'If you don't think it was tough, I shot 75... and moved up the leaderboard!'July 11, 2017 History
Last time at Birkdale, a debutant was right in the mix until the end. Alex Noren reflects on how he did it...
I had a good mindset going into that week. I’d played quite decent that year, with a lot of top 20s and a really good finish at the BMW PGA Championship [6th].
So I was feeling good about my game even ‘though I was about to play in the biggest event of my career.
That feeling grew during the last round of the Scottish Open at Loch Lomond. I remember it well actually. I was paired with Ernie Els and played quite well and he said something nice about me to my caddie.
When you’re a kid just starting out on Tour, for someone like Ernie to say that, I can tell you it’s good to hear. It makes a difference to your confidence if you know someone like that thinks you can play a bit. So I was on a high going into the week, fed on a bit more by what Ernie said.
The whole thing with all the Majors is that everything is just bigger. The Golf Channel is on all the time, everything is analysed, they make a big deal out of everything… we are not used to that as much in Europe. So that is all a bit of a shock.
You have to throw the big thoughts out your mind and view it as just a golf tournament, just one shot after another. You can’t afford to make it bigger than it is, but it is easier said than done.
I played both my practise rounds with Pelle Edberg. His brother was with him and I can still remember clearly today how much were talked about how important it was to hit low shots and the different ways different winds affected the ball.
I can remember those practice rounds quite clearly in my mind all these years later. I think because it was so big, you take it in more.
Anyway, it was nice to have somebody that you know well to discuss things with, because when the weather is that tough – which it really was – you can actually feel quite lonely out there. It sounds a bit silly, but it can be like that.
People might think I’d never played a links before I got to Birkdale, because I come from Sweden.
Well, actually, we have a couple of courses that are quite similar, but more importantly, we play a lot of links in the British Isles if you are a decent amateur. So I had been learning for years that the whole gameplan on a links is about the wind.
And in 2008, there was even more wind than I had ever experienced before. A 7-iron went about 130 yards… if you really pured it!
So there’s a lot of things you have to adapt to, but it’s also very enjoyable – and you have to remember that when it is so windy, not every hole is downwind so there are holes when you’ll get a big help.
I started with a 72. It was OK, but it looked worse when you consider my playing partner Robert Allenby shot 69 and was leading. He played a brilliant round, and was matched by two other late starters, Graeme McDowell and Rocco Mediate.
Greg Norman and Adam Scott were also afternoon starters and they were a shot back along with Bart Bryant… but he teed off at 0945! I honesty don’t know how he did that; it was really, really tough in the morning – that is the day Sandy Lyle walked in – and Bart must have played in the worst of it. Amazing. It wasn’t easy for us, but it was easier.
I was into it by the Friday. It was still windy, but it was OK. The side wind is always the toughest. I decided I just had to try to enjoy it, and try to enjoy trying to solve the challenge. Enjoy it being so tough and not really think too much about it.
All of a sudden I got a little bit of a better strike, and that really helps control your ball in the wind. Mentally, that’s nice; suddenly you start being more positive, thinking ‘maybe I CAN reach that hole in two’.
A 70 left me tied for fourth at halfway. The guys alongside me were Harrington, McDowell and Mediate, with Furyk, Duval, Allenby, Villegas, Norman and Choi ahead of me.
Over half of them Major champions, yes, but I was calm. I think I was anyway. I think it was because there was that much wind. Sometimes I think when there is so much wind I feel comfortable in it, because you know everybody is having a tough time.
It is almost harder when it is perfect conditions and the course is somewhat easier because then you know the really good players will do well. In these crazy conditions you think “ahh, no-one will care”; I think it makes it easier that way.
If you don’t believe it was tough, I shot a 75 (again alongside Robert) in the third round… and moved up the leaderboard!
Helping me keeping grinding were the crowds – I love the British crowds, because they are so good natured and knowledgeable. There is something about them that is so nice and I’ve always liked playing in front of them since then.
So even though there were a lot more spectators than I’d ever seen before, it was a help rather than spooking me. Maybe they realised how hard it was and to sometimes drop just one shot was actually good play.
It’s funny, because I didn’t feel the same when I played in the US Open for the first time. For some reason those bigger crowds affected me a little bit. But I can still remember now how much I loved playing in front of those crowds at Birkdale.
I was in the fourth last group again for Sunday, this time with Anthony Kim. I was a fair way back of the lead – five shots – but you know anything can happen. And it was still really windy. Ian Poulter started a shot behind me and he could actually have won it.
But I never got it going; I was never close enough to really do something. It wasn’t really my best round to finish. I doubled the last – but I finished 19th – I know it was exactly 19th place nine years later!
It was my worst round of the week but it was still a great success for me because it was a Major, and my first Open. You don’t forget weeks like that.