Alex Perry spent day three of The Open following Jordan Spieth - and it was a rollercoaster of emotions for all involved
Hello. How are you? Excited, I expect, because the The Open is back. After a 12-month delay, Royal St George’s will finally host the 149th edition of golf’s oldest major.
I, ably assisted by my colleague Steve Carroll, will be on the ground for the entire week. And I’ll use this extended edition of The Slam to keep you up to speed with what’s going on in this delightful corner of Kent.
I’m no Adrian Mole, but shall I do it in a diary style? Yes, let’s do that…
Saturday July 17
Today’s the day. Today’s the day Jordan Spieth puts himself on top of the pile and marches to a second Open title and fourth major overall.
I can just feel it.
I’m so excited I can barely sleep so I’m getting to Royal St George’s way earlier than anyone needs to.
The morning of Open Saturday is always a joy. People aren’t drunk yet, and the sun hasn’t quite left its damage yet. Later on it will look like a Brexit convention. (Wear sunscreen, for crying out loud!)
Also, I’m a people watcher. I’m utterly fascinated by the behaviour of others. I don’t know why. It’s my only weird thing, honest.
And when there are more than 30,000 people within the confines of a single golf course, it provides plenty of opportunity.
Why are so many people wearing long socks? Golf fans, in general, are among the worst-dressed on the planet, but this is an incredible turn of events.
And why is this woman wearing an NHS top? That’s new.
Turns out they’re dishing out Covid jabs. Lovely stuff. I still need my second Pfizer injection but I’ve heard it can knock you for six for a few hours – and I don’t want anything to risk watching my man hold the Claret Jug aloft tomorrow. I’ll wait, thanks.
Meanwhile, the only players on the course are the ones whose only hope of winning would involve breaking the course record two days in a row.
It’s just marvellous.
Before we get there, the players are entertaining the sun-soaked masses.
Lee Westwood has us all in hysterics as he takes aim at Tyrrell Hatton…
Jazz Janewattananond hits one of the shots of the tournament…
While Adam Scott proves the tour pros are sometimes just like us…
One of the shining lights of this Open is Marcel Siem. The excitable German cards an eight at 14 and bounces back with a birdie at 16 with a celebration to match.
And let’s not rule out golf’s most recent major champion, Jon Rahm, who’s in at 7-under.
But I’m here to follow Spieth. Obviously. He drops birdies at 2, 4, 6, 7 and 10 and the blood feels like it’s pumping around my body far faster than it normally does.
A bogey from the sand at 11 stings, the par at 14 stings even more. Spieth manages to cover 530 of the 547 yards with two shots – then he flumps a putt from just off the green and there’s no movement on the scoreboard.
Then, after another dropped shot at 17, Spieth inexplicably misses a two-footer for par at 18 and all the hard work is undone.
This hurts me as much as it hurts him, I’m sure.
I don’t think any girl has ever broken my heart the way Jordan Spieth does.
The saving grace is Louis Oosthuizen and Collin Morikawa, with a 69 and 68 respectively – have failed to put any daylight between themselves and the chasing pack.
There is absolutely no way I sleep tonight.
Friday July 16: Oosthuizen makes history as Hatton loses his cool
My head hurts.
Not because of alcohol (a little bit because of alcohol) but mainly because I sat with three colleagues as they had an impossibly intense conversation about the World Handicap System over a curry. Until well after midnight.
Yes, I know, I’m a grown man and I could have just left. But we hadn’t got the bill yet and I wanted my chocolate.
Some unfortunate news filters through the media centre as Will Zalatoris – playing with Dustin Johnson and Justin Rose – is forced to withdraw with a back injury picked up while hoiking out of the hay at 15 on Thursday.
That will explain this horror show at 18…
Marcel Siem – a four-time European Tour champion and in the field this week thanks to a first Challenge Tour win last week – is having the time of his life.
The 41-year-old German with his wonderful man bun cards a second straight 67 – three back of early pacesetter Collin Morikawa after a stunning 64 for the 2020 PGA champion – and boy is he enjoying himself.
