A Study In Sainthood

I’ve written about patience before in anticipation of this year’s U.S. Open.

So it’s a real high wire act. On the one hand, all of your competitive instincts scream at you to go after those birdies, “Go for it!” But on the other hand, your intellect taps you on the shoulder and says, “Wait for it, dude.” Patience.

If you want a sense of what that feels like, go for a drive in non-rush hour traffic…in the right hand lane. Drive for miles and do not leave that right lane for anything. Allow feeder traffic to join the party, do not pass those who are in less of a hurry than you are, even if it’s a big, overloaded dump truck that can’t go that fast…and, oh yeah, whose load is raining down on the road every time the truck hits a bump…and maybe even it’s a wet load that has water in it too. So not only do you have to maintain a larger gap, other drivers keep jumping into your gap slowing you down even more.

In time, you will probably feel the back of your neck beginning to prickle, the frustration gradually welling up in your chest, your stomach in knots, dumping acid. It’s amazing who you’ll find in that right hand lane. And it’s not unusual for the epithets to begin forming in your fuming mind even if they never cross your lips.

Well, if we thought the U.S. Open was going to be a test, this year’s British Open at Royal St. George’s in Sandwich, England, is at another level yet. If the U.S. Open at Congressional required patience, this year’s Open may require sainthood. And I think the players all know it because very few winced at some of the bizarre things that happened to their shots that weren’t their fault.

They say that Royal St. George’s is the toughest on the Open’s rota. Where U.S. courses have gently sculpted fairways, St. George’s has crowned fairways with bulging moguls in the middle of them that routinely kick your ball to the rough. So, with a tee ball soaring 300 yards down range over the center of the fairway, it is frequently a matter of sheer happenstance and luck where your ball ends up.

They are lucky in one regard; the rains came late this year, so the rough is wispy in many places. But it’s also nasty enough in some places that Phil Mickelson had no way to get the club on the ball right of the first fairway. Bones, his caddie, wanted him to just take his medicine and chip out to the fairway. But he couldn’t make contact going in the direction. So he settled for gambling that he would get a better lie if he just continuing down the rough.

But if bad shots are the routine from nasty places in the rough, there are also some lucky ones in there too. Mickelson wasn’t able to make good contact on his gamble and the ball squirted left back into the fairway and wound up just short of the green.

There is also at least one towering bunker guarding the 4th fairway that has the mass of a low-rise parking garage. And if you don’t get into that one, there is a generous helping of others that have faces so steep, they actually have stairs going down into them. And it’s not just the greenside faces, it’s the back faces too. You could actually get into one of those bunkers and have no backswing.

Those are the same features of the greenside bunkers too. Aaron Baddeley had no way to play at the green even though the bunker was right next to it. Creatively, he turned his sand wedge upside down and attempted to hit a left-handed shot just behind the green. It missed coming out by half a foot and plopped off the face back into a fried egg lie. He got it up and down for his bogey and it wasn’t luck, it was all skill.

And there are the greens. Because the greens are so hard, hitting the putting surface doesn’t mean that you will stay there. Michelson hit another remarkable shot early in his round: a mere 8 iron for a 200-yard shot . He wasn’t trying to hit the green, he was hitting it short of the green so that it would bounce onto the green and stay there. It did. Others who tried to slyly land it on the front of the green wound up over the back. And there are at least two greens where there is a boundary immediately behind.

Beyond that, the greens are also heavily mounded with pronounced ridges running through them. And also have what appear to be gently sculpted edges but are, in fact, cunning slopes to the oblivion of the greenside swales, bunkers and rough.

And beyond the physical tests, there is the seemingly incessant weather: cold, wind and rain…in July.

But the moniker, “Champion Golfer of the Year,” by virtue of winning the British Open, means enough to any professional golfer that they will back their bags and slog the world with their clubs for a chance that their skill and their luck will prevail. And every one of them still thinks that as they stand on the 1st tee.

The question is, which player worthy of sainthood can keep thinking that right to the end?

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