Robert Rock's tour tips: Why the bottom end of the bag is so important in links conditions
One area of the game that isn’t talked about enough when it comes to links golf is putting.
In the run up to Open’s there is a lot of talk about the need for brilliant ball striking but, for me, getting the ball in the hole is even more important.
Holing putts in the wind is hard, and no matter how well you strike the ball with your irons, you will do well to get inside 20 feet. A lot of putting in the wind is down to feel and that is something that all great putters have. They also hit more putts that roll better and hold their lines better and that really makes a difference.
I think I have got a nice variety of shots for links golf but I’m not a great putter from 20 foot, and my good shots might not get inside that. I am unlikely to hole the putt so there isn’t that much advantage over someone who is hitting it to 40 foot and repeatedly two-putting.
I’m generally not as good as from outside six feet and I’ve got stats with TaylorMade, I have around a 90 percent success rate from inside six feet but, outside that, it immediately drops to around 40.
It would be great to see a few more links events on the European Tour – the crowds are generally great. But competing in those conditions week after week would be very hard. I love hitting stupid shots to battle the winds but doing it on a weekly basis would be too much.
Bunkers are way more penal on a links and this is definitely how it should be. A pot bunker in the fairway is pretty much a shot dropped and that is what you want from a fairway bunker. A lot of the time the fairway bunker is a better result than the rough and that’t not good.
The priority is your course management – the rough is more preferable so a big part of the strategy is to stay short of the sand and keep all bunkers out of play. Some links will really find you out if you’re not playing well but generally, they offer more options and that’s why they are better courses. My favourite course on the Open Championship would be the Old Course at St Andrews. You have plenty of room for error off the tee, but that then adds to the difficulty of the approach.
Of the other one’s that I have played, Turnberry and Royal St George’s would be the hardest with Lytham not too far behind. At Lytham from what I remember, there isn’t too much leeway off the tee, and being short of the bunkers leaves you too much to do with your second shot.
At Sandwich, Darren Clarke’s play over the weekend was some of the best golf I’ve seen and, having played the course earlier in the day, it left a real impression on me. Otherwise you would always fancy Sergio Garcia to break his Major duck in the Open and given that he has got the right angle of attack to hit all angle of attack to hit all the necessary shots and his putting is improved.
If I was to play one links for the rest of my life it would have to be the Old Course but I also love Kingsbarns too…
If you are going to test yourself on a links this winter then my advice would be to book yourself in for a bunker lesson. I have played in plenty of pro-ams where the hole can be over when the amateurs find a pot bunker so you have to find a method of getting it out in one shot. Avoiding them is virtually impossible for any amateur (and most pros) so you need to improve your technique and that means a bunker lesson with a pro and a bit of advice.
Most amateurs set up too square and play it too much like a chip shot. The sand is generally a bit easier to play from by the sea but you need the right technique (face wide open, weight forward) and get used to hitting sand at the right point. Then you’ve just got the problem of holing the putt!