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Morikawa solves Royal St. George’s for 2021 Open Championship title

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It’s known that Ian Fleming wrote a great bit of his James Bond series of tales from a cottage near Royal St. George’s, in Sandwich, England. It’s less known that the selected site for the pivotal match between Bond the hero and Auric Goldfinger the villain, took place at a renamed RSG. Fleming christened his links Royal St. Mark’s. Finally, on a sad note, the elected club captain Fleming passed away mere weeks before he would assume the position, and so his portrait does not hang on the walls of the RSG clubhouse. On this 18th day of July, 2021, a new captain did not play his way in. Instead, a Champion Golfer of the Year was recognized for the 15th time at this links and for the 149th time overall.

It would be interesting to ask the competitors if they considered Sandwich to be a putter’s course. My guess is that they would say “no.” More than that, it played this week as an approach course, and then as a driving course. Since writers and fans lead mundane lives, they like to fish around for a weakness in a player, forgetting that every golfer that tees it up is world-class.

With Collin Morikawa, they suggest that putting is not his strong suit. They forget that he worked with Mark O’Meara months back, adjusting his grip on shorter putts. He ultimately adopted the modified pencil, or modified saw, grip that he used with great success all week.

On Sunday, as his playing partner and others struggled around him, and as Jordan Spieth surged, Collin Morikawa made putt after putt of all lengths, shapes, and flavors. At week’s end, his average of 1.54 putts per green in regulation was exactly .01 behind the tournament leaders. So much for a weakness.

Flip the script to Morikawa’s perceived strength: his approach play. Over the course of the week’s four rounds, the eventual champion hit this percentage of greens in regulation: 72-83-66-77. Over the 72 holes, he putted for birdie or better three-quarters of the time. Unless you’re the world’s worst short-game practitioner from off the green, and on it, for that matter, those numbers are in your favor.

Morikawa knew instinctively when to land a ball dozens of yards shy of the putting surface, and when to fly it to the crevice. He found shelves and hollows all week long, and he was one of two golfers all week to post four rounds in the 60s. For the unfortunate Jordan Spieth, his quartet of sub-70s was not enough to sequester the Claret Jug for a second time.

Intangibles? He had them, too. Deep breaths, closed eyes, anticipated trajectories — it all led to trust and execution. When he got in trouble, as happens with champions, Morikawa joined his vision with the land, found a trace, and followed it back to safety.

Congratulations to the 2021 Champion Golfer of the Year, on his second major tournament victory. Let the pundits predict if and when Collin Morikawa will complete the career grand slam, and how difficult it will be for him to win a U.S. Open and a Masters.

For now, leave them to their augury and their conjecture. There is no better walk in golf than this one, and Louis Oosthuizen, who lost out to Morikawa this year, does know. He walked it in 2010, at the home of golf. Today, it was the turn of someone else, someone we may be fortunate to watch play and smile for many years.

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Ronald Montesano writes for GolfWRX.com from western New York. He dabbles in coaching golf and teaching Spanish, in addition to scribbling columns on all aspects of golf, from apparel to architecture, from equipment to travel. Follow Ronald on Twitter at @buffalogolfer.

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  1. Sean

    Jul 19, 2021 at 9:07 am

    He also won being 120th in driving distance on Tour. Despite his “lack” of distance, his career is off to a terrific start. In this distance obsessed era, props to him for playing his game.

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5 things we learned Saturday at the British Open

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For a third consecutive day, Royal St. George’s golf course provided ample opportunity for golfers to make moves up the leaderboard. As with all potions and recipes, knowing the proper amount of each ingredient was critical. For many, knowing which ingredients to leave out, and which ones to incorporate, was also decisive. Too many drivers, too much draw, too great a risk into a particular green, all resulted in lost shots and descents. By day’s end, most of the expected players were still in contention, ensuring that Sunday’s march across the storied links of RSG, sandwiched between Prince’s and Royal Cinque Ports, will be memorable.

Our memory is fading, but we do know five things that we learned today. Share them with us, won’t you?

