Something New at Something Old

By Rex HoggardJuly 13, 2009, 4:00 pm
135th Open Championship BRODICK, Scotland ' A good number of American professionals made their way to Turnberry on Monday and a craggy slice of linksy perfection that for the vast majority of modern players is as foreign as the moon, or a budget motel.
Poll players who have at least a degree of familiarity with the Ailsa Course and there is a consensus of respect, if not admiration. Yet when it comes to practical knowledge of the layout there is little, if any, to be had.
Visually its impressive, said Paul Casey, who, at 31, may be one of the few Gen X players to have any insight on the Ailsa. Its a really cool place and youve really got to strike your golf ball well on those outer holes because the breeze really moves the ball. It makes some of those tee shots very difficult.
Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods practices Monday at Turnberry. (Getty Images)
Casey played the British Amateur in 1996 and the 99 St. Andrews Trophy, a team competition, at Turnberry. He holed the winning putt for England in 99 and has done countless corporate outings on the Ailsa. But it is still the classic 1977 Duel in the Sun between Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson that immediately comes to mind when asked his impressions of the course.
Seen it on TV, smiled Casey, who was born a week after the timeless clash. You still dont think Nicklaus is going to hole that putt on 18, but he does, continuously.
Although he lost to Watson by a shot, the 77 Open Championship holds a strangely special place in Nicklaus heart that belies the outcome. Its as good as Ive ever played and lost, Nicklaus said last month.
However, other than the grainy images from that sun-splashed day 32 years ago Turnberry is largely an enigma to the players of the current generation, particularly to Americans who show up each summer playing an unfamiliar game on ancient ground.
Tiger Woods will have to be a quick study when he arrives on Scotlands west coast having never seen Turnberry. Ditto for Englands Justin Rose and Ian Poulter. In the universe of Open rota layouts, Turnberry is Waldo.
Never been there and Im going in completely blind. But then Id never seen Birkdale either, said Poulter, who posted his best finish in a major championship (runner-up) last year at Royal Birkdale.
Although Turnberry is largely an unknown commodity, there is a consensus that the scenic layout may be the most visually pleasing of all the Open stops. Its also one of the few championship layouts that offers almost unobstructed views of the sea as well as that postcard lighthouse.
Its as good a golf course as youre going to find in the Open rotation, said CBS analyst and funnyman David Feherty. Its going to stand up to any of them. Its beautiful with the sea and Ailsa Craig. You know what they say, if you can see Ailsa Craig its gonna rain. If you cant see it its raining already.
Feherty is among the few with working knowledge of an Open Championship at Turnberry. He tied for fourth in 1994, five behind Nick Price, and missed the cut badly in 1986, the scene of Greg Normans first Open triumph.
The Northern Irishman remembers the scenic views and the high drama, but mostly he remembers the pressure that comes with trying to win an Open Championship.
If Id have won it would have been a disaster for me, Feherty said. I remember walking by my name on the scoreboard, it had been left up there all night, spelled F-A-R-T-L-Y. I remember thinking, Yeah, theres your Open champion right there, I dont think so.
Some, you see, lament missed opportunities at major championships for their entire lives. Feherty is just relieved he wasnt the last one holding the claret jug.
There was a point on the back nine, a pivotal moment and I just sort of limped into the canon, Feherty said. I remember (Peter) Alliss saying, Well, if it wasnt for the dreaded 13th (Feherty) would have been the Open champion. I remember thinking of that line from Blazing Saddles when the whole village goes, Bull----. I dont think so.
There does seem to be a level of certainty at Turnberry, at least if history holds. The champions Turnberry has produced are an unmistakable list of the games greatest. Price, Norman and Watson were all renowned ball-strikers who held off relentless challenges to claim the Claret Jug.
It seems to produce dramatic moments, Casey said. I think its almost impossible to replicate what happened there in 77 with those two greats. But I hope we get that weather and I hope we get that drama. Im glad were back there because I think its my favorite links course in the British Isles.
Whether there is a Duel in the Sun, Part II in the making remains to be seen, along with just about everything else at the years most unknown Open.
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