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How to shine in Sandwich

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Rob Hodgetts | 14:18 UK time, Wednesday, 13 July 2011

True mountaineers never claim to have "conquered" a peak. They say the mountain gods have granted them brief access to the top.

And so it will be this week. The 2011 Open champion can claim to have defeated 155 rivals but he will not have beaten Royal St George's. He will only have been allowed safe passage enough to reach Sunday night at the head of the expedition.

Between now and then, the winner will have hit somewhere in the region of 280-odd golf shots. Maybe just one less than the next man over four days on a wild stretch of the Kent coastline.

Each one will have been studied, plotted, mulled over, discussed and practised. Some will come off. Others won't. So what's the key to playing at Sandwich? I asked BBC golf commentator Ken Brown and Royal St George's head professional Andrew Brooks for the inside track.

Royal St George's in Sandwich, home of the 2011 Open Championship

The tricky course at Royal St George's presents a huge challenge for all competitors. Picture: Getty Images

Royal St George's, then. What's the story?

"The main attribute is that you have got to be patient. It's a golf course that has got some of the most pronounced humps and hollows, with dunes on the fairways and around the greens. You are going to get some good breaks and some bad breaks. It will test the players' ability to take the rough with the smooth. I think that's a big part of game and a big element here" - Brown

"The brain must remain calm all the way around. You can lose patience very quickly here with some awkward bounces. The challenge is to just get it down onto the first fairway and carry on like that. There is nowhere to have a breather" - Brooks

There's clearly going to be some wind. Big trouble?

"One of the delights of this course is that it is on a very big piece of ground so very rarely on one hole can you see another. The wind weaves around and each hole presents a different challenge. On a calm day it's manageable. In a breeze it's a very stiff test. I think it's absolutely marvellous" - Brown

"No more than two consecutive holes are in the same direction. The prevailing wind is west or south-west, blowing up the English Channel, but with play starting at 0630 and finishing about 2145 the direction and strength can change twice in that time. Not all of us believe the change is due to the tides. Holes can play very short or turn into monsters" - Brooks

How tough a driving course is it?

"The rough is not desperately brutal and you will be able to drift out of position a bit off the tee, so driving accuracy is not quite so important as on other links courses we play. But the only way to control your irons for the second shot is to hit the fairway" - Brown

"It's being able to manage the ball length off the tee. Hitting it far is not always the best bet. It's being aware of the wind and how far the ball is likely to travel, into the breeze and with a helping wind. From the correct distance off the tee you can see every green and every pin. If you miss the fairway your second shot will be blind" - Brooks

What problems do the second shots present?

"The two fastest courses in the Open rota are Hoylake and here. The ball bounces faster and the turf is quicker and firmer so you have to be able to judge how far the ball will run. As a result controlling your trajectory is very important - upwind, downwind and across the breeze. You're trying not to spin it too much at times and you need to be able to fade it and draw it to hold it against the wind. If you get stuck with one shape of shot this week the course will catch you somewhere.

"Of all the Open courses, the second shot offers the most variety, even if you have found the fairway. There is a terrific variety of runnels and humps and hollows and you are for ever hitting off an up-slope or down slope, or the ball is above your feet, or it's in a little hollow.

"So every shot to every green asks a different question depending on your lie, position, where the flag is, how firm the green is, where the breeze is coming from, how it will bounce. It brings everything there can be in golf into play and there's a lot to think about.

"It's fabulous and I think after St Andrews it is my favourite. Most people wouldn't agree and might argue that with the variable bounce it is not fair, but to me that's part of golf. It is overcoming things that go wrong on the way around.

"I don't think golf is supposed to be fair. I think it's, 'there's the tee, there's the hole, you choose how you get there'. I love it and this is a purer, more old-fashioned form of links golf than, say, Muirfield" - Brown

So far, so good - we're near the green. Now what?

"Chipping is critical. You're going to miss greens in awkward spots and get tricky lies in divots or tufty bits of grass and will have to have good touch and the ability to pick the right shot and know when to pop it up in the air, or when to run it up the bank. There are so many nuances and such a huge variety of ways you can play" - Brown

"If you hit it straight down the line of the pin, the first bounce will always take you away from the pin and usually off the green. The ball will run off into the first cut of rough about three or four feet below the putting surface and you need to keep your temper in check as you face a devil of a shot back up to get close, which rarely happens. So you need to find the middle. Once you have accepted it's difficult around greens you can actually score well" - Brooks

We're on the dancefloor. Is the hard work over?

"The greens will not be a great pace because if there is any breeze the ball will blow around. They simply can't afford that to happen - there is too much slope and too many breaks and runnels to have any speed. They are a good consistent surface and they have worked very hard on the texture of the greens compared to when I played here in the 80s.

"Knowing you are not going to chip up dead every time, you're going to have to hole the vast majority of those six footers if you are to keep the momentum going, otherwise you don't have a hope" - Brown

"Even the shortest par fours will give you as many bogeys as birdies because of the degree of difficulty in getting close to the pin. You're not going to see scores of 63 or 64 - par will always be a good score and may also be the winning total" - Brooks

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Giddy with excitement, a real test of skill here! no massive advantage to big hitters....delicate touch and accuracy required....Luke D anyone?

  • Comment number 2.

    This could be one of the great Opens of modern times. The weather is uncertain, the wind will blow and the ball could bounce anywhere! Anyone could win this but I'd like to see Westwood win - he deserves a major.

  • Comment number 3.

    I'm looking forward to this.
    I have no clue who might win but they will have earned it.

  • Comment number 4.

    Have to agree with Ken. A top Golf course, brutal in places, unforgiving to players not on their game. The list of previous winners here is astonishing. In 2003 it gave us a phenomenal last day. Can't see a nine shot victory here for anyone. Bring it on!

  • Comment number 5.

    Now that 606 is closed, the only threads that people can comment on are the blogs like this. They are reserved for the articles Auntie wants us to talk about. Is there any way that you can make every article that is written on the BBC sport site have a function like this one so that we can comment? Discussion is good and should be availale for all. Not just fans of The Open or Manchester United when Rooney is being hyped or whatever other hyperbole the BBC sport pundits want to spout. I haven't read this article so this does not include this blog. But I think people should have the choice on this site, it is the BBC after all, to discuss whichever sport and team/player they choose.

  • Comment number 6.

    hahaha wind wind and more wind it is the true test of a golfer nothing pains the soul more than when you strike a sweet iron into the wind only for that sudden gust to stop and you go flying past your target hahahaha how I love the British Open.

  • Comment number 7.

    Good to see McIlroy struggling, all the hype after one victory was slightly overboard. Has anyone else noticed he has a new arrogant swagger. The fact that he took so much time off between tournaments shows he is just a kid with a long way to go to match the dedication and brilliance of tiger.

  • Comment number 8.

    It's an English cow pasture, is what this course is. Lovely weather, too. This is supposed to be summer? LOL. No wonder there are about 12 fans in the 18th grandstand.

  • Comment number 9.

    what's happened to Adam Scott,is he not playing in this tournament anymore and don't say he's out of range of the camera's;he pop's in a birdie at the 10th not shown but Coetzee and Johnson's greenside shots get shown

  • Comment number 10.

    it might make for a truer test of the top pro's but I'm not a pro (even a golfer) I just like to watch the top majors and pro's come together so seeing them struggle might make a good test if your a golf-spotter but I'm just a TV viewer

 

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