There could be gales, heavy rain or even hailstorms at a Carnoustie Open. But it is safe to assume that the presentation of the great Angus links will not be the chief topic of conversation during the week of the Open Championship.
The R&A, to their credit, and in contrast with their colleagues in America, understand that the Open is about the players and the course rather than the governing body.
A Carnoustie Open takes us to the championship’s most northern outpost and also its least glamorous setting. The counterpoint to this is that the fans are arguably the most knowledgeable in major championship golf and the course provides the most thorough challenge.
The closing stretch is legendary – with the Barry Burn needing to be crossed on no fewer than five occasions.
It begins with one of the great par 4s on the Open rota. The 15th turns left at driving distance, the camber gently working against you. Needless to say, there are bunkers waiting on the far side of the fairway for the tee shot with even a hint of weakness.
The 16th is not subtle but at over 250 yards is fearsome. Then comes the task of crossing the Barry Burn not once but twice, with the drive effectively to an island of fairway. It’s incredibly tough into the wind – and only marginally easier downwind when it is so easy to run into the water with the tee shot. The last hole is essentially the blueprint for an 18th on a championship course. It’s dead-straight, all but 500 yards and this time the Barry Burn must be traversed three times, twice by the tee shot alone. There is out of bounds left, and three bunkers up the right. It’s simply fearsome in any kind of a headwind.
This, then, is the test that awaits the game’s best against a backdrop of recent American dominance in the majors. Each of the last five majors has now gone to the same nation – one each for Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Patrick Reed plus a pair of US Opens for Brooks Koepka.
Ahead of September’s Ryder Cup, Thomas Bjorn, the European captain, would love to see a reply from one of his players.
Top of the list would be Rory McIlroy, whose first Open, as an amateur, came here at Carnoustie back in 2007.
Following an opening 68, he was tied for third. He would go to make the cut easily and finish 42nd. Since then, McIlroy’s Open record has been broadly impressive. His last three appearances (he missed St Andrews in 205 through injury) have brought him a win, a fourth and a fifth. Only once has he missed the cut – at Muirfield five years ago.
Still, though, there remain doubts about the 29-year-old’s durability, especially when conditions get tough in this and other majors.
Too often, he starts slowly. At Carnoustie, where scores tend to be made early on, that will be very hard to do.
Of course, it was two European players who played off for the Claret Jug 11 years ago – Sergio Garcia, the leader after each of the first three rounds, and his nemesis Padraig Harrington. The two’s relationship has never truly recovered. Garcia thought he would have been the more deserving winner – and he had a point – while Harrington found the Spaniard to be a bad loser. Again, not without some justification.
In 1999, it was Scotland’s Paul Lawrie who succeeded in a play-off to end Carnoustie’s 24-year absence from the Open rota.
That means it is over 40 years since the last American champion here – if the USA’s run is going to end this side of the Ryder Cup then it will surely be here on the east coast of Scotland at a Carnoustie Open.