The crowds and the tents only mitigate slightly the sense and feel of a lunar landscape. But don't get the idea that it will take a pinball wizard to conquer the caprices of the bumps and hollows and wacky bounces like it did last year at Royal St. Georges.
Royal Troon is a more traditional British Open venue. Typically, the wind blows downwind for most of the front nine (woe to the player who isn't three or four under at the turn) and into the teeth of the prevailing wind coming home. There are four par-4s on the back nine that measure longer than 450 yards. And even for today's players, they can play as three-shotters.
Justin Leonard won this venerable championship in 1997, the last time Royal Troon hosted, because he was more patient and putted better than anybody else in the field. Leonard also knows a thing or two about how to control his ball flight in the breeze.
The previous four British Open winners at Royal Troon were also Americans. Mark Calcavecchia beat Wayne Grady and Greg Norman in a four-hole playoff in 1989. Tom Watson captured the fourth of his five Open championships by pipping Nick Price and Peter Oosterhuis at the post by a shot in 1982. Tom Weiskopf, who has matured into an even better course designer than he was a player, won there in 1973. And the ever-popular Arnold Palmer emerged victorious in 1962.
The majors, when you think about it, are no different than any other tournament in this respect: If you can get yourself into position by the time the final nine holes arrive late Sunday afternoon, you can win if you get your putter hot at the right time. Oh by the way, Bobby Locke, believed by many to be the greatest putter who ever lived, won the British Open by two shots over Roberto De Vicenzo at Royal Troon in 1950.
Two more things you must know about Royal Troon if you are fortunate enough to be there for the tournament: Gentleman are required to remove their hats upon entering the clubhouse. If you forget, there will be a stern club official at the entranceway to remind you. He will be more annoyed than polite about your indiscretion.
If you want to watch play on the charming and famed Postage Stamp Hole (so named because of its tiny green), it will take you about 40 minutes to walk there from the clubhouse. It will be worth it. This tiny 123-yard eighth is where Tiger Woods made a triple in 1997 while still in contention. Gene Sarazen, at age 71, aced the Postage Stamp hole, with a 7-iron in 1973. It is the shortest hole in the Open rota.
Royal Troon isn't the purest venue for the British Open (Muirfield is); nor is it the most historic (St. Andrews is). It doesn't have the sweeping seaside views of Turnberry or the outright nastiness of Carnoustie. But its place in the rota is unquestioned. Its challenges are clear. Its examinations are unfailing. And its mercies are not tender.
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