Some day, long after a natural or man-made apocalypse wipes us all out and all records of humanity fossilise, they’re going to dig up the bare numbers of the final day of the 2017 Open Championship and think nothing much happened.
That guy Jordan Spieth started with a three-shot lead and finished with the same margin. Meh. Nothing to see here.
“17 pars and a birdie would have got the job done, but there are other ways,” said Spieth, wearing that goofy smile that seems to feature on every person sitting in the media room beside the Claret Jug having just won it.
— The Open (@TheOpen) July 23, 2017
What is it about this crazy, maddening championship? It delivers drama and excitement so consistently one suspects the whole thing might be scripted.
Sunday was supposed to be a procession. And although it quickly wasn’t that, it then became the anthesis of the brilliance of the Duel in Troon last year between Stenson and Mickelson. And then it became 1999 at Carnoustie all over again.
Finally, and most memorably, it and Spieth became another prominent entry for the Open Pantheon, which is opening a new wing because of the regularity this madness occurs.
We looked over Jordan and what did we see?
How close was Spieth to a collapse that would define his career and permanently damage him? Thankfully, we’ll never know.
The young Texan is a balanced individual, placing other things, chiefly family and friends, way above his day job. But if he’d lost another major from a commanding position like the Masters last year one feared for his professional wellbeing.
On the 13th hole, he was on the edge. He instinctively raised his hands to his head when he hit the tee shot, like the sky was falling on his head. In the chaos that followed, many thought he’d lost his mind as he tried to get a 30-tonne equipment truck moved.
Instead, the drop in the practice ground was clearly a catharsis that renewed his focus. Because after that he was so locked in he seemed almost superhuman. He was not far from a hole in one at the 14th, and the eagle putt at 15 was truly astonishing.
Jordan must now feel bomb-proof. If he can get through that kind of crisis and play like that, surely anything is possible.
Golf and sport isn’t as clear cut like that. It was a special set of circumstances, probably unrepeatable. But he has no cause to doubt himself every again.
Birkdale for balance
I, like many others, picked Spieth to win last week because the course set up so well for him. It’s a place where his wayward driving is less of a factor – he missed a LOT of fairways – and his superior game from 150 yards and in is a significant advantage. The best iron players win at Birkdale.
We had all sorts over the week. Friday was brutally tough. Saturday was a birdie bonanza. Sunday was a mixture of the two.
We also had 235,000 people, a record crowd outside St Andrews. People flock to the Lancashire Open venues, and the R&A love all three. Could they justify 100,000 fewer spectators at Turnberry, even allowing for how great that course is? I doubt it.
And in terms of logistics – this matters a whole lot when you’re building a temporary town at the British seaside once every July – Birkdale has no peers.
What were the R&A up to?
Saturday was easy weather conditions, and no Open links can defend against low scores with soft wet turf and no wind. Well, perhaps next year’s venue can.
Yet the R&A set up Birkdale on Saturday almost as if they wanted the first major 62. And they duly got it.
Why? There are multiple theories. One, Friday was pretty grim to watch and they had record crowds coming, whom they wanted entertained.
Two, they messed up. If it was the USGA I’d be inclined to agree, but the R&A have been on point with course prep since the debacle in 2015.
Three, they were making a statement about the state of the game, specifically driving distances. Some people I respect think this was their motivation, but it’s such an about-face to their previous position I have my doubts.
Branden Grace’s score deserves no asterisk; he was seven shots better than the scoring average and two than his nearest challenger. But to not point out the course played easy by both meteorlogical accident and set-up design would be quite wrong.
The Beeb bite back
Martin Slumbers’ “tired and outdated” jibe at the old BBC TV coverage wasn’t well received, but you can’t say it wasn’t accurate.
Yet for all Sky’s innovation, two of the greatest Opens in history may have gone unnoticed by the general non-golfy public. Can we afford this to happen?
The BBC have pinched the PGA, presumably for peanuts compared to what Sky offered. TV rights isn’t all about money any more, which is fascinating.