winner’s trophy, the iconic Claret Jug.
And as always...