This is a very interesting week in men’s professional golf because next week, all of the elite players in the world convene at Muirfield in Gullane, East Lothian, Scotland for the British Open. It is a very big deal.
We know that it’s a very big deal because of the number of those elite players who are playing in this week’s tournaments on both sides of the Atlantic.
The players on the European side have gathered for the Scottish Open at Castle Stuart, a links course on the Beauly Firth that leads out to the North Sea. You know, a real links course on the sea, not just a links course because of it’s quirky links-like attributes. It’s in Inverness in the northern part of Ireland, the last big town before you get up into the wilds.
For timing and esthetics, it’s perfect. Players who plan to play next week at Muirfield have a great opportunity to tune their games up for the links experience, a lot of low shots that spend as much time running on the ground beneath the wind as they do in the air. The last two Open winners tuned up at the Scottish Open, so there must be something in the water.
Because of that they’ve attracted some real talent led by Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els, Darren Clarke, Shane Lowry (who took out his good friend Rory McIlroy in the first round of the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship), long-hitting Nicolas Colsaerts, teen phenom, now 20-year-old Matteo Manassero, Padraig Harrington, Henrick Stenson, fresh-winner, Paul Casey and Francesco Molinari among the most notable.
At just 7,193 yards, not everyone is in love with the place. Ah, intrigue! Graeme McDowell had some unkind things to say about the course and it’s effect on the Scottish Open. “The Scottish Open has lost its identity and its prestige. Castle Stuart probably has not been a strong enough golf course,” McDowell told The Scottish Sun. “Let’s see them get the Scottish Open on a phenomenal links golf course with a great purse and get a world-class field back.”
That didn’t go over great with some. Surely with that fine Irish twinkle in his eye, Padraig Harrington said that it was a fine warmup for the Open and a good tournament in its own right…and he’s there this week to prove it. And since the Golf Channel is picking up the broadcast at 5:30 am (ET) and runs until 12:30 pm, that says a little something about the significance of this prelude. And it’ll get you into the whole British Isles mindset.
Meanwhile, half a world away at the TPC Deere Run in Silvas, Illinois (aka, The Quad Cities), the John Deere Classic is getting underway with its own cast of luminaries.
Led by three-time champion, Steve Stricker who is playing part-time and is still 20th on the FedExCup points list, this tournament holds its position right before the Open with clever regard. Knowing that players would find it cumbersome to make their way from the Quad Cities to Inverness Sunday night, they charter a large jet to get the players there as fast as possible and in comfort. It is a Godsend to weary road warriors. And it surely does lure players to play their tournament.
In addition to Stricker, defending champion, Zach Johnson, Keegan Bradley, Davis Love III, last week’s winner, Jonas Blixt, Nick Watney, former British Open champion, Louis Oosthuisen and Boo Weekley are in the field.
We also have University of Texas standout, Jordan Spieth, who’s playing on a sponsor exemption. Why? Because he’s amassed $1.2 million playing on sponsor exemptions as a Special Temporary Member and he’s searching for a win that will give him full membership and put him in the playoffs. There are no exemptions in the four playoffs, players get into each successive tournament based on their FedExCup points standing (125, 100, 70 and 30 for the Tour Championship) and you have to be a member to accumulate points.
The thing about the Deere is that the 18th is a par-4, dogleg right that is a very demanding hole. You have to shave your tee shot around the bend defined by the treeline; the shot requires a cut. That sets you up for the approach shot to the green with a bunker over the back-right and a pond on the entire left side of the green.
But if you hit the tee shot straight instead cutting it, you end up in the left fairway bunker where both Steve Stricker and Zach Johnson played extraordinary shots to win or get into a playoff. So it makes for dramatic viewing…made more so by knowing that the jet is just sitting on the tarmac itching to go to Scotland.
As the four tournament days unfold, it’s got to be very had to keep that off your mind.