Tyrrell Hatton isn’t having quite as much fun. The Englishman doesn’t like his lie at the back of the par-3 11th and runs up a double-bogey five. His “absolute f***ing bollocks” outburst is caught loud and clear on TV.
That’s not the end of it, either.
Oh he’s getting a few fines for that. But don’t try and change him. We love him as he is.
On a slightly more celebratory note, man mountain Jonathan “Jigger” Thomson aces the par-3 16th – the first of the week – and I witness it! Well, kind of. OK not really. I’m stood right next to the tee but I’m watching the group putt out on 15. FFS. Still, good to be part of the cheering…
Thomson – at six-foot-nine – goes on to become the tallest player to ever make the cut at a major. Which is a pretty cool, if odd, slice of history for the Rotherham man.
Back to the top of the leaderboard, Jordan Spieth joins Morikawa at 9-under before missing a tiddler for par at 15 and falls one back and will go into the weekend in third, but it’s Louis Oosthuizen – so often the bridesmaid and only once the bride – who will sleep on a two-shot lead going into Saturday after adding a 65 to his opening 64.
It all adds up to a record-breaking 129 – 11-under-par – the lowest 36-hole score in Open history.
Oosty has had nine major top-10s since he lifted the Claret Jug at St Andrews 11 years ago – including six runner-ups – and he’s decided he needs to work on closing out his leads.
“In a few of them I needed to play just that little bit better coming down the stretch,” he explains. “I played well enough – I could have probably been a little bit more aggressive on a few occasions. I just need to put myself in position, and this year is the best I’ve been putting, and I just need to hit greens and give myself any opportunity to make birdies.”
Whether we’re crowning King Louis on Sunday or not, it’s a cracking leaderboard and we’re going to have a lot of fun on the way.
Right, I’m off to get some dinner and ban all chat about the World Handicap System.
Thursday July 15: DeChambeau rows and Armitage smut – and it’s only day one
The Open! It’s the first day of The Open! There hasn’t been an Open for two years and now it’s finally here!
So where am I when Richard Bland is hitting the opening tee shot? 10 miles away snoring like a lion in my bed. (So Steve tells me.) Wait. Do lions snore? I feel like we’re getting distracted.
It’s OK. It’s not far. And they’ve blocked off the entire town of Sandwich for park and ride buses and those of us lucky enough to be able to drive pretty much right to the gate to get through. Except it isn’t quite working. It takes us almost 40 minutes to do the last mile and a half.
It’s the people on the buses I feel sorry for. They’ve done it properly – by which I mean they’ve paid their money and are desperate to consume overpriced food and drink and the best golfers on the planet.
Little do they know once you get into the traffic jam, you’re close enough to walk in – and it really is a pleasant walk through this delightful medieval Kent town – but the driver can’t let them off.
Lesson learned. Early alarm tomorrow.
The delay meant I missed my boy Jordan Spieth teeing off, but I’ll catch up with him later.
Brian Harman was the first player I saw hitting a shot when I arrived on Monday, at which point I made a mental note to put some money on him. Spoiler alert: I didn’t. The huge scoreboard in the media centre tells me he’s opened birdie, birdie, birdie, par, birdie. FFS. I mean, good for him. Or something.
After breakfast (cinnamon danish and tea, milk, no sugar) I venture out to walk around the course a bit. I haven’t watched a shot of live golf since Carnoustie in 2018. I’m going to let my hair down a bit.
I know I spoke about it yesterday, but golf fans at golf events in golf clothes will never not be funny. The first chap I see, in his logoed polo, chinos, and FJ Icons, looks like he’s just walked off the 18th at the club champs.
The opening group of Bland, Andy Sullivan, and Marcus Armitage – who turns 34 today – are coming down 18. The latter rolls in a par putt for a 69. I think of a joke but decide to leave it.
Armitage, meanwhile, is not quite as cautious as me.
I catch up with the Spieth group. He’s playing with Bryson DeChambeau and Branden Grace. Spieth is in the middle of a four-birdie run that gets him to 3-under, while DeChambeau seemingly can’t hit a fairway for love nor money.