1. Driving Suez

As Bryson DeChambeau continued his search for a new realm of golf performance, his climb up the leader board stalled. He made a double at nine and a bogey at 13 and stepped to the tee of the 14th at Sandwich at 3 over on the day. With nothing to lose, the scientist proceeded to bang driver OVER the crossing hazard known as Suez Canal. The carry was measured at 340 yards to find fairway, and DeChambeau’s tee ball ended 366 from its point of origin. His wedge approach barely missed its tiny target front left, ending in the guarding bunker. With a deft touch, Bryson got up and down for his first birdie on the day. Given the glee of the online announcers, we bore witness to a first-ever event with that swing of the driver.

2. Louis, Collin, not fade away

Louis Oosthuizen and Collin Morikawa began day three in the same pairing, separated by a pair of strokes. Morikawa began to fade with bogeys on two of his first five holes. Recalling that he was a PGA champion just a few years back, the young Californian reset and rebounded. He played the final 13 holes in minus 4, posted 68 on the day, and made up a stroke on the leader.

Oosthuizen’s front nine was ideal. He turned in 33 thanks to birdies on seven and nine. At that point in the round, the top challenge to the South African’s lead was Jordan Spieth, who also turned well on day three. Oosthuizen struggled a bit coming home carding two bogeys and one birdie, but Spieth struggled more. That will be discussed further on. As for Louis, the 2010 Open champion, his birdie at 16 renewed his lead over Morikawa. The two will partner for a second consecutive day on Sunday, and odds favor one of them to depart with the Claret Jug’s suitcase.

3. Who else remains?

Despite closing with three bogeys on his last eight holes, Jordan Spieth sits just three behind the 54-hole medalist. He has been the most impressive when it comes to making birdies of all the leaders. What he needs to solve for Sunday is how to continue this while eliminating that. “That” would be the bogeys, the lost shots, the anxious, hurried swings. His three major titles suggest that he knows how to do this, but it has been since 2017 that he hoisted major hardware. On Sunday, he might do so again.

Corey Conners and Scottie Scheffler are the most intriguing new names on the leader board. Each has played with composure and expertise — not just this week but over the past 18 months. And they’ve done so in other major championships. They’ve suffered the lumps, bumps, and bruises of also-rans and almost-weres along the way, and both appear ready to shed that baggage at Sandwich.

4. Who went away?

Dustin Johnson did. As quickly as he ascended on Friday, he derailed on Saturday. Not in fabulous, dramatic fashion, but little by little. He ended 3 over on the day and minus 4 for the week. As little as 2 under on the day would have seated him in one of the final two groups on Sunday, but 2021 was not to be DJ’s year at the Open. Rory McIlroy came and went even quicker. He was 4 under on the front nine, and 3 over on the back. His woe-ridden face, sagging shoulders, and quickened pace said it all: The tournament was his for the taking, and he forgot how.

Brooks Koepka, Emiliano Grillo, and Andy Sullivan also struggled on Saturday, as did the aforementioned Bryson DeChambeau. The common thread was trying too much and not accepting what the course offered. The wind was up, but not to a flamboyant degree, just enough to topple wayward strikes toward sand and higher grass.

5. Who wins on Sunday?

This guy. Two Open titles in the same year.

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5 things we learned: Friday at the British Open

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Yesterday we hinted that the morning and afternoon waves at Royal St. George’s (aka Sandwich) were mostly equal, in terms of weather conditions and impact. Others observed that the winds picked up in the afternoon but, in all honesty, they weren’t that different. Perhaps a stroke was lost, but nothing like we’ve seen in past Opens. Despite exaggerated warnings of difficult morning conditions on Friday by some outlets, two scores of 64, one of 65, and two of 66 were reported as players moved up the board, into contention.

Today, the cut danced back and forth between plus 1 and plus 2, before finally settling on the former. 77 golfers reached the tee for round three, including Bryson DeChambeau, who played the final five holes in minus 2 to make the cut on the number. From all these tidbits, we’ve extracted five things learned from Friday at the 149th Open Championship. Have a glance with us.

