Hitting the links in Scotland


TURNBERRY, Scotland ' Its hard to believe that this will be my ninth British Open appearance already. I havent had the success I expected or wanted, but I feel that each of these experiences has been valuable and prepared me for Turnberry this week.
Ive said many times that this is the one event Id like to win more than any other. I grew up in England, and for all of us European players theres a feeling that this is our national championship.
Growing up in England, I was a member at Beaconsfield and Hazlemere Golf Clubs, which are typical parkland courses. I did play a fair amount of amateur golf on links courses, but in the past 12 years since coming to the U.S., the only links golf I have played is the Open Championship, which is one of the reasons I feel as though I haven't fared as well.
For this reason, I decided to come over to Scotland a week early this year and play some tough links courses in preparation for the Open. In the past I've played in the Scottish Open at Loch Lomond the week prior to the championship, but this time I played 54 holes on Friday and Saturday at Western Gailes ' a course frequently used for Open qualifying ' Dundonald Links and Royal Troon with my swing coach Pat Goss, and brother/caddie Christian.
Playing these courses helped acclimate me to the terrain and the types of shots Im going to need to be successful at Turnberry. I played Turnberry several weeks ago in a company outing but didnt see much of the back nine since we only got in 12 holes. Its a very fair course; the fairways arent as undulating and bumpy as you see on many Open courses. As you know, links golf is played along the ground, which is quite different from what we play on the PGA Tour. You have to be extremely imaginative around the greens to contend here. You also need to control the trajectory of your iron shots and keep the ball down under the wind. Thats something I think I do very well.
The key to hitting low, penetrating shots is to soften the left elbow at address so it almost points to your target, and then return it to the same position at impact. You want the handle of the club leading through impact so the clubhead is driving low through the ball, and presetting the left elbow in this way helps me do that. Its something that I have practiced over the last few days and will come in handy at Turnberry.
With both the U.S. Open and Open Championship in mind, Ive been experimenting for some time with some replacement irons. I normally play the Mizuno MP-62 irons (3-iron through pitching wedge), but for the U.S. Open I had the MP FLI-HI 3- and 4-irons in my bag because I needed to hit my longer irons higher into the elevated greens at Bethpage Black. I also tested an MP-62 2-iron and MP-52 3- and 4-irons. For the Open Championship, I may use the MP-62 2-iron, but I've yet to decide. I will make this decision on Thursday based on the wind conditions.
I played the blade 2-iron at Western Gailes, Dundonald and Royal Troon with some success. This iron doesnt produce as high a launch angle or trajectory as the FLI-HI irons. As we saw a couple of years ago with Tiger at Hoylake, you dont have to hit driver all the time to win an Open Championship. In links golf the fairways are notoriously firm and fast, so it is important to be in control of your golf ball. Distance becomes less of a factor. Hopefully, I can use one of my 2-irons to help me accomplish that.
Besides hitting the ball low and keeping it in play, the other key for me is going to be dealing with the weather, which as we saw at the U.S. Open can have a huge say in who wins. I got caught on the wrong side of the draw for the first two rounds at Bethpage Black, and before they called play Thursday morning I was 5 over par through four holes. Not exactly the start I wanted. I rebounded nicely from there and played even par for the next 31 holes, but wound up missing the cut by a stroke. Hopefully for this major I will be better prepared.
I cant use the weather as an excuse, though. Tiger played in the same wind-swept rain and was in contention on Monday. The best players fight it out and minimize the damage until the conditions turn in their favor.
Theres an element of luck involved in winning any major championship, and hopefully it will be on my side this week.
Editors Note: Two-time PGA Tour winner and European Ryder Cup team member Luke Donald will be writing a monthly column for GolfChannel.com throughout the remainder of the 2009 season. The focus of the column will be What Im Working On, and will give you an inside look into life on the PGA Tour from one of the games elite players.