A Walk Down the Path of Those Young Years
Working with the juniors always takes me back to when I first started to play this game. I remember before I ever played how I watched the 1971 Masters on television - the way it looked, and everything was so green and beautiful. I was into all kinds of sports that a young teenage boy can play ' cycling, swimming, all those things ' but I really hadnt thought much about golf until then.
I got the bug just watching television. The very next day I was hitting balls on the school's playing field. It was the Easter holiday, and Ive been in love with the game ever since.
I would make the schoolyard my practice area at first. I used to hit balls into the long-jump pit. That was my target. I would hit balls towards that area until I could get them in their most of the time.
A neighbor lent me a 7- and 8-iron at first, and then my parents bought me a half-set of clubs ' come to think of it, they were called St. Andrews, which I guess is quite funny. It was just a cheap set, but I used them over and over when I was first learning. I played my first round of golf on my 14th birthday ' July 18, 1971.
Anyway, the day after the Masters in 71, I went down to the Welwyn Garden City Golf Club ' my hometown outside of London ' and booked lessons. My first teacher was an assistant pro, Chris Arnold, who gave me six lessons. He was a big help, obviously, he really got me started. Then he passed me along to Ian Connally, who was the head pro there. I worked with him, oh, for about 10 years or so.
I realize I was a relatively late starter. Most kids who make it as a professional start younger, at 10 or so. But I got good rather quickly. My first handicap card showed I was playing to about a 12. It was my own sporting ability, I guess, but I started hitting a lot of balls straightaway. I practiced for three months before I ever went out on a golf course, I think that was one thing that was really important.
Within a year, I was really hooked on it. My mother took me all over the country to tournaments ' my father, who was an accountant, had to work. Eventually I became old enough to drive myself, but until then, me and mum drove the countryside.
I left school at 16, in the summer of 73. Basically, I lived on the practice ground for the next two years. And 1975 was my big amateur year, when I started winning some really big tournaments at the age of 18. Within four years of first picking up a club, I won the British Amateur. Within six years, I was a professional and playing for Great Britain in the '77 Ryder Cup.
I must have played with Sandy Lyle the first time at the 74 English Boys tournament. He was from Shrewsbury in the west of England and we had some memorable matches when we were young. He played for England then, even though he is of Scottish descent ' I think he was Englands captain, as a matter of fact. We were just about the best English boys around, and I guess some of those matches are still talked about today.
By 75, the next year, I played off a 3 handicap. I won the British Amateur, the Berkshire Trophy, the British Youths, English Champion of Champions, and a big tournament in South Africa where I met Gary Player. I got to play a couple of holes with Gary, because he was the great ambassador.
Actually, though, Gary wasnt the first superstar I met. I remember earlier in 75 I tried to qualify for the (British) Open at Carnoustie ' I was 17 at the time, I think. I didnt make it. But at the British Amateur I had met the man who was to caddy for Lee Trevino at the Open. And he told me, Hey, Ill get you a round with Lee.
I said, How are you going to do that? He said, Because Im the boss!
So the deal was, if I made it, I could play a practice round with Lee. And I was really sick because I didnt make it. But I was standing on the first tee when Lee showed up for his practice round, and the caddy saw me.
He must have saw me looking really disappointed, and he said, Dont worry, you can still walk with him. So I walked around next to his bag all day.
That was fantastic. I walked with Lee for those three days, and he was really incredible. He showed me how to putt, all sorts of things. In those days, you could walk next to the player. And Lee really provided an insight into what golf at this level was all about.
When I turned pro the next year, in 1976, there really wasnt any player I could look up to or help me out with those little things that every pro needs to know ' or at least I didnt know how to go about asking. I basically did my own thing and just learned as I went along.
That basically is what Im trying to do with these kids now. Im passing on to them what I have learned for the last 25 years or so, all my knowledge. All Im telling them is to bring their talent and dedication, and within my team we know everything about how to build a champion golfer.
I try to give them everything ' I talked to them the other day about, You will probably find something you like in a golf shot that will fit you. And that will probably stay with you your whole career.
Ive played with the same shot for 20 years now. Once you find something thats a fit with your own body tempo, its very difficult to change. It becomes natural, and its something that you can rely on when the pressure gets really immense and you need something to bail you out.
