The Open – Royal Birkdale
The links at Royal Birkdale can be found on the western coast of England. The fairways meander through daunting sand dunes that somehow hover over the course hiding the contours of this links style gem. These magical dune complexes provide wonderful vantage points for those on site at The Open.
The test for these golfers begins on one of the most demanding opening holes in championship golf and sets the stage for a mighty test of seaside golf. Of course with any links style course once the mighty non-stop wind begins to blow off the Irish Sea, the course becomes even more challenging. If you need an example just look back to 2008 when Paddy Harrington won at plus 3 and the cut line was an astounding plus 9!
Birkdale’s tight fairways require very accurate ball striking. Players will not be able to take any shots off, with few consecutive holes playing in the same direction, there will always be player-caddy wind calculations combined with links style shot crafting. The 18th hole plays towards Royal Birkdale’s one of a kind Art Deco clubhouse that overlooks the green and is a very fine finishing hole.
The great Jonny Miller when asked by GolfWeek.com about Birkdale said “that it’s surrounded by those dunes and long grass. It’s actually pretty hard to scramble if you hit it wildly, unlike Troon or some of those other courses where you can hit it out in the car park. Birkdale, if you hit it wildly, it’s pretty penal. It doesn’t seem to have the Scottish cache as much as a St. Andrews or a Carnoustie or Muirfield… But hole for hole, it doesn’t have to take a back seat to any of the rotation.
The Numbers – Birkdale, 7,156 yards, par 70
At Par 70, this championship course only features two par 5s and both come on the back nine. Both are reachable in two for most players. All four par 3s are between 175 and 200 yards in length but not considered “scoring holes”. This puts the focus on the 12 par 4s on the course, averaging 440 yards per hole.
This week we will feature in detail one hole to highlight the test these players will face at the Open championship. This week’s hole is the first par-5 on the course and it doesn’t arrive until the 15th hole. Many players will look to post birdie or eagle here but it really isn’t much of a reprieve since there 15 bunkers on this hole! However, if the sand can be avoided, this hole presents an eagle opportunity. On a side note this is the start of the four-hole playoff, if one is needed to decide the fate of the Claret Jug.
For those who pull the “big dog” off the tee, there are three bunkers in play off the tee. Sand left at 263 yards and two to the middle-right at 302 and 313 yards must be avoided. For these long hitters, a good drive will leave an iron into the green. However, if the wind is into the player’s face or shorter hitters will be going in with a 2 iron or 3-wood. There are eight bunkers to think about when laying-up, the first of which is 149 yards to the green and the last is 88 yards away.
The green is heavily protected with a bunker on either side and anything long of the pin will leave a devilish putt down a big breaking hill. Again, this hole definitely presents an eagle or birdie opportunity if the player can position their ball in the correct positions but if not bogey or worse can easily be made. Players who finish the 15th in good form can extend that on the fairly straight forward par four 16th and then have another real scoring opportunity at the also reachable par five 17th.
Player Type – Par 4 Scoring and Par 5 Scoring
As we noted above players need to be able to “hold serve” on the many par fours and then score on the limited par 5 chances. This is confirmed by a fairly strong correlation with historical top 10 finishes. In many ways to find a player type this week can be a difficult task because the venue changes each year however analysis of championships overall can yield some decent information.
Beyond the stats categories featured above, there are several other listed below that begin to sketch out the player we are looking for (1) SGT2G (2) SGAPP and (3) Scoring Average. All three of these stat categories have seen somewhat strong correlation with player success at Open Championships since 2009 and begin to paint a picture of someone who has a strong game overall. This is not to say that you can’t have someone who has a specialty (e.g. very accurate from the fairways) but as Jonny mentioned at the beginning of the article you have to be accurate of the tee as well as creative and accurate with your approach shots.
We will conclude with a little Sergio since it is in fact the year of the Sergio, in case you didn’t already know. When he was asked in 2008 about the emphasis on driving here at Birkdale; “Yeah, usually when I’m on, usually my driving skills are pretty good. The good thing about it is I feel like on these kinds of courses you don’t have to just get there and just bang it. You have to hit different shots off the tee, and I always enjoy that. Hopefully it’ll work for me.”