But the crowds are loving it when he pulls out the big stick. There is whooping and hollering and, bizarrely, American accents from definitely not American people. The drive misses the short stuff and, on an adjacent hole, Mackenzie Hughes is forced to tell the bozos to quieten down.
Dammit people, this is GOLF.
I follow the group home and head to the interview room where Spieth is immediately heading following his 65.
He just loves The Open and the fans that attend this each year. “They’re just the best in golf, very knowledgeable.” But we know this already, don’t we?
DeChambeau, meanwhile, is not amused and decides to take a different approach of lashing out at his club manufacturer.
Yeah, it’s definitely the club that’s the problem, Bryson.
DeChambeau soon issues a lengthy apology on Instagram that includes classics such as “deeply regret” and how Cobra “are like a family to me”.
A Cobra rep quickly let’s us know which member of the family: “It’s like an eight-year-old that gets mad at you – they might fly off the handle and say ‘I hate you!’ But then you go, ‘Whoa, no you don’t.'”
Sergio Garcia meanwhile, comes in and complains about delays getting to the golf course this morning – which in a weird way I’m pleased about because at least it wasn’t just the paying public (and incredibly hard working media) having troubles.
Right. I’m going to go and watch more golf. Then I’m going to the pub. A pub! See you tomorrow.
Wednesday July 14: What is it about golf fans that makes us so strange?
“What time do the leaders tee off?”
It was one of the more interesting questions I’ve heard so far. If you’re leading a golf tournament 24 hours before it starts you’re doing alright.
There are a few more people at Royal St George’s today. Man it’s good to have fans back mingling around, even the ones that ask ridiculous questions.
It seems the year off hasn’t got rid of their quirks.
For instance, one of my favourite things about golf events is fans wearing golf clothes. What is that about?
A while back some industry pals and I started #RubbishRickieFowler in honour of those people who feel the need to turn up head to toe in Puma clobber. You know, just like how Rickie Fowler hasn’t done for at least five years now.
Lads, even Rickie Fowler doesn’t dress like Rickie Fowler.
I’ve barely been on site an hour and I’ve seen one already. I think about asking for a photo, but then I realise it would really be to just mock him. And that’s mean. I don’t really want to make him feel good about what his life choices, either.
Anyway, wearing golf shoes I get. You’re walking around a golf course for many hours at a time and there is no better footwear in which to do that.
But why are you rocking up in your favourite FootJoy polo? Or Under Armour trousers? I’m wearing jeans and a t-shirt and feel a bit awkward about it. I might go and ask some people. I’ll report back. But for now my boy Jordan Spieth is about to tee off for his final practice round and this is the first I’ve seen him all week.
I stand by the tee box and imagine in my head how cool I would look if Jordan remembered me and said hello in front of all these people. My imagination can take me to some funny places at times.
Spieth is teeing off with his (other) pals Daniel Berger and Jimmy Walker, as well as Felixstowe Ferry pro Sam Forgan, who qualified next door at Prince’s.
Spieth and Walker tee off and then there’s a chuckle in the crowd – only snooker crowds love a chuckle more than golf crowds – when Forgan appears from the tunnel just as Berger is preparing to hit. Forgan quickly pulls his driver and stripes a couple down the fairway.
Which leads me nicely to my next quirk. Clapping players’ shots during practice rounds.
I’ve always been fascinated by applause. A roar of approval can echo around the grounds for a player simply hitting the middle of the green. The player is fuming – he’s 40 feet from the hole – and the galleries are ecstatic – because to this group of 18-36 handicappers it is a good shot.
One thing golf fans can’t do this year, though, is get autographs. There’s are signs dotted around the putting green warning us of this. (Hasn’t stopped them selling those inflatable autograph balls in the merch tent though, has it?)
I witnessed a couple of young’uns find that out the hard way. Don’t make me tap the sign again, kid.
