LIKE many peo­ple, I watched the re­cent Open Cham­pi­onship at Carnoustie and mar­velled at how far the ball was run­ning on the fair­ways. It was great to see, even if it isn’t some­thing you would want to ex­pe­ri­ence ev­ery week. It is just too re­lent­less and, at times, flukey. I lost count of how many times play­ers mis­judged how far their shots were go­ing to bounce and roll be­fore even­tu­ally stop­ping.

Which is not to say Carnoustie wasn’t a bril­liant test and didn’t il­lus­trate all the things that make golf by the sea­side so spe­cial. I’m bet­ting that a high per­cent­age of the field – and many of the con­tenders on Sun­day – had never be­fore played a course quite like that. But that’s when you find out how good guys re­ally are – when you put them in sit­u­a­tions they haven’t seen be­fore. It was fas­ci­nat­ing to see who adapted best to this “new” and won­der­ful form of golf.

Equally, there were some no­table fail­ures, play­ers who didn’t find the an­swers to these new ques­tions. World No.1 Dustin John­son couldn’t get it done. And nei­ther did No.2 Justin Thomas, which is not so sur­pris­ing. Carnoustie rep­re­sented a big ad­just­ment from their “nor­mal” day at the of­fice.

I know Dustin hit a lot of driv­ers from the tee, as did an­other pre-cham­pi­onship favourite who missed the cut, Jon Rahm, the World No.5 at the time. They seemed to be tak­ing the at­ti­tude that, if such a strat­egy didn’t work, they were pre­pared to live with the con­se­quences. That is cer­tainly Dustin’s men­tal­ity.

On the PGA Tour, of course, golf is pretty much twodi­men­sional. If you hit a shot on the line you in­tend, the ball is go­ing to stop where it lands. So that’s a good shot. Noth­ing is go­ing to bounce crazily into trou­ble. But that wasn’t the case at Carnoustie. There, the shape of the shot mat­tered a lot. Draws were land­ing and run­ning well to the left. Fades were land­ing and run­ning away to the right. Low shots were run­ning for­ever. There were more di­men­sions to what would turn out to be a good shot.

The hard­est part though, was judge­ment of dis­tance. Ev­ery time it blows your mind how far the ball can run on a links course. ‘Wow, I just hit a 7-iron 240-yards. And a 3-iron 350.’ When that is go­ing on, guys get sur­prised. And those who adapt are the ones who do best.

It was in­ter­est­ing to hear that the even­tual cham­pion, Francesco Moli­nari, was work­ing on shap­ing his shots more than nor­mal so that he could aim down the edges of the fair­ways and have the full width to work with. That was good think­ing, even if I’m sure he ran out of room on oc­ca­sion. When a shot is run­ning al­most 100-yards, it is al­most im­pos­si­ble to cal­cu­late pre­cisely where it is go­ing to stop.

All of the above adds more nu­ance to a

player’s think­ing and ex­e­cu­tion. When that is the case, the more tal­ented in­di­vid­u­als have more chance to shine. The real tal­ent in the field gets a chance to ex­hibit its supremacy. On a “nor­mal” course that doesn’t hap­pen. But when The Open is as bouncy and fiery the cream truly does rise to the top. Who­ever is play­ing the best will win.

An­other as­pect of the play I en­joyed was how play­ing from the fair­way wasn’t al­ways the best op­tion. On a links, the an­gle into the flag is in­vari­ably more ben­e­fi­cial than a good lie. An­gle is al­ways more im­por­tant than lie. Again, that’s not the case on the PGA Tour. On a soft course, the lie of the ball is way more im­por­tant than the an­gle. So, at Carnoustie, if the best line into the flag meant hit­ting into the left rough, that’s where you had to go in or­der to make the next shot that much eas­ier. The guys with the most imag­i­na­tion pick up on that stuff quite quickly.

Eas­ier said than done, of course. The first time I played a course run­ning like Carnoustie it freaked me out. I found it nearly im­pos­si­ble to con­trol the ball. So it was hard to make con­fi­dent swings. I had no idea where or when the ball was go­ing to stop. Even af­ter grow­ing up in Mel­bourne, that sort of thing was new to me. Even on the Sand­belt I hadn’t seen fair­ways run­ning that fast.

Let me re­peat though. Carnoustie was fan­tas­tic. Jor­dan Spi­eth driv­ing the 1st green on Satur­day af­ter­noon summed up how ter­rific it was. A great player made a great de­ci­sion and hit a great shot. And was re­warded for it. Guys with great abil­ity who are brave and have vi­sion cre­ate op­por­tu­ni­ties. And that makes for more in­ter­est­ing golf.

Given that fact, it was no sur­prise to see Tiger Woods play­ing so well. Tiger is ac­tu­ally hav­ing a great year. If he was any kind of reg­u­lar tour player com­ing back from mul­ti­ple back surg­eries, we would con­sider his sea­son a com­plete suc­cess. I mean, he was tied for the lead in The Open with a few holes to play, which is a mas­sive achieve­ment.

To me, Tiger’s swing looks bet­ter ev­ery week he plays. He seems more com­fort­able. A few years ago he was in the midst of a come­back and got him­self into con­tention in a few ma­jors. But he didn’t have good week­ends. This time he did. So I see Carnoustie as sig­nif­i­cant progress for him. By any mea­sure – apart from against him­self – he is go­ing great. He is ex­ceed­ing ev­ery­one’s ex­pec­ta­tions. And he can win any one of the four ma­jors. Look out for him in the US Open at Peb­ble Beach next year.

My last­ing im­pres­sion of the week, how­ever, is that the Carnoustie we saw this year rep­re­sents the only de­fence cour­ses now have against the dis­tances top play­ers hit the ball. Gen­er­ally speak­ing, the guys who tried to take the course on with driv­ers failed. That just didn’t work, which is not to say there is any­thing new in re­ally good play­ers miss­ing the cut at a ma­jor. Which brings me to the new “Cham­pion Golfer of the Year.” I’d be sur­prised if any­one on tour who has played with Francesco was sur­prised that he has bro­ken through and won a ma­jor. He is a re­ally, re­ally good player – and has been for a long time. He is al­most ev­ery­one’s ball-strik­ing hero. He is so sound me­chan­i­cally. His swing is so sim­ple look­ing. And he hits the ball far enough with­out try­ing to hit it too far.

The more dif­fi­cult con­di­tions get, the bet­ter Francesco seems to be. For long enough, the only thing miss­ing from his ar­moury was his putting. It was al­ways de­cent, but only rarely out­stand­ing. But when you hit the ball as well as he does, it can ap­pear as if you are miss­ing a lot of putts. He has al­ways given him­self a lot of birdie op­por­tu­ni­ties, which puts to bed the silly no­tion that you can­not com­pete at the high­est level un­less you are a “bomber” off the tee. That’s rubbish.

Look at Francesco or Spi­eth. They are both “nor­mal” tour golfers as far as power is con­cerned. Al­most any­one can as­pire to hit their drives as far as they do. Bombers don’t win ev­ery week. Francesco would have been good in any era, us­ing any equip­ment and on any course. He is just solid.

Plus, Francesco was the form horse com­ing into The Open. He ran away from the field at the Quicken Loans event in Wash­ing­ton. And he had won at Went­worth on the Euro­pean Tour not long be­fore that. He’s a lovely guy, too. Be pleased for him. I know I am.


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