ST. ANDREWS, Scotland – Remember when the biggest worries at a major championship were slick greens and thick rough?
As players, fans, officials and media waited out a wind delay that stretched for more than 10 hours, one could be forgiven for pining for the days of old fashion, Grand Slam brutality.
Instead, this major championship season has been defined by variables. At Chambers Bay it was the nuanced intricacies of growing grass – or in the USGA’s case, killing the green stuff – while at this week’s Open Championship it has been an almost nonstop meteorological nightmare.
Torrential rains dampened Friday’s early action, turning the iconic Valley of Sin fronting the 18th green into the Loch of Sin and postponing play more than three hours.
When officials tried to get things back on track on Saturday, the proceedings were again sent sideways, literally, by winds that gusted to 40 mph, sending balls dancing across greens and players into a feeding frenzy.
“I wasn't going to play. I really wasn't,” said Brooks Keopka, who had his ball blown backwards not once but twice on the 11th green as play began.
For those who were sent out at 7 a.m. into the teeth of the gale to finish the second round it was cold and harsh and unforgiving.
A “wee breeze” as they say here in Scotland is part and parcel with the Open Championship. Let the rain lash and the winds howl and be done with it.
This, however, was something else. This was raw and unruly and eventually unplayable, although the R&A should add a stroke for slow play given how the entire affair unfolded.
When play was halted at 7:32 a.m. (BST), officials said it was because of a 15 percent increase in the wind, as if political polling was to blame. But 15 percent would not seem to be within the margin of error. Not at a major championship. Not at this major championship.
Your 36-hole front-runner Dustin Johnson bogeyed his first hole back early Saturday in the tempest, while Koepka was told to play on as his ball danced around the 11th green. He declined, the official walking with his group persisted and finally – after a lengthy wait, a second opinion, and a similar scenario on the 13th green with Louis Oosthuizen – officials relented and pulled the lads, however disorderly, off the windswept links.
“We shouldn’t have played,” sighed one caddie. “It was basically a two-shot penalty.”
Peter Dawson, who is making his final turn at the Open as the R&A’s chief executive, endured the slings and arrows of players and media alike in the wind’s aftermath.
“Every R&A official in player dining is getting yelled at. Lots of players pissed in here. #GaleForceWinds #StAndrews I love this place,” Bubba Watson’s caddie Ted Scott tweeted.
Hours later, Dawson explained to the media that at 6:45 a.m., 15 minutes before play was scheduled to resume, the course – or more to the point the exposed 11th green – was deemed to be game ready.
“We spent a great deal of time out at the far end of the golf course,” Dawson said. “While it was very windy, we did not get one ball moving at that time of the morning right up to [6:45 a.m.], so we took the view that the course was playable, although difficult, and play began.”
Most players had no quarrel with the R&A’s decision to start the round, it was more an issue with how long it took them to pull the plug; but after the damage was done that all felt like semantics.
There will be a chorus of concern that perhaps St. Andrews, now the site of two wind delays in its last two men’s Opens, may be too exposed to the elements to remain in the championship rota.
With apologies to Augusta National, the Home of Golf is the most enduring and endearing major championship venue in the game and if an occasional “hoolie” causes the random Monday finish, then so be it.
Others point to green speeds that have steadily risen, particularly at major championships, as the culprit. Had the Old Course been rolling at, say your average municipal course green speeds, Monday’s finish might have been avoided.
But this isn’t really about Stimpmeter readings or St. Andrews’ place in the major championship landscape. This is about golf being an outdoor sport that is subject to the whims of Mother Nature.
“I think what we've seen today is too strong a wind, not too fast greens to be honest with you,” Dawson explained.
While the R&A is certainly not without a degree of blame for how things have transpired this week, it seems to all be a part of the 2015 Grand Slam status quo, much like long rough and lightning fast putts used to define the majors.
What may be even more intriguing is that, given how things transpired the last time the PGA Championship was held at Whistling Straits (see Johnson, Dustin 2010), one can only imagine what’s in store for the last six rounds of this major championship season.