Mark Townsend adds a new skill set, the putting yips, to his game as he takes on Royal Portrush. Who will come out on top?
Darren Clarke reckons, come Sunday night, that a large chunk of this year’s field will come away with Royal Portrush right at the top of their favourite Open courses. We played it as part of the Open media day in April, and having now tackled it twice, 10 years apart, it’s hard to argue particularly when you add in the incredible buzz that surrounds the place. The following alternative Royal Portrush course guide attempts to give you a very small insight into the course as well as being a screaming cry for help…
Royal Portrush course guide: 1st (Hughies)
421 yards, par 4, SI 11
The planner suggests a 3-wood, everything suggests a 3-wood. All I can picture, with white posts left and white posts right, is a steery driver. That brings the bunkers into play but I hit it so bad it doesn’t even threaten them.
A 7-iron comes up five yards short of the green and 30 yards short of the pin. It’s a chip and run all day but I putt it. This has been the way since 2005. I forget to breathe, everything goes into a blur and I move it approximately six feet. Within the space of 10 minutes and three shots I’ve managed to spook myself and there is very little prospect of two-putting for a point.
I don’t. Blob. Good.
Royal Portrush course guide: 2nd (Giant’s Grave)
574 yards, par 5, SI 5
If it were possible to bet on yourself I would have emptied everything and re-mortgaged my house on my next shot being smashed up the left and away from sand and more stakes.
I’m so rattled by the opening-hole exchanges that my 8-iron lay-up is a stone-cold top.
I’m now fuming with myself and manage to whistle a 7-wood onto the green.
I mentally pencil three points onto the scorecard before being rocked by the contours of the green and promptly three-putt.
Royal Portrush course guide: 3rd (Islay)
177 yards, par 3, SI 17
Wrong club, poor swing and mild tremors from that putt leave me 10 yards short of the dance floor. The tremors play a significant part in me bashing it 20 foot past and then never threatening with the return putt.
Royal Portrush course guide: 4th (Fred Daly’s)
482 yards, par 4, SI 1
Finally I commit to the chief and it goes forwards and straight. I settle down a bit, try to behave normally with my playing partners and then spend the walk to the ball worrying about the fairway bunker. I’m 30 yards short.
Don’t be short, get it past all the trouble, picture a great shot. I’m giving myself mixed messages and I slightly thin the wrong club again to leave a chip shot which I can’t putt with the ball at knee height in a hillock.
There’s a suspicion of a double-hit but that doesn’t matter any more and I clean up from 30 feet by three more woeful putts. In the space of four holes I wonder if I’ve added putting yips to my chyips of the past two decades.
Royal Portrush course guide: 5th (White Rocks)
374 yards, par 4, SI 15
I try and cut too much of the corner which leaves quite a nice little angle up the hill but, over the ball, all I can visualise is the bloody beach and all the spectacular images I’ve spent the past four years looking at.
With a strong headwind there is little chance of anything getting lost though and my old unfaithful 54-degrees gets me within 15 feet of the cup.
With my new-found confidence I have the pin put back in for my putt and knock her in.
I celebrate by taking the above photo.
Royal Portrush course guide: 6th (Harry Colt’s)
194 yards, par 3, SI 7
This was just about as efficient as I can get. A 5-iron to 30 feet, a putt to the hole side and one of those par putts that you can straddle, nothing can now go wrong and you can go and decompress by the side of the green for a few minutes.
And look around at all the amazing views and wonder why you don’t have a better attitude to golf (and life).
Royal Portrush course guide: 7th (Curran Point)
592 yards par 5, SI 3
Ah, the new hole. I say that like I’m an old friend of the course when the truth is I’ve played it once in around 2008.
Two steady hits leave me a 5-iron which pitches quite close but tumbles slowly down a hill and off the green.
I pretend to look disappointed that I can’t manage a par but the pure relief at not whiffing the recovery shot is the takeaway emotion from this hole.
Royal Portrush course guide: 8th (Dunluce)
434 yards par 4 SI 13
Ah, another new hole. OK, I’ll stop that. Wind off the right, right-to-left dogleg and we scamper one down there into the kill zone.
I’m getting dialled in now and I slightly knife my ‘A’ wedge in to 15 feet.
I almost wrestle the forecaddie away from the others in the fourball to give me the line and lip out.
Again I give an affected shrug to pretend to these new faces that I’m disappointed that this hasn’t played out with a birdie but I’m secretly delighted with every element of this hole.
Royal Portrush course guide: 9th (Tavern)
432 yards, par 4, SI 9
I’m not sure our forecaddie could have been any clearer with the line for this hole but I still take the direct line in the hope of getting a decent lie. With every sinew in my pathetic frame I smash one out, it heads left but, again, I find it.
My chip-and-run is more about just getting club on ball rather than feel and touch but the 20-footer drops.
I sort of want to give it the ‘Tiger at Torrey’ body shake but, instead, I look at the floor. Only two points for these heroics is a gentle kick in the proverbials but, in truth, it’s still two points gained.
My half-round appraisal is one of mild hope given what went on at the 1st.
So that’s 16 points at the turn. To find out if Mark’s round picks up or if he can stop yipping his long putts or whether he can find the green at Calamity, his Royal Portrush course guide continues on the next page…