There were at least two times during Darren Clarke’s winning final round at this year’s British Open at Royal St. Georges in Sandwich, England, that I knew I didn’t have to worry about him anymore. It was just his time.
The first one was when he had a downhill lie and was trying to hit a low shot under the wind and over cross bunkers in the distance. It was a critical time in the round…and he bladed it. But instead of the bunker swallowing his ball whole, the mogul in front of the bunker provided the perfect speed ramp to the upper plateau beyond the bunker. The ball careened into the mogul and up and over it went.
And the same kind of thing happened when he tried to hit his tee shot over a big hill but the ball didn’t carry to the fairway on the other side. Still faced with over 250 yards, he thrashed at a 5 wood but he thinned this one too. And once again, Mother Nature gave his ball a free hop to safety on the other side of the cross bunkers.
Links golf courses are famous for their crazy bounces, but the most memorable bounces are always bad. We can’t say that anymore.
Asked in his post-round interview about whether he started thinking that it was his day:
You never really think that up until you’re on the 18th green with a couple of shots [in the lead]. You never know what’s going to happen. I got a couple of good breaks that went my way.
Yesterday I played as good as I could play from tee to green and I didn’t really get anything out of it. Today I played not bad; I played okay. Got a couple of good breaks that went my way. Also at the same time hit lots of great putts today which burnt the edges and didn’t go in. So it sort of balanced out.
But there’s times you can get a couple of good breaks but it could have easily just gone the other way, and that’s the game, that’s links golf and that’s the way it is.
And once again golf presents itself as a perfect metaphor for life.
And that helped Clarke to get through his day. In just really nasty weather—the essence of true links golf—he managed to shoot 2-under par on the front nine. And then as the weather front descended on them, he was in and out of his rain suit in big winds for much of the back nine. And he only made two irrelevant bogeys on 17 and 18. He pretty much knew he had it locked up when his closest pursuer, Dustin Johnson inexplicably hit his 2 iron layup shot out of bounds on the par 5 14th.
Up until then, Johnson looked like a machine; the wind played big, Johnson played bigger. He made three birdies mid-round to clean up early bogeys and looked to be a real threat until the 2-iron. He said later that he should have hit a 3 wood because he was only two back at that time and needed a birdie. But it wasn’t the 2 iron, it was the swing. That ball landed so deep out of bounds that the two announcers at the time started giggling over whether they should use the word “shank” or not. That same swing would have produced the same results with the 3 wood. But he came away better for the experience:
Like I say all the time, the more I put myself in this situation, the better. The more I learn, the more I understand my game and what happens in this situation.
And Phil Mickelson sprang to life in a British Open for the first time in ages. Before the rains rolled in on top of the wind, he had it to 6-under through 10 holes with four birdies and an eagle. Do you think Clarke was hearing footsteps? But he made four bogeys in a stretch of six holes on the back and he was done. It was due almost entirely to him not being able to make a putting stroke without a push in it; all four short putts—one inside of three feet—missed left. But all in all, his 2nd place finish was due to his new attitude which he revealed after Friday’s round when it was clear that heavy weather was coming in:
It’s fun to be in contention heading into the weekend of the British. One of the things I’m looking forward to is actually the bad weather. I hope that it comes in and that we get faced with that. I think it’s going to be a very difficult challenge, but the course is set up in a way that can accommodate some bad weather…
I just wanted to start fresh because I’ve loved links golf. I just had to really enjoy the challenge of it more. I’ve always loved the different shots that are required and the strategy about how the courses are designed with the bunker placements. One day they’re not in play because of the wind and the wind changes and now they are. I just think this is really a fun way to play golf, and I wanted to have kind of a fresh start [by looking at it that way].
And it was really nice to see that not only did Thomas Bjorn come away intact from his reunion with his nemesis golf course, he managed to shoot an impressive 1 over par on Sunday and ended up in 4th by himself. Not bad for a guy who began the week walking on egg shells.
With their T5, Rickie Fowler and Anthony Kim both made statements about their worthiness as contenders in the majors; Fowler had just two bogeys and Kim balanced this three bogeys with matching birdies. Chad Campbell joined them and it was nice to see that he’s back sniffing around the promise he demonstrated when he burst into our awareness with his 2nd place finish at the 2003 PGA Championship that Shaun Micheel won.
And finally, Sergio Garcia may finally be growing up. The fiery Spaniard whose mercurial reactions to his game sometimes cross over into petulance, shared the low round of the day, 68, with Phil. And what was nice about it was that he seemed to take the ups and downs in stride. His sabbatical last year and new putting grip may be paying off. It’s nice to see someone so talented moving in the right direction as a person because it’s not his knowledge of the game that’s been killing him.
When it’s your time, it’s your time.