By: Sam Gemini
MADISON – After its absence from the schedule in 2020, golf’s oldest championship returned this past weekend. For the fifteenth time in the Open’s long history, the best golfers in the world convened at Royal St. George’s in Sandwich, England. Located on the coast of the North Sea, Royal St. George’s is rugged, windswept, and virtually treeless; at 150 years old, it has a storied history – most recently the victory by Darren Clarke in the 140th Open. But this year’s tournament turned out to be drastically different from what we are used to and what we saw ten years ago.
The Open Championship has many defining characteristics, and pleasant, comfortable weather is not one of them; umbrellas and rain jackets are a common sight; whipping flags and billowing clothing are annual features. This year, however, spectators were replacing rain ponchos and umbrellas with short-sleeved polos and sunscreen. Aside from Thursday afternoon, which featured the customary twenty to twenty-five mile-per-hour winds, the climate was astonishingly benign. With temperatures in the low seventies and wind speed in single digits, viewers may have forgotten they were watching the Open Championship. In fact, Sunday was the warmest day of the year in Sandwich – eighty-one degrees and sunny!
These weather conditions dramatically changed the way the course was played: Links golf in Britain is designed to accommodate very high winds; if courses in the United Kingdom had the same small, fast greens as courses in America, they would be rendered unplayable due to weather more than half the days of the year. In the usual cold, blustery weather, Royal St. George’s poses a very difficult test; but on the rare occasion that the rainy turmoil dies down as it did this past weekend, the huge, slow greens of the venerable links layout were left virtually defenseless against the lethal precision of the professionals. Record-setting scoring was seen throughout the tournament; the par-four eighteenth – ordinarily one of the most difficult finishing holes on the Open rota – became a birdie opportunity.
The unusual ease of this tournament did not prevent the best golfers from rising into contention. After two rounds, the lead was held yet again by Louis Oosthuizen, who has been outstanding in the majors this year but hasn’t been able to close the deal. Second place was held by twenty-four-year-old American Colin Morikawa, the 2020 PGA Champion playing in his first ever Open. Jordan Spieth, who had not won a major since his Open Championship victory at Royal Birkdale in 2017, rounded out the top three.
On Saturday, the hole locations were cut in very difficult areas of the greens, making scoring more difficult. Spieth, Morikawa, and Oosthuizen were all setting themselves up for a chance on Sunday until Jordan finished with two blundering bogeys, missing a two-foot putt for par on the eighteenth. This left him three shots behind the leader, Oosthuizen, while Morikawa was only one shot behind.
Unfortunately for Oosthuizen, who has finished runner-up in a major six times in his career, Sunday spelled yet another final round disappointment. Spieth posted a brilliant round of sixty-six, but after his mishaps on the previous day’s finishing holes, this was not enough to earn a victory. Instead, the young American named Colin Morikawa took home the Claret Jug in his first ever start at the Open. By winning two major championships in his first eight attempts, Morikawa accomplished something that has been done only one other time – Bobby Jones almost a century ago. An impeccable ball-striker, he possesses a golf swing of perfection; couple that with the nerves of steel he exhibited with the putter on Sunday, and this young man will be difficult to count out of any tournament.
Like with Jon Rahm at the U. S. Open just a few weeks prior, this massive victory from Colin is sure to be followed by many, many more. This is an exciting sight for all Americans as the faceoff between the United States and Europe draws ever nearer. We will all wait with baited breath to see if Morikawa can perform under a different kind of pressure – in front of the raucous, patriotic crowds of the Ryder Cup.