Anyway, I’ve had enough of walking around. I misread the room and wore clogs and my feet are not thanking me for it. Plus Steve is short and can never see over the person in front of him…
We’re off to play Royal Cinque Ports. So that’s nice. See you tomorrow.
Tuesday July 13: It’s probably time for the Brooks-Bryson thing to end now
But first up is Tommy Fleetwood. One of England’s biggest hopes of a first Open champion since Sir Nick in 1992 – and the first English Open champion in England since Tony Jacklin at Lytham in 1969 – so of course someone asks him about the football.
FFS I’d put it out of my mind!
In terms of his chances he plays his cards close to his chest. “It’s very special for me – and I see it as opportunity.” See?
Next up is Jon Rahm. And he’s getting lots of questions about why he doesn’t have his swing coach with him at St George’s.
“If you’re searching for a swing during a major championship week, it’s usually a red flag.”
The newly-crowned US Open champion is the comfortable favourite this week thanks to red-hot form and a good links record that includes two Irish Opens and two wins at Torrey Pines which is, uh, near the sea.
“This was my first links golf experience,” Rahm says, without going to any detail. I mean, he certainly didn’t play at the Open in 2011. Probably should have asked him.
But nostalgia makes us all feel a bit tingly, doesn’t it?
So can he become the first player to win back-to-back majors since Rory in 2014? He decides to focus on the “relief of winning a first major”.
“For the better part of five years, all I heard is major, major, major – just because I was playing good golf, as if it was easy to win a major championship!”
He also says something about Seve being the last Spanish player to win The Open, but you already knew that.
Right, I’m going to go and have a wander round the cour… oh no, here comes Koepka.
Shall we run a sweep on how many times he’s asked about DeChambeau?
OK, the first question isn’t about DeChambeau. Nor is the second! Or third! Or fourth or fifth! What is going on? Never mind, sixth time’s a charm.
“In this country we’ve been royally entertained by the back and forth between you and Bryson…”
Speak for yourself pal, I want to scream, but Koepka’s eye-roll does it for me.
So he takes us through the story for the millionth time and we all have to sit there and take it.
Right, that should be it. Back on track. Ooo, a question about St George’s.
“It’s not my favourite venue that we play, put it that way.”
Quick, someone ask him about Bryson!
“Last month I think you quite rightly said that your rivalry with Bryson is good for the game…”
I was joking!
Moving on, we find out that the Koepka family came over to Kent in 2003, when he was a kid, and that his next career goal is not only the Grand Slam but to go “back-to-back in all of them”, having already done it in the US Open and PGA. I love this man. (When he’s not talking about Bryson.)
Time for one more DeChambeau question, I reckon. Let’s ask about the fact they’ll almost certainly be team-mates at the Ryder Cup in a few weeks.
“Look, I can put it aside for business. If we’re going to be on the same team, I can deal with anybody in the world for a week.
“I’m not playing with him. We’re not going to be paired together. We’re not going to be high-fiving and having late-night conversations. I do my thing, he does his thing.”
DeChambeau’s in later. Stay tuned.
But first, it’s our main man Rory McIlroy.
As always, the 2014 Champion Golfer is in fine form, answering questions carefully and considerably. He’s asked about 2019 – where he missed the cut in his homeland – quite a lot.
Did he dwell on it?
“Not really. I ended up winning the FedExCup, so it gave me a few million reasons to feel better.”
I also enjoy the gall of the chap who’s question begins: “An interesting stat I uncovered…” before essentially reading a Justin Ray tweet word for word. (Something about McIlroy winning the week after three of his last eight missed cuts. It was good.)
Bryson’s in next and he’s immediately reminded of his Open record that reads MC-T51-MC. He’s still figuring out links golf, and it’s always wet and windy when he’s played in the “British Open”. (We’ve been over this, Bryson.)
But he “played well in the Walker Cup when it was here” in 2015. Presumably by “here” he means the UK, because it was at Lytham that year.
But we all want the Koepka goss and suddenly it’s like a playground. You should hear what he was saying about you, Bryson! Don’t mess with him. His dad did time, you know? (For legal reasons, this is a joke.)