I really hope the youngsters can get something out of this. As I said, I really didnt have anyone inside the game to guide me through the pitfalls. Maybe this program will make the journey through to the top a little easier. The steps along the way are certainly exciting.
Schauffele just fine being the underdog
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Following a breakthough season during which he won twice and collected the PGA Tour Rookie of the Year Award, Xander Schauffele concedes his sophomore campaign has been less than stellar, but that could all change on Sunday at The Open.
Schauffele followed a second-round 66 with a 67 on Saturday to take a share of the 9-under-par lead with Jordan Spieth and Kevin Kisner.
Although he hasn’t won in 2018, he did finish runner-up at The Players and tied for sixth at the U.S. Open, two of the year’s toughest tests.
“Growing up, I always hit it well and played well in tough conditions,” Schauffele said. “I wasn't the guy to shoot 61. I was the guy to shoot like 70 when it was playing really hard.”
Sunday’s pairing could make things even more challenging when he’ll head out in the day’s final tee time with Spieth, the defending champion. But being the underdog in a pairing, like he was on Saturday alongside Rory McIlroy, is not a problem.
“All the guys I've talked to said, 'Live it up while you can, fly under the radar,'” he said. “Today I played in front of what you call Rory's crowd and guys were just yelling all the time, even while he's trying to putt, and he had to step off a few times. No one was yelling at me while I was putting. So I kind of enjoy just hanging back and relaxing.”
Open odds: Spieth 7/1 to win; Tiger, Rory 14/1
Only 18 holes remain in the 147th Open Championship at Carnoustie, and the man tied atop the leaderboard is the same man who captured the claret jug last year at Royal Birkdale.
So it’s little surprise that Jordan Spieth is the odds-on favorite (7/4) to win his fourth major entering Sunday’s final round.
Xander Schauffele and Kevin Kisner, both tied with Spieth at 9 under par, are next in line at 5/1 and 11/2 respectively. Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, both four shots behind the leaders, are listed at 14/1.
Jordan Spieth: 7/4
Xander Schauffele: 5/1
Kevin Kisner: 11/2
Tiger Woods: 14/1
Francesco Molinari: 14/1
Rory McIlroy: 14/1
Kevin Chappell: 20/1
Tommy Fleetwood: 20/1
Alex Noren: 25/1
Zach Johnson: 30/1
Justin Rose: 30/1
Matt Kuchar: 40/1
Webb Simpson: 50/1
Adam Scott: 80/1
Tony Finau: 80/1
Charley Hoffman: 100/1
Austin Cook: 100/1
Spieth stands on brink of Open repeat
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Jordan Spieth described Monday’s “ceremony” to return the claret jug to the keepers of the game’s oldest championship as anything but enjoyable.
For the last 12 months the silver chalice has been a ready reminder of what he was able to overcome and accomplish in 2017 at Royal Birkdale, a beacon of hope during a year that’s been infinitely forgettable.
By comparison, the relative pillow fight this week at Carnoustie has been a welcome distraction, a happy-go-lucky stroll through a wispy field. Unlike last year’s edition, when Spieth traveled from the depths of defeat to the heights of victory within a 30-minute window, the defending champion has made this Open seem stress-free, easy even, by comparison.
But then those who remain at Carnoustie know it’s little more than a temporary sleight of hand.
As carefree as things appeared on Saturday when 13 players, including Spieth, posted rounds of 67 or lower, as tame as Carnoustie, which stands alone as The Open’s undisputed bully, has been through 54 holes there was a foreboding tension among the rank and file as they readied for a final trip around Royal Brown & Bouncy.
“This kind of southeast or east/southeast wind we had is probably the easiest wind this golf course can have, but when it goes off the left side, which I think is forecasted, that's when you start getting more into the wind versus that kind of cross downwind,” said Spieth, who is tied for the lead with Xander Schauffele and Kevin Kisner at 9 under par after a 6-under 65. “It won't be the case tomorrow. It's going to be a meaty start, not to mention, obviously, the last few holes to finish.”
Carnoustie only gives so much and with winds predicted to gust to 25 mph there was a distinct feeling that playtime was over.
As melancholy as Spieth was about giving back the claret jug, and make no mistake, he wasn’t happy, not even his status among the leading contenders with a lap remaining was enough for him to ignore the sleeping giant.
