The Open Championship, the oldest golf championship in the world, always seems to favour experience. By all accounts, this one at Carnoustie, beginning Thursday, should be no different.
Links golf comes with its own peculiar set of vagaries, but Carnoustie looks set to take it to a completely different level. A difficult golf course in normal conditions, the lack of rain in the area in recent times have made the fairways bone dry, thus causing the balls to run more than twice the distance it usually would after pitching.
On Monday, Padraig Harrington, who won the Open when it was last played in Carnoustie in 2007, hit his driver 457 yards into the Barry Burn that guards the 18th green. The Irishman averages 290.8 yards on the Tour. Then on Tuesday, 14-time major champion Tiger Woods smashed his three-iron to 333 yards. That’s almost 60 yards more than his usual distance.
One would tend to think hitting the ball such a long way would be an advantage for a golfer. But if you are unable to judge the carry and roll perfectly, length becomes counter-productive. Balls start running through the fairways and into the rough, which can be quite penal on a links course.
There are other aspects too. Pot bunkers and hazards, which most players try to avoid, start coming into play. Any ball landing short of the green is unlikely to stop on it.
Experience, especially that of playing on links courses, is thus going to be crucial. Not only because it gives them an idea of the shots to hit and the places to avoid, but also because players will have to rein themselves. Very few young golfers are matured enough to swallow their pride and play shots at less than 100 percent of their ability.
How does this whole scenario effect the Indian contingent – represented by Anirban Lahiri and Shubhankar Sharma – at The Open?
The 31-year-old Lahiri is a battle-hardened pro now, playing the championship for the fifth times this year. No other Indian has played the tournament more times than him. On the other hand, 21-year-old Sharma is playing his first Open and becomes the youngest Indian to do so.
What Sharma lacks in age, he more than makes up with his composure on the course and a very matured approach towards his golf. But the worrying part for him is that it is only his third tournament on a links course after the Irish Open and the Scottish Open in the previous two weeks.
“It’s going to be a new experience, but so was the World Golf Championship event in Mexico and I did pretty well there (finished tied ninth and led after three rounds). I firmly believe that playing good golf will be rewarded on any golf course,” said the World No 87.
“Jesse sir (coach Grewal) is here this week and we have worked very hard on our game. My hitting was a bit off at the Irish Open, but I improved on it last week during the Scottish Open and I am feeling even better now.
“We have discussed the strategy to tackle this course and I am confident I will have a good week.”
Sharma can take heart from the fact that his compatriot in the field, Lahiri, played his first Open in 2012 and proved to be a sensation that year. Not only did he make a hole-in-one, he also finished tied 31st despite having limited experience of links courses.
And then there are stories like Ben Curtis, a 26-year-old PGA Tour rookie who won the 2003 Open at Royal St George’s while playing a links course for the first time.
Lahiri, on the other hand, is coming out of frustrating period from the start of the year. After a strong start to the season with two top-10s on the PGA Tour, he seems to have regained his putting touch and has finished tied ninth, tied 13th and tied 39th in his last three starts. That run of events ensured that he will keep his card next year in the most sought after and lucrative Tour in the world.
The Bengaluru pro, who now lives in West Palm Beach area in Florida, is known to be a very cerebral golfer, one who can unravel the mysteries posed by the golf course with his sound reasoning.
“My last weekend on the PGA Tour was a disappointment (he was in contention in the Military Tribute at the Greenbrier after shooting a stunning nine-under par round on day two), but overall, I am happy that my game is heading in the right direction,” said Lahiri.
“I love playing on links courses. It makes you think…a lot. And this week is going to be no different. Not only do you have to play good golf, you also need to think well. There are plenty of shot options and choosing which one has the best possibility of giving you a good score is the key.
“And that is one of the reasons why I think Shubhankar would be all right here this week. He is a good thinker on the golf course.”
Sharma has been paired with 2017 Masters champion Sergio Garcia and American Bryson DeChambeau for the first two rounds and starts his campaign on Thursday at 1940 IST. Lahiri has an earlier start, at 1417 IST with World No 28 Matt Kuchar and Peter Uihlein.
Updated Date: Jul 17, 2018 23:03 PM