LYTHAM ST. ANNES, England – Make no mistake, this slice of links land has the proper pedigree – ubiquitous pot bunkers, a sniff of sea salt off the Irish Sea and a “royal” in the title to round out the ensemble.
How is it then that for two relatively benign, if not soggy, days all Brandt Snedeker can see is TPC Lytham, a lush point-A-to-point-B track where balls spin back and greens run true and fast, at least by Open Championship standards?
The short-form answer is the English summer, a steady march of showers that have pelted the ancient links for days and transformed many of Lytham’s 205 bunkers into wading pools.
Standard springy turf has been replaced by standing water, the bump and run preempted by smash and split, and a lead for Snedeker that two days ago felt unlikely.
Like 150-to-1 unlikely. Those were the odds placed on the American to begin the week, which may have been a tad low given his pedestrian performance on the game’s original pitches.
In 2001 while still in college, Snedeker failed to advance to the match-play portion of the British Amateur at Prestwick, the quirkiest of links that hosted the first Open in 1869, and he was 0-for-3 in cuts made at the Open.
When one English reporter delicately asked Snedeker to describe himself for United Kingdom fans who may have never heard of him, the Tennessee native shot back, “I’m sure there’s lots of Americans saying (who is this guy?).”
If the weather and Snedeker’s putter holds, that anonymity may be nearing an end.
When Snedeker holed his 10-footer for par at the last just as the first-round leaders were heading out, he stood at 10 under and five strokes clear of the field following a 64 at Royal Lytham & St. Annes. Adam Scott cut that lead to one stroke before the end of the day, but that did little to dull Snedeker’s stellar start.
Thursday’s 66 was Snedeker’s first sub-70 round in seven attempts at the game’s oldest championship and his 10-under total of 130 matched the 36-hole record set by Nick Faldo in 1992.
“Boring golf,” he figured. “I put it 25 feet away and tried to make some putts.”
Or in short, very much un-Snedeker-like golf, which brings us to the par-4 16th hole, which Snedeker double-eagled during Wednesday’s practice round. From the middle of the fairway on Friday, Snedeker’s wedge dropped into the middle of the green, checked quickly and left him with a 30-footer for birdie. Perfect.
Standing just a few yards away, Snedeker’s Sea Island (Ga.) based swing coach smiled widely.
“When he’s putting this good he’s usually firing at every pin,” Todd Anderson said. “It’s good to see him this patient. That’s what wins majors.”
His subdued play has been part of a plan that materialized late Wednesday afternoon in England when Snedeker met with Anderson, his caddie Scott Vail and an English statistician, who suggested that considering Snedeker’s prowess with the putter it may be worth firing away from Lytham’s pins.
“He figured it would give Sneds two more birdie looks a round,” Anderson said.
As plans go, this one has stayed to script with Snedeker playing his first two rounds bogey free, hitting 15 of 18 greens in regulation on Day 2 despite a sometimes wayward driver (9 of 14 fairways). But the key stats have been on the greens – with Snedeker needing just 28 putts and not recording a single three-putt in 36 holes – and in the sand. For two rounds he has not hit into one of Lytham’s 205 bunkers.
“I don’t expect that stat to hold through the weekend,” he said. “I fully expect to hit it in a few bunkers before the week is over.”
At his first Open in 2008 at Royal Birkdale, Snedeker played a practice round with five-time champion Tom Watson . At the time the round had a Links Golf 101 feel and the lessons from that day resonated with Snedeker.
“It helped a bunch playing with him,” Snedeker said. “He told me the first time over here he wasn’t a big fan of links golf. The second time he played he loved it. You’ve got to embrace it, realize that you’re going to get good bounces, bad bounces, but you expect the worst and hope for the best.”
For three previous championships, Snedeker’s affection for links golf has been vastly unrequited. That he would find liquid Lytham to his liking, however, is not entirely unexpected.
Heavy rain has softened the course and provided lush greens that are closer to PGA Tour standards then the Open, a transformation one observer called the Americanization of Lytham. But when pressed on the concept, Snedeker’s answer was distinctly British.
“You can call it the Americanization of this golf course, the softness that’s played a factor for sure. I’ve never seen balls spin at a British Open,” Snedeker said. “But I wouldn’t expect that to hold true for the whole weekend. I’m sure it’s probably going to show some teeth this weekend.”
Spoken like a man who is fully prepared to trade his signature visor for a tam-o-shanter and his relative obscurity for a claret jug. Old Tom would be proud.