Padraig Harrington – who should know – was adamant. Carnoustie remains the biggest challenge in tournament golf.
“It’s the one course you don’t need to trick up with rough or pin positions,” said the 2007 champion golfer, speaking at the Open media day last week. “It’s a championship golf course in April, July or October.”
That was certainly true in 2007, when Padraig and Sergio Garcia contested the play-off at seven-under, just one stroke better than the 65 Sergio shot in the opening round to lead. There wasn’t much wind all week, with no 1999 rough, and the course didn’t give up much.
But that was 11 years ago. And to me one of the more interesting questions likely to emerge from this July is whether the equipment and athletic advances in modern golf have blunted even Carnoustie’s formidable reputation.
The card for the 2018 Open will actually be 20 yards shorter than 2007. This is the third year in a row the R&A have made minimal changes to the Open venue, after a decade in which they seemed to tinker with every course.
How has that worked out? At Royal Troon two years ago, with fair bit of wind about, Henrik Stenson and Phil Mickelson fought their incredible Duel in the Dreich and the Swede won at 20-under by three shots in the end.
Looks chastening, until you recall that JB Holmes was third on six-under. The two main protagonists really drove each other on to those amazing feats.
Last year at Birkdale Jordan Spieth ultimately won at 12-under, a reasonable enough winning score. But Birkdale was thought to be one of the toughest on the rota – three-over and par were good enough to win there in 2008 and 1998 – and it gave up the first 62 in major championship history, to Branden Grace in the third round.
Carnoustie’s own record was smashed as recently as October, when Tommy Fleetwood shot 63 in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship.
Has the fear of Carnoustie been blunted by the annual European Tour visit? Maybe a little familiarity has occurred, but it’s always the toughest of the three courses used for the Dunhill, even with easy pins and the rough cut back to help the pro-am competitors in that event.
The Open setup will be very different, of course. But with the game studying distance gains with ever-greater scrutiny, it seems whatever happens at Carnoustie will be a premier test case for the debate golf is about to engage in.
Is the distance gain of the modern player so great that even the ultimate challenge has no defence? It’s going to be fascinating to find out.
Rocca’s famous weapon stays in St Andrews
In a near perfect way to mark this July’s Senior Open at St Andrews, Italy’s Costantino Rocca last week tried manfully to recreate his famous putt from the Valley of Sin that forced a play-off in the 1995 Open.
It is of course one of the most memorable of Open finishes – even if, emotionally spent, the popular Italian lost the resultant play-off to John Daly.
“Tino” had gone deep into his garage back home in Bergamo to retrieve the actual putter from 1995, which he’d wielded during his salad days on Tour.
Naturally, it came from a modest source. On one of his first competitive trips to the USA, Rocca had found it in a club shop for the princely sum of just $40.
It was used in 1995 obviously, but also his PGA Championship victory in 1996 and possibly his greatest hour, taking down Tiger Woods in the singles at the Ryder Cup at Valderrama in 1997.
As is usual, the putter eventually fell out of favour and went into storage in the hope that a few 40 footers would still be rattling around in it sometime in the future.
Well, 22 attempts and fails to try to recreate the 1995 putt convinced even the ever-optimistic and cheerful Tino that there was no more magic in this particular wand.
After a chat over dinner and drinks in the R&A clubhouse later that evening, Tino decided the best place for the putter was the scene of its triumph, and donated it to the St Andrews Golf Museum.
It’ll feature there in one of their Open displays among the other memorabilia collected from St Andrews Open of the past.
Barrie’s event a huge success
The man himself would have regarded it as “bloody brilliant”. The inaugural Barrie Douglas Scottish Junior Masters at Blairgowrie, held in honour of the former Scottish Boys’ team manager went off superbly.
Bradley Neil and Stephen Gallacher were in attendance – Stevie’s son Jack finished fourth in the Under-18s – and it was a top class field, won by the reigning Scottish Boys champion, Airdrie’s Greg Dalziel.
The hope is that it’ll become a fixture and expand to include a girls’ event soon.
Also notable at the weekend was Scottish girls champion Hannah Darling’s win in the R&A’s inaugural Girls Under-16 Championship at Fulford.
The Broomieknowe girl, youngest-ever winner of the Scottish Under-18 title, is still only 13. One to watch.