GULLANE, Scotland – The practice round schedule posted each day at Muirfield is not the only way to determine how players are getting ready for the British Open.
Johnson Wagner’s name was on the tee sheet at St. Andrews over the weekend.
Geoff Ogilvy could be found on the other side of the country, on links courses like Turnberry, Royal Troon and Western Gailes. Justin Rose was at North Berwick. So were Bubba Watson and Luke Donald, who got in plenty of golf along the Firth of Forth the week before the British Open.
It’s not unusual for players to take off from their regular tours a week before a major to prepare. What’s different about the British Open is that preparations aren’t limited to the course they will be playing.
“You can prepare for the U.S. Open on the range,” Ogilvy said Wednesday. “But you can only prepare for The Open on the course. And it doesn’t necessarily have to be the course you’re playing. The seaside courses here, they’re the only courses with turf like this, with sand like this. There’s something different about the seaside wind in Scotland.”
Tiger Woods, a three-time Open champion, arrived Sunday morning and has played nine holes a day.
Woods loves to recall his first experience with links golf in 1995 as the U.S. Amateur champion. He played the Scottish Open at Carnoustie, and then drove down the North Sea shoreline to St. Andrews for the British Open.
“I absolutely fell in love with it, to be able to dink a 5-iron from 150 yards and bump it on the ground, or vice versa – have 260 out and hit a 4-iron and it bounces over the green. That, to me, is pretty neat. Because we play everywhere around the world – an airborne game where you have to hit the ball straight up in the air and make it stop. Here it’s different. A draw will go one distance, a fade will go another, and they’re so dramatic. And I just absolutely love it.”
But there are no tricks at Muirfield, where the British Open, with defending champion Ernie Els, starts today. There are hardly any blind shots. Most of the bunkers are in plain view from the tee. That’s one of the reasons that Muirfield is a favorite of so many players, who use words like “fair” and “honest test,” which aren’t always heard on other links courses.
The forecast is dry for the week, with perhaps some mist this weekend.
“I think it’s no exaggeration to say that in my time at the R&A with direct involvement in The Open Championship (since 2000) factors have combined this year to make this the best course set up we’ve ever had in that period,” R&A chief executive Peter Dawson said.