With Royal Portrush now gloriously back on the Open rota it just leaves Wales shy of a host venue. Ian Woosnam would love to change all that
A couple of years ago we sat down with half a dozen of Ian Woosnam’s Staysure Tour pals and, to a man, they told us what a great bloke he is. He’s one of the boys and he hasn’t changed a bit.
Roger Chapman tells a good story of how Woosnam holed-in-one on the Safari Tour in Zambia, a round where he discovered ‘the secret’ and he’s never looked back. A few decades later he and his great mate Peter Baker will still play for a fiver, just for the ‘banter and the bragging rights’, before retiring for a few pints. Even now, at 61 and now a grandad, he still rips it.
With his return to Lytham this week we look back on his love-hate affair with links golf.
Where would you have first played links golf?
I played a bit of links as an amateur playing for Wales and North Wales boys so I grew up playing Aberdovey and Harlech. I’ve always thought those were two of my favourites and I’d just favour Harlech as it’s more out and in and out and in whereas Aberdovey is nine holes out and then nine back. Harlech’s pretty tough for a par 69 and is a lovely spot.
How was your hosting week on the Staysure Tour at Trevose?
That was terrific and they set the course up brilliantly, it’s a great social club and a beautiful place so I hope that we can carry that on for a few more years.
Where do you stand on links golf?
It’s not my favourite sort of golf, I’m not that patient a person so I’ve enjoyed it more as I’ve got older. I used to get frustrated with it. You have to accept the bad bounces and so I always liked inland courses more where you got what you deserved for a shot.
What do you make of your own Open record?
I missed a couple of good chances, my all-round game in all the majors was always something that let me down and I’ve never been a good putter on sea links courses and that let me down a bit when it really came down to it.
Would a long putter earlier in your career have made a difference?
No not so much that, more that I could never read the greens very well. And when factoring putting in winds I didn’t see the right lines enough.
But being one of the best ball-strikers that side played into your hands?
If you want to hit it with a fade, draw, high or low in the winds then you have to have control of your ball and we were good at downwind holes and keeping the 1-iron in play which is why you always see an older player contend in the Open if it’s running. Back then I would like to turn up with it green so the bounces weren’t as severe. If it was hard and bouncy you would have to run it in and rely on a little bit of luck.
How do you hit a 1-iron?
It all depends on how you attack the ball, if you try and lift it then that’s not going to work, if you trust the loft and squeeze it out then it will go. I didn’t think it was that hard to hit so this was my go-to shot.
Have you got anything similar in the bag now?
Now we’ve got all these driving irons, I’ve got a TaylorMade one with a graphite shaft at the moment and I love it, it’s the closest I’ve had to my old Ping 1-iron for a long time.
How hard is it to hit it with the modern ball?
That is the trouble as it launches so much higher than it used to and goes so much straighter. I’ve spent all my life trying to get the Balata ball in the air, now it’s the opposite! When we were testing drivers Peter Baker would need 12 degrees and I could hit 7 so when I got a new driver I would give it to him. If he was only able to get it about six feet in the air then I knew that was right for me.
When I was a teenager I couldn’t get the driver off the green so I spent all my days practising at Hill Valley before turning pro trying to try and get the ball into the air. Then in the early 80s I started hitting it higher and then I started playing better.
What did you make of St Andrews when you first played it?
My first time was in the 1984 Open – when I first played it I wanted to blow it up. I didn’t like it at all, I’ve grown to like it a bit more since but it’s not my favourite. I don’t like courses that go out and back – I like places like Portmarnock where the first nine are out and back and you do it again and you’re using all the clubs in the bag and playing a different direction a lot of the time.
Birkdale for me is the best of the Open courses, there is a lot of variation and you go in different directions. Muirfield and Carnoustie are pretty good, I’ve not played Turnberry since the changes but everyone loves them.
Portrush and Royal Co Down are also both on my bucket list.
How about this week’s venue Lytham?
It’s not one of my very top ones but it’s a good course and you’ve got to get it in the right positions off the tee. Obviously I’ve played well there before.
How bored are you of talking about what went on there in 2001?
Absolutely, there are so many people joking, ‘Have you counted your clubs today?’ I might carry 15 drivers to the 1st tee and shut it up once and for all.
How much would you love to get Wales on the Open rota?
If the Open wasn’t taken to Royal Porthcawl it would be fantastic to build a course in Wales to get on the rota. It would easy to get backers; I’d love to do it, get some partners who would invest into the thought of having an Open in Wales – that would be easy with the amount of money around. It would have to be South Wales where the accommodation is.
With being Wales’ only major winner it would be lovely to have the opportunity to design a course which would be worthy of the Open.
Where do you stand on the 2019 changes to the Rules of Golf?
The new knee-high drop one means I’ve only got about six inches from knee to the ground! It just looks ugly. It does help to drop it where you want it to go. The three-minute rule helps a bit, the penalty area is not too bad and I quite like putting with the pin in. That speeds things up and it’s good for focus and I get lined up better. I even now leave the pin in on the putting green.
Is pace of play better in the senior ranks?
Not really as a lot of guys are trying to make their money, we should be round in four hours but we’re taking almost 4:45 and that is ridiculous. I obviously like to play quick and player quicker.