The Wide Open Open

What do all of these top 50 players in the world have in common?

Luke Donald (1)

Lee Westwood (2)

Matt Kuchar (7)

Graeme McDowell (9)

Nick Watney (10)

Ian Poulter (16)

Robert Karlsson (18)

Hunter Mahan (20)

Francesco Molinari (22)

Ernie Els (24)

Martin Laird (26)

Matteo Manassero (29)

Geoff Ogilvy (41)

Brandt Snedeker (43)

Aaron Baddeley (49)

They all missed the cut at this year’s British Open at Royal St. George’s in Sandwich, England. And if you throw in other big names, top 100 players like Padraig Harrington, Ross Fisher, Angel Cabrera and Ben Crane, the carnage is even worse. That golf course is tough!

The encouraging lesson in this for those of us who don’t compete at that level is that if these great players weren’t able to do any better when it meant so much to them and their careers, perhaps we can be a bit more philosophical when we hit bad shots, have a bad round or a bad tournament. And maybe we can even push beyond philosophical to sanguine.

Why? Because we learn more when we play in peaceful curiosity than we do when we are in burbling rage. The anger snatches us out of that state of acute awareness even though it seems we’re presently paying attention to the anger. While that may teach us how to deal with the ups and downs of anger, the anger is a function of ego and has nothing to do with the mechanics, the feel of our swings, where the real gold is to be mined.

And speaking of gold mining, Saturday is moving day towards the pot of gold at the end of Sunday’s rainbow. The only problem each player has is to make sure that he’s moving forward instead of backward; Saturday’s weather is supposed to be absolutely brutal. The Golf Channel analysts were also using the word “carnage” for what the day might heap upon the players.

There’s an 80% chance of rain and the wind is supposed to blow 20 with gusts to 30. The only good news in the forecast is that is says, “with periods of rain.” Although if something’s going to get them, it’ll be the wind and not the rain. You can manage staying reasonably dry in the rain, but it’s much harder to manage playing in high winds. Except for one thing: if you’re hitting the ball solidly, you have the edge against your fellow competitors. But if you’re fanning the ball—missing the center of the clubface or being slightly off the swing plane—even a small amount, you will have a long day. In the wind, you have to compensate for where you have to hit the ball to get it to go where you want it to. If you can’t predict where or how you hit the ball, it makes that compensation unreliable…and then frustrating…and ultimately disheartening.

All of this complicated by the fact that of the 71 survivors who made the cut, fully 31 of them are within 4 strokes of the lead held jointly by Northern Ireland’s Darren Clarke and U.S. Open winner, Lucas Glover. Between the two of them, advantage local boy Clarke for all the years he’s been playing links golf. And in his interviews, he seemed to be at peace with himself, his life and his game:

…I believe the forecast for the weekend is very, very poor, which I quite look forward to…

…I’ve changed things about a little bit. I moved back home [from London] to Northern Ireland again to Portrush with my kids, [for] their education. It’s a lot easier to play better whenever family life and stuff at home [is] much better, much more stable again…

…I’ve been around long enough obviously, and won I don’t know how many times, 20 times, 21 times tournaments or so. I’ve been around the mill for a while. So it never really disappears. Just trying to get it back out again. So far this week I’ve played quite nicely…

…I’ve been doing a lot of practicing in bad weather because that’s usually what we get at Portrush…It’s a case of getting used to playing in bad weather on links again, and that’s what I’ve been doing all over the winter and stuff at home. Hopefully it will stand me in good stead…

But if it doesn’t, he has a rejuvenated Thomas Bjorn, the irrepressible Miguel Angel Jimenez and a resurgent Martin Kaymer hot on his heels one stroke back.

And seven guys two strokes back including Dustin Johnson (who has a gleam in his eye), Tom Lehman (the ’96 Open Champion and who’s also looking forward to bad weather), Davis Love III and Charl Schwartzel (this year’s Masters winner).

And I could go on, but of these great players who did make the cut, not one of them is an accidental tourist. So when the sun begins to come out late Sunday afternoon and that rainbow appears, there would be few among them who will be a surprise as he picks up that pot of gold.

Especially young Mr. Rory McIlroy who is 4 stokes back at even par and has perhaps the biggest gleam in his eye.

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