Wind makes British field amateur weathermen
ST. ANDREWS, Scotland — Royal and Ancient officials had charming expressions for what the wind did to the British Open. When it started to gale they said it was “freshening,” from the “westerly” direction. When it threatened to blow balls off the greens, they called it “oscillating.” Such courtly language hardly described what was happening to players’ pants legs, and scorecards. Not to mention their heads.
They stood on the tees and the greens of St. Andrews trying to keep their minds still while a giant invisible hand from the sky shoved them sideways. Players flinched on short putts, backed off their tee shots, and stared balefully at the flagsticks, which bent sideways until they were almost parallel to the ground.
The crosswinds blew a young genius, Rory McIlroy, almost out of contention with an 80, and lofted a far less renowned player who has made just one cut in a major, Louis Oosthuizen, to the top of the leaderboard. One teed off early and got rain, but no wind. The other teed off late and got wind, but no rain. Think that was unfair? Handle it. They had to.
Wind is an inescapable part of the British Open at St. Andrews, and so is luck when it comes to morning and afternoon tee times. The trick for the contenders was not getting too upset about it. Those who fared best in the gusts of 35 to 40 mph didn’t let the bluster completely rob them of their composure, those who were content just to survive and not shoot themselves out of it.
Golfers turned their ballcaps around, swapped them for ski hats or simply went bareheaded. Fans had a hard time keeping track of their favorites because the kids carrying the scoreboards for each group dropped them to horizontal or risked being carried off by the wind. At the 12th, golfers who smacked tee shots in the 300-yard range only a day earlier gave back a hundred yards.
As Tom Lehman described his round of 68, “We went out with the wind helping the first six or seven holes, then it laid down a bit, then it switched directions and from 12 onward, there was a right-to-left wind helping, which makes it way, way easier than the one that comes in your face.”
The unfortunates who got the afternoon gusts in their face did well to remember that they had been the fortunate ones on Thursday, when they benefited from morning tee times. They caught St. Andrews so perfectly still and downy soft that it yielded record low numbers. Among those who understood these vagaries were a couple of deeply experienced British players, Lee Westwood and Paul Casey, whose Friday scores of 71 and 69, respectively, put them in a tie for third at 6-under-par 138.
“All you really ask for (as) a golfer playing in the Open is a bit of parity, really,” Westwood said. “I don’t know how much harder the afternoon was yesterday than the morning; somewhere probably between two or three shots. If the afternoon today plays two or three shots harder than the morning, that’s all you can ask for.”
The conditions have turned every player into his own personal meteorologist. The first thing Mark Calcavecchia and his wife did when they woke up Friday morning was run to their hotel room window and jerk back the curtains “like little kids at Christmas,” he said.
Rain was beating against the pane, but at least the flags were limp. The stillness allowed Calcavecchia to vault on to the board with a 67. The 50-year-old was just stopping by here on his way to play in the British Senior Open at Carnoustie, and hardly expected to make the cut at St. Andrews. Now he’s a contender.
But the prospect of dealing with these conditions for two straight weeks was exhausting, he wryly noted.
“If we’ve got to be playing in this for seven or eight days in a row, I’ll definitely be ready to exit the country,” he said.
sAlly jenkins | the WAshinGton Post Phil Mickelson battles with his umbrella on the 10th green during the second round of the British Open at St. Andrews, Scotland.