So how does he feel about what his comic book rival has to say?
“He can say whatever he wants. I don’t know what he’s talking about. We just had a conversation that I really don’t know what happened, because we haven’t really bantered back and forth until now, so it’s like why is that happening now.”
Then, in the least convincing way possible, he adds: “Besides that, I’m just here to play golf and focus on that. If we want to keep bantering back and forth, obviously being respectful and keeping lines where they aren’t getting crossed, I think it’s fun and a good environment for people in golf.”
“I think it makes it emotionally a little more difficult to resolve that because, in my heart of hearts, I really think I’m a great person and a really good person to be around, a kind person to be around.”
Shall we stop this now? Someone ask Brooks to knock it on the head. It feels easy to laugh about the situation, and Bryson will never admit that he feels he’s being bullied, but it’s clear he’s not enjoying this feud now.
Well that feels like a bit of a downer on which to end matters. I’m going for a beer.
Monday July 12: A first look at the golf course I’ll be calling home for a week
Like many English football fans, I’m suffering from a rather late night on Sunday. I wouldn’t mind if I’d been celebrating victory long into the night, instead I was staring into the darkness of my bedroom wondering what might have been. Or why players don’t just put their boot through it when taking penalties. I’m old school like that.
So my 5.45am alarm is most unwelcome.
I don’t mind, really. I wasn’t able to attend the the 2019 Open for a variety of reasons – the first I had missed in many a year – and any tiredness or grumpiness is wiped away when I see those familiar blue grandstands surrounding the 18th green with those glorious yellow scoreboards lurching over them.
The first thing to note is how eerily quiet it is. Normally, even on Monday, a few hundred people will shuffle into the bleachers to watch players approach the 18th before throwing a few balls down in various spots. But Championship days will be at 80% capacity while only a couple of thousand are allowed in for each practice day.
I scramble to the top of the stand to get a good view of what’s going on around me. One of my favourite things about The Open is looking out across the course and seeing the little blue grandstands dotted along the horizon.
And there she is, seducing me with her promise of overpriced branded merchandise, The Open Shop.
My credit card’s in my bag in the media centre – so this feels like a decent time to go in. I really don’t need new driver headcover with the Claret Jug plastered across it, as nice as it is.
At Shinnecock two years ago, Steve and I were both baffled and impressed by what was on offer in the merch tent. I mean, who doesn’t want a US Open-branded surfboard?
It’s not quite that extreme here – but Steve is scurrying around and pointing his camera at the weird and wonderful things he can find.
We head out to go for a bit of a wander. I’ll never get bored of the beer tents dotted around the course being called The Open Arms. Who doesn’t enjoy a good pun?
The wind has picked up now and I’ve been on enough links in my time to know there’s something brewing.
Accuweather confirms our fears and, before we know it, it’s coming in sideways. The information screens scream at us about impending storms and to “please evacuate the area”. You think?
The walk in from the fourth hole – with its fabulous Himalaya bunker – feels longer than on the way out.
Now I’m soaking wet and sitting under the air conditioning of the media tent. But it’s fine. I sit and watch Shane Lowry‘s press conference. He’s happy because he got to keep the Claret Jug for an extra year and he’s excited to be announced on the first tee as the reigning Champion Golfer of the Year.
He also says the R&A’s strict protocols for players are a tiny price to pay to have fans in this week – “Not playing in front of fans doesn’t do it for me” – which makes a nice change from the American players getting uppity about it all.
Lowry also confirms the story about having to send the Claret Jug off to “be straightened”.
“I noticed on the airport scanner that it had a little bit of a bend in it,” he explains. “But it’s not just me – Zach Johnson told me that he bent it as well.”
I don’t know about you guys but if I had the Claret Jug in my possession I would cake it in bubble wrap and not let anyone within 50 feet. Like the Crown Jewels.
Right, I’m going home. Well, to my accommodation. It’s been a long and wet day. Don’t forget to check out our dedicated Open Championship website for more insight and interviews from Royal St George’s, as well as betting tips, TV schedules, and tee times.
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