1. Magnificent Matthias

It’s rare that we lead with someone chasing silver, rather than gold, but when an amateur signs for a 65 at Royal St. George’s, the die is cast and the route, selected. Germany’s Matthias Schmid, who recently completed his time at the University of Louisville, began day two at four shots beyond par. By morning’s conclusion, he had regained five with a bogey-free 65, and sat at minus-one on the week, safely inside the cut line. Twice the winner of the European Amateur, Schmid is currently the 12th-ranked amateur in the world, and is playing in his second Open Championship. Schmid’s round equaled the lowest ever posted by one who plays for glory and not for money. China’s Yuxin Lin is the only other amateur currently on the safe side of the plus-1 cut wall. Schmid and Lin will do their own battle this weekend, hoping to claim the low amateur’s silver medal.

2. Gigantic Jigger Thomson holes in one to gain a Saturday tee time

It seems like everyone wanted to make it to the weekend, but none did it in more spectacular spectacular fashion than Jonathan Thomson. The Englishman measures in at six feet nine inches tall, but made bogey at 15 to drop to plus 1, exactly on the cut line. With one swing of his iron at the 16th, Thomson move to 1 under par with an improbable ace. He followed that with birdie at 17 and stands proudly at minus 2 through 36 holes. Let’s all raise a jigger of whatever to the welcome figure of Jonathan Thomson.

3. Mighty Collin

Despite making his Open debut on the most psychologically challenging of the Open rota of courses, Collin Morikawa proved to be the class of the early set of Friday tee times. Paired with Corey Conners (who made the cut) and Sebastián Múñoz (who did not), Morikawa posted seven birdies through his first 14 holes. He drove poorly at 13 and 14 (bunker and thick rough) but escaped for par and birdie at each hole. His only blemish was a bogey at the 15th. The nearly-500 yard par four is playing first in difficulty through 1.5 rounds, and the California native missed a third consecutive fairway with his driver. Another recovery was not in the cards, with Morikawa ultimately missing a five-feet putt for his par.

Offer any player in the field an even-par total after missing three consecutive fairway, and he’ll most likely accept the deal. After the morning wave, Morikawa sat three ahead of South Africa’s Daniel Van Tonder, who negotiated five birdies from the course after a fifth-hole bogey set him in arrears on the day.

4. “I’m still number one” Johnson stands at seven deep

With all the heroics of the first two days at Sandwich, add one more name to the mix: Dustin Johnson, he of two major titles and a near-miss the last time the Open visited Royal St. George’s. The tall man from South Carolina had himself a day on Friday, posting seven birdies against two bogeys for 65. He moved from minus 2 to minus 7, good for a tie for fourth spot with Scottie Scheffler and Dylan Fritelli. Johnson had bogey at the 3rd and 15th holes, but made birdie at the last to position himself for a weekend charge.

He wasn’t the only big name to make a sizable move on day two. U.S. Open champion Jon Rahm had 64 to reach minus 5, and Brooks Koepka had 66 to reach the same figure. Oh, and don’t forget defending champion Shane Lowry, who carded 65 on day two to reach four-under par. The weekend on the southwest coast of England promises a memorable champion and an even-more memorable slate of challengers.

5. Louis part touis

You didn’t think we’d forgotten him, did you? The major champion golfer of the year is working hard, hard, hard to become the Champion Golfer of the Year for a second time. Oosthuizen played spectacular golf for a second consecutive day, and reached the 34th hole of the week at 12 under par. He made four at the par-three, antepenultimate hole, but still managed to finish at 129 for two rounds, a new championship record. His performance to date is just two better than early leader Morikawa, but is historic in a way that demands we pay little attention to that late-round hiccough. Oosthuizen posted four birdies on the day, an concluded a sizzling, three-hole stretch on the inward half with an eagle-three at the par-5 14th.

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Five things we learned: Thursday at the British Open

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Morning coffee with the Royal and Ancient returned on this morrow with the 149th playing of the Open Championship. When last we saw Royal St. George’s, we welcomed one of the most favorable tournament resolutions of this generation: the coronation of Darren Clarke.

