And the Real Open Winner was . . .?

The Golf Course

by Tom Regan

All the mainstream stories are in. Monti lost yet another major because he can’t handle the pressure. Ian Wosnan failed to resurrect a dying professional career because his caddie (forget about Woosie) never learned to count beyond fourteen. And David Duval? After elbowing his way through the ill-mannered British throng engulfing the eighteenth green, Duvall finally unburdened himself of being known as the “best golfer never to win a major.”

After so many years of so much disappointment, it may seem unfair to say anything that diminishes the significance of Duvall’s achievement. In terms of golf history, however, Georgia Tech’s most famous golfer was not the real winner of the 130th playing of the British Open. The real winner never struck a single shot. The real winner never carried an extra club. The real winner was the golf course.

Golf has been played at Lytham since 1898. Despite having undergone some changes, the course retains its original character. Gently rolling fairways. Roughs of fine grass, waist high in places. Bunkers galore (just under 200, the largest number of any course used for an Open). Small greens that tend to crest in the middle, the better to reject a poorly struck ball. Deceptive greens, with exquisitely subtle breaks, where three foot putts can bring the world’s best putters to their knees. Any doubt about this, just ask Tiger.

What viewers saw this past weekend is what Lytham is.

Located on the west coast of England, just south of Blackpool, Royal Lytham and St. Annes is not a links course in the truest sense. The pounding surf of the Irish Sea,; located more than a mile away, is never in play. In fact, the Sea is never even visible. But when a steady rain falls, and the northwest wind is up, Lytham becomes as true a test of links golf as any of its more famous cousins, including the Old Course at St. Andrews.

With few exceptions (Ben Hogan is the most obvious; having won at Carnoustie in 1953, he never played the Open again), all the great golfers for the past 100 years have tested their game against the many challenges of Lytham.

As storied as Lytham’s Open history is, the golf cognoscenti have been lining-up to write its obituary. Coming in at under 6900 yards, the soothsayers foresee a pitch-and-putt Open with single round and total scoring records shattered by the also rans, not just the eventual winner. The older, more traditional courses — Merion in America, now Lytham in England, for example — are just too short and just too tame for the new generation of professionals, armed with their solid core balls and metal woods. Among those in the know, the consensus is clear: this, Lytham’s tenth Open, will be its last.