The lid on golf’s pressure cooker was a classic St Andrews Open – a thrilling championship game attempting to deflect attention from an unprecedented power struggle for the game’s running.
On the other hand, Cameron Smith has turned up the heat, not only with his scintillating golf that brought the Australian his first major title but also with his reluctance to deny rumours that he is about to defect to the LIV Golf Invitational Series.
What a coup it would be for Greg Norman’s Saudi Arabian-funded outfit to entice the new world number two, who also won the PGA Tour’s flagship event this year, the Players Championship.
Team deals with such issues:
Smith provided no solace to embattled bosses from golf’s status quo by simply stating that his “team deal with that sort of stuff.” The 28-year-old has emerged as the sport’s hottest property, and fellow Australian Norman is almost certainly preparing a massive offer.
Rumours swept the Old Course throughout the week of the 150th Open. Several big names were rumored to be interested in Norman’s lucrative breakaway series.
The Open marks the end of the men’s major season. The PGA and DP World Tours must be concerned about what comes next in the sport’s history.
Continuation of speculation
The Ryder Cup’s future is uncertain, and Europe’s captain, Henrik Stenson, is widely rumoured to be among the next to accept Saudi money.
The European tour described the rumours as “continued speculation,” but Stenson has had plenty of chances to prove his commitment to the role he signed up for only last March. He remained silent when his continent needed him the most.
What will the landscape of men’s professional golf look like when Smith defends the Claret Jug at Royal Liverpool next year? How distant will last week’s Old Course epic seem?
The champion put on a blistering performance to hold off Cameron Young and pass Rory McIlroy, who had another bitterly disappointing Open result.
Last Sunday was not the day for the Northern Irishman to forget about his putter. Despite an intelligent game plan that was efficiently and calmly implemented, his inability to single-putt any of the 18 greens left him vulnerable.
McIlroy only went into two bunkers all week, one of which he holed out for eagle. On the final day, he hit every green in regulation, playing with a calm sense of purpose that suggested he would break his eight-year major drought.
However, his failure to convert birdie opportunities on the 12th and 14th holes proved crucial. Yes, he had defeated Viktor Hovland, who appeared to be the main threat at the start of play, with the Ryder Cup team-mates locked together and four shots ahead of the field. But he couldn’t do anything about the charging Aussie.
McIlroy took a long look at the leaderboard on the 15th hole.
It confirmed Smith’s one-shot lead, and the man who had led him by three at the turn then stared forlornly down the 16th fairway, waiting for the new leader to strike his next approach.
As the galleries applauded the arrival of Smith’s ball onto the green, it had to have been a sickening sound. Despite his own raucous support, McIlroy could feel the Claret Jug slipping away.
St Andrews is not the most exciting Open venue. Crowds are kept to the outside perimeter, and grandstands provide the best views, particularly around the loop from the seventh to eleventh holes.
However, a record attendance of 290,000 ensured that the 150th edition was never short of a sense of occasion commensurate with its historical significance.
Not at all. It was a fantastic show.
What about the Old Course itself? Fears that it would be overwhelmed by today’s golfers were mostly unfounded, as fast, firm conditions still posed a stern test.
The winning score of twenty under par was a record-equaling figure, but par is a fictitious figure, and 72 for the Old Course is generous. Depending on the wind, the ninth, tenth, twelfth, and eighteenth holes can all be long par threes.
However, when the wind shifts, they become difficult to par four holes, as shown on the scorecard. In either case, the course requires strategy, power, and precision. Smith excelled in all areas, particularly with his wedges, to rebound from Saturday’s potentially disastrous 73.
The old course failed.
The Old Course’s failure in a modern setting was its inability to accommodate 156 competitors in a timely manner. It’s ridiculous to fail to complete the first round by 22:00 after starting the day at 06:35.
However, with two par fives that are reachable in two, drivable par four holes, shared greens and fairways, and holes like the seventh crisscrossing the 11th, it is an unavoidable malaise.
It may be heresy, but it is not fit for purpose on the first two days of the Open. Rounds lasting more than six hours, with the longest holes taking 40 minutes to complete, detract from the spectacle.
Several observers observed during the lengthy Thursday and Friday rounds that “LIV must be laughing their heads off.” There are only 54 holes, 48 players, no cut, and a shotgun start.
It’s a different perspective on the game and a pale shadow of the tried and true methods of determining men’s golf’s hierarchy. But LIV has arrived and is not going away.
Their third tournament will take place next week at Donald Trump’s home in Bedminster, New Jersey. This week will not be quiet, and new recruits may be on display.
LIV is cranking up the heat on the stove. Despite a spectacular Open at the home of golf, their influence remains a major talking point.
The pressure cooker could be about to blow up. It’s anyone’s guess how the resulting chaos will be restored to order.