But then he’s come by his anxiousness honestly. Spieth has spent far too much time answering questions about an inexplicably balky putter the last few weeks and he hasn’t finished better than 21st since his “show” finish in April at the Masters.
After a refreshingly solid start to his week on Thursday imploded with a double bogey-bogey-par-bogey finish he appeared closer to an early ride home on Friday than he did another victory lap, but he slowly clawed his way back into the conversation as only he can with one clutch putt after the next.
“I'm playing golf for me now. I've kind of got a cleared mind. I've made a lot of progress over the year that's been kind of an off year, a building year,” said Spieth, who is bogey-free over his last 36 holes. “And I've got an opportunity to make it a very memorable one with a round, but it's not necessary for me to prove anything for any reason.”
But if an awakened Carnoustie has Spieth’s attention, the collection of would-be champions assembled around and behind him adds another layer of intrigue.
Kisner, Spieth’s housemate this week on Angus coast, has led or shared the lead after each round this week and hasn’t shown any signs of fading like he did at last year’s PGA Championship, when he started the final round with a one-stroke lead only to close with a 74 to tie for seventh place.
“I haven't played it in that much wind. So I think it's going to be a true test, and we'll get to see really who's hitting it the best and playing the best tomorrow,” said Kisner, who added a 68 to his total on Day 3.
There’s no shortage of potential party crashers, from Justin Rose at 4 under after a round-of-the-week 64 to 2015 champion Zach Johnson, who also made himself at home with Spieth and Kisner in the annual Open frat house and is at 5 under.
Rory McIlroy, who is four years removed from winning his last major championship, looked like a player poised to get off the Grand Slam schneid for much of the day, moving to 7 under with a birdie at the 15th hole, but he played the last three holes in 2 over par and is tied with Johnson at 5 under par.
And then there’s Tiger Woods. For three magical hours the three-time Open champion played like he’d never drifted into the dark competitive hole that’s defined his last few years. Like he’d never been sidelined by an endless collection of injuries and eventually sought relief under the surgeon’s knife.
As quietly as Woods can do anything, he turned in 3 under par for the day and added two more birdies at Nos. 10 and 11. His birdie putt at the 14th hole lifted him temporarily into a share of the lead at 6 under par.
“We knew there were going to be 10, 12 guys with a chance to win on Sunday, and it's turning out to be that,” said Woods, who is four strokes off the lead. “I didn't want to be too far back if the guys got to 10 [under] today. Five [shots back] is certainly doable, and especially if we get the forecast tomorrow.”
Woods held his round of 66 together with a gritty par save at the 18th hole after hitting what he said was his only clunker of the day off the final tee.
Even that episode seemed like foreshadowing.
The 18th hole has rough, bunkers, out of bounds and a burn named Barry that weaves its way through the hole like a drunken soccer fan. It’s the Grand Slam of hazardous living and appears certain to play a leading role in Sunday’s outcome.
Perhaps none of the leading men will go full Jean Van de Velde, the star-crossed Frenchman who could still be standing in that burn if not for a rising tide back at the 1999 championship, but if the 499 yards of dusty turf is an uninvited guest, it’s a guest nonetheless.
It may not create the same joyless feelings that he had when he returned the claret jug, but given the hole’s history and Spieth’s penchant for late-inning histrionics (see Open Championship, 2017), the 18th hole is certain to produce more than a few uncomfortable moments.
Wandering photographer costs McIlroy on 16
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Rory McIlroy bogeyed two of his last four holes Saturday to fall four shots off the lead at The Open.
One of those mistakes might not have entirely been his fault.
McIlroy missed a short putt on the par-3 16th after a photographer was “in a world all his own,” wandering around near the green, taking photos of the crowd and not paying attention to the action on the green.
“It’s fine,” McIlroy said after a third-round 70 put him at 5-under 208, four shots off the lead. “It’s one of those things that happens. There’s a lot of people out there, and it is what it is. It’s probably my fault, but I just didn’t regroup well after it happened.”
McIlroy also bogeyed the home hole, after driving into a fairway bunker, sending his second shot right of the green and failing to get up and down.
“I putted well,” he said. “I holed out when I needed to. I just need to make the birdies and try to limit the damage tomorrow.”