The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

Sports

July 23, 2013

Open championship: Golf the way it was meant to be

ENID, Okla. — As a golf fan, all four of the major championships are special, but I think my favorite has to be the one known as the Open Championship, or what we in the colonies know as the British Open.

For one thing, the tournament is annually contested on golf courses that look more like cow pastures.

The other three majors — the Masters, U.S. Open and PGA Championship — are played on some of America’s finest, and most exclusive, golf courses.

These are emerald green cathedrals, immaculately manicured, with lovingly maintained bunkers of perfect sand. Even the rough, while undoubtedly punitive, still adheres to the verdant green color scheme. At Augusta National, home of the Masters, I’d swear even the birds are trained not to chirp when a player is addressing his ball.

But the Open Championship is contested on links courses, so named because they are built on land linking the sea with more usable ground.

They are lumpy and bumpy, mottled and gnarly, their brownish fairways dotted with bunkers deep enough to swallow a golf cart, the greens sprawling and undulating.

Get too far off the fairway of a British Open course and you’ll swear you’ve left civilization, and all hope of a par, behind.

In other words, British Open courses look like the scruffy munis so many real, every day golfers plunk down their hard-earned dollars to play.

British Open golf takes creativity. So often on the PGA Tour, it becomes a game of blast and spin. Blast a driver 300 something yards, then hit a short iron a couple of yards beyond the pin and spin it back to within a foot or two of the hole.

Not at the British Open. Throw a wedge at the hole hoping it will spin and, more often than not, you’ll wind up way over the back, nearly as far away as the shot before. Either that or the ball will spin back off the front of the green and come to rest halfway back to where you are standing.

That happened to Phil Mickelson on the 16th hole of Sunday’s final round. He hit what he thought was a perfect shot, only to have it slalom back off the green onto the fairway. Mickelson got up and down for par, two crucial shots that probably won him the event.

For professional golfers, having an approach shot land in a greenside bunker usually constitutes only a minor inconvenience. They are such good sand players that they can get up and down for par a majority of the time.

But on a British Open course, landing in a greenside bunker is likely to cost a golfer a stroke, or more, as they may have to hit the ball out sideways in order to simply escape the beach.

Phil is a popular champion, despite the fact a guy his age shouldn’t wear his hair that long. He’s got an engaging grin, he has a beautiful family and he’s had to overcome psoriatic arthritis. Besides, he blew his chance to win the U.S. Open a month ago, so he was due.

Once again Tiger Woods’ quest for his 15th major was thwarted by his shaky final-round putting. He will get his last chance of the year next month at Oak Hill, located in Rochester, N.Y.

Oak Hill is one of those clipped, snipped, blow-dried shrines to turfgrass perfection.

In the meantime, we are left with our memories of shots taking odd bounces down brown fairways and winding up in patches of waist deep wild grass.

For one week a year, at least, the world’s top professionals get just a taste of what we weekend hackers endure every time we tee it up.

Mullin is senior writer of the News & Eagle. Email him at jmullin@enidnews.com.

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