ST. ANDREWS, Scotland – We are off and running. My partner this week is two-time European Tour winner, Mikko Ilonen from Finland. Ilonen is a 29-year-old who still lives most of the year in Helsinki but tells me as we walk down the third hole today that when he gets bored of shoveling snow he makes a quick dash for the Middle East, using Dubai as a winter practice haven.
We are paired with Sam Hutsby, a 20-year-old Englishman playing his first event as a professional. A private equity investor from New York named Weston Quasha is his amateur partner. I haven’t done the research, but I’m guessing we are the only group all under the age of 30.
We played Carnoustie today, with St. Andrews to follow on Friday and Kingsbarns on Saturday. Carnoustie is considered the toughest of the three courses and according to a couple of Dunhill vets with whom I played on Wednesday, Carnoustie isn’t a bad place to start. Get a round in 4 or 5 under and you are still within a shout of making the 20-team cut for St. Andrews on Sunday.
Our opening score was 4-under 68. I can’t say this was down to me except for two holes – a snaked in 20-footer for par from off the green at No. 15 and a 7-iron to a couple of feet at the last for birdie. However, unlike some of the bandits out there who receive plenty of shots for their efforts, myself and Mikko’s 4 under was actually a genuine 68 gross score. My official club handicap is 3, so I only receive two shots a round in the two-thirds system used this week. On Thursday, Mikko’s score on both of my shot holes counted. Although I avoided the out of bounds on Hogan’s Alley, a poor wedge shot cost me a bogey, and on the spectacled 14th, Mikko narrowly missed eagle to my par.
Mikko was very steady, hardly breaking sweat for his 70, tying him for 37th but only three behind the best score of the day at Carnoustie.
Johann Rupert, our host this week, wasn’t joking when he talked about slow play at the opening dinner. Our round was close to five and half hours. That's not bad by Dunhill standards but still rather sluggish for your average fourball. It wasn’t too bad because the weather was “lovely” according to my caddie Derrick, lovely is a relative term in this part of the world, which means it didn’t rain was only a light breeze and the beanie hat wasn’t quite required for those who kept the blood following around their bodies.
Tomorrow, the naysayers are calling for heavy rain and some wind to whip off the Forth of Tay. My inside scoop, which comes from the Carnoustie greenstaff, says we'll get a light drizzle during the afternoon. I’ll be an optimist and hope for the latter.
Watch full coverage of the Alfred Dunhill Links on Golf Channel Friday - Saturday at 8:30 a.m. - 12:30 p.m. ET and Sunday at 7:30 a.m. - 12:30 p.m. ET.
Dunhill Diary, Part 3: Practice at the Old Course
Dunhill Diary, Part 2: Dry clothes and Draw Party
Dunhill Diary, Part 1: Big Stars ... and Me