Prior to that, in 2003, the the course greeted the most unlikely winner in Ben Curtis, after Thomas Bjorn gave away late a two-shot advantage. To summarize, we might witness a complete dark horse drink from the Claret jug on Sunday, or we might see a favorite son finally break through. In each player’s case, the Open at RSG was his only major title. Today, however, tells us nothing more than the 18-hole leader, so let’s have a look at five things that we learned on Thursday at the Open Championship.

1. The putting at RSG is the thing

One thing that might go unnoticed is the points at which putts begin to break on these beguiling putting surfaces. One minute, a putt turns left two inches off the clubface, confusing the golfer beyond words. At a second, the evaluation suggests a trace a full 1.5 cups less than needed. As considered by an English journalist “Some of the undulating slopes on the greens and fairways feel more like a creation of Zaha Hadid than that of Dr Laidlow (sic) Purves in 1887.” Laidlaw Purves, much like Henry Fownes at Oakmont, designed precisely one course in his lifetime, and it is this one. There are no other Purves putting surfaces with which to compare his work in Kent. Thus, find the caddie with the best eyes for greens, and hold on to that looper for the week.

2. Put Shane in the … and he’ll make magic

One of my regular playing partners is known wide and far as The Scrambler. It’s an affliction, more than a compliment. The lad simply loves recovery shots. Give him a flat, fairway lie and lord knows how bad he’ll play it. Place his ball in spots favored by the world’s devils and he’ll seize the moment for glory. On Thursday, Shane Lowry hit some brilliant shots from the thick stuff. As defending Champion Golfer of the Year, his work merits some attention today. Lowry made two birdies from healthy grama, but could not avoid bogey at the last for 71 and much ground to make up to defend his title.

3. Our man Louis

The 2010 Champion Golfer of the Year has been the top major-event competitor of 2021. Oosthuizen has a pair of runner-up finishes in the past two months, at both Kiawah Island and Torrey Pines. He certainly played well enough to win each, but some other golfer found a way to play better. Perhaps if Louis had attended Arizona State University (school of the two golfers that defeated him) he might have another major or two. Enough with the daydreams; on to the performance. Louis Oosthuizen played 18 holes at RSG with no bogey on his card. Staring bogey in the face at the last, he smartly pitched out of the left fairway bunker, hit a full wedge to the back shelf, and deftly holed the putt for par. His 6-under tally had him one ahead of USA compatriots Jordan Spieth and Brian Harman at the close of the morning session.

4. Webb and Heb lead PM posse

The afternoon wave of golfers dealt with good weather and slowing greens, and Webb Simpson and Ben Hebert were the cream of that crop. The American parlayed five birdies against one bogey (on a par five, no less!) in hiss 66, while the Frenchman turned in a clean card. Hebert had two birdies on each half, and a passel of pars to sit two behind Louis Oosthuizen, in a tie for fourth with Simpson and three others. In many an Open championship week, either round one or round two features a morning or afternoon wave of unrelenting atmospheric influence. Ardent supporters of the vagaries of links golf, simply shrug their shoulders when weather impacts half the field. Precious little time remains to make up for Mother Nature’s inconsistencies, making it a shame for half the field to suffer a fate not felt by the other 80-odd golfers.

As mentioned earlier, a pair of American golfers sit one behind first-round leader Oosthuizedn. Jordan Spieth ran consecutive birdies from the fifth through the eighth, then added two more late in the round, after making bogey at the third early on. Brian Harman notched birdie at four of his opening five holes, then fell back with two bogeys around the turn. The Georgia resident regrouped and had birdie coming home at 13 and 18 to match Spieth’s 65.

5. Those penal bunkers

We would be remiss if we did failed to mention the reveted bunkers that make Sandwich such a demanding layout. The sandy declivities are pot bunkers in the horrific sense of the feature, but their lofty faces preclude a full recovery to the green. Most golfers accept the punishment that their errant tee balls meted out, and pitch partway home. Day one saw a number of golfers loft a third shot close enough to the hole to save par. When a golfer tried for too much, as US Open champion Jon Rahm did below, things turned against the player. As golfers march through the coming 54 holes, it will be interesting to watch and see if anyone is able to reach the putting surface from a fairway basement, and precisely how much pressure was on the shot’s execution.

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