Lumpy sandwich leaving sour taste as Brooks Koepka and co lay into ‘unfair’ Open course
Golf’s star players are queuing up to criticise the course Royal St George’s, the host of this week’s Open Championship, grumbling at the ‘unfair’ bumpy fairways, the ‘diabolical’ thick rough and blind tee shots.
The world-famous links at Sandwich in Kent is hosting The Open for the 15th time this week, yet Jack Nicklaus once said of Royal St George’s: ‘The greats have lined up to criticise over the years,’ and Brooks Koepka has now added his name to the list, along with fellow American – and bitter rival – Bryson DeChambeau.
Clearly, even a 10-year absence from hosting The Open has not made the heart grow any fonder when it comes to comfortably the least loved course on the rota.
Koepka is the man who proclaims he comes alive for the majors. When asked his thoughts about Sandwich, he sounded like he was about to play the John Deere Classic, last week’s low-key event on the PGA Tour He did not even afford it the luxury of playing all 18 holes before issuing his airily dismissive verdict.
‘I’ve only played the front nine,’ he said, with a bored expression. ‘I don’t know, it’s not my favourite venue. There’s quite a few blind shots and quite a few where you’re hitting to nothing. I’m not too big a fan of that. It’s not like St Andrews or Portrush last time. They are my two favourites.’
Brooks Koepka is the latest golfer to voice his displeasure at Royal St George’s in Sandwich
Bryson DeChambeau, meanwhile, says there is plenty of ‘diabolical hay’ at the course
DeChambeau found himself in the knee-high grass during practice, hacking out huge clumps
This was the Open where the R&A had hoped for the rehabilitation of St George’s, having addressed some of the controversies of the past. Now they must fear yet another bashing.
There are certainly plenty of unfavourable reviews to live down. Bernhard Langer finished in the top three in three successive Opens at Sandwich – and even he doesn’t like it.
‘It is, to me, the most unfair of all the courses on the rota,’ he told Sportsmail on Tuesday. You will enjoy his typically forthright Open guide in the Daily Mail on Thursday.
Why is it unfair?
‘It’s not just the blind shots, it’s the all-round quirkiness and the fact that all the nuances are so pronounced,’ said Greg Norman, the 1993 champion – and no, it is not his favourite course either.
‘It’s not like the other venues where if you catch one of the humps in the middle of the fairway it will either throw the ball forward or back. At Sandwich the ball always seem to get propelled either left or right and it really is in the lap of the gods where it will end up after that.
‘Take the first hole. If you get a right to left wind and catch the camber in the middle of the fairway, you can end up in the thick rough. That’s just the first.’
Koepka plays a shot from a bunker during a practice round ahead of the event
Rory McIlroy is not a fan and previously said he would prefer to play at St Andrews
England’s Tommy Fleetwood got a taste of the thick fescue rough during practice here
That will not happen at the start of the 149th edition owing to the fairways being softer than in the past.
The R&A deserve credit, too, for some of the other changes, such as the par-four 17th, with its fairway that looks like the lunar surface and used to be basically unhittable. Now, the fairway is 46 yards wide.
Rory McIlroy was another who was not a fan. ‘Can’t we just skip St George’s and go straight to St Andrews,’ he quipped on a podcast last year, after the Open had been cancelled.
Yet he turned up last weekend and, after 27 holes, was pleasantly surprised. ‘Even before all the rain, the course was quite lush and green and we weren’t seeing the bounces that we’re accustomed to getting here,’ he said.
‘I walked away after the weekend thinking this is a much better golf course than I remember.’
This might be the first Open where the R&A are hoping the course does not play firm and fast, therefore, but with a fine weather forecast, the fairways are likely to be bouncy once more by the weekend.
There is also plenty of ‘diabolical hay,’ as Bryson DeChambeau calls it, to catch not only tee shots that are poorly struck but those that catch an unlucky bounce. There may be trouble ahead, therefore.
Whatever the comments, however, they will have to go some to beat the thoughts of some of the legends of the past.
Five times Open champion Tom Watson said: ‘Royal St George’s is a course you never understand. There are at least a dozen places where you hit it and you don’t know until you are 50 yards from it whether your ball has gone into a bunker, in the rough or, glory be, it’s on the green.’
Nicklaus remarked: ‘It’s always been a hard course for me. How could I shoot 83 there one day and 66 the next, as I did once, and not feel I’ve swung any differently? It’s that type of course.’
The 149th Open will be played at the venue, which is not one of the favourites with star golfers
Even the great Jack Nicklaus (right) has criticised the course at Sandwich’s vagaries
McIlroy clarified that he is changing his opinion on the course after playing it this week
Gary Player questioned why it ever appears on the Open rota, given all the great courses to choose from, one that is easily answered: it is the only course south of Liverpool to host the event. Besides, it really isn’t bad at all. Just the opposite.
Listen to DeChambeau go on about how you will struggle to get the ball on the green with a wedge from the rough ‘even if you hit it over 300 yards,’ and isn’t that how you want the course to be set up?
As for those ‘blind shots,’ well, sorry, but that is part of the rich tradition of links golf, as is the luck of the bounce. Just not too many of them.
Sure, Royal St George’s is not Portrush or St Andrews, as Koepka said. But, at the very least, it really does deserve the respect of playing all 18 holes before passing an opinion.
Let’s leave the final verdict to Ben Curtis, the 2003 St George’s winner from the middle of nowhere, who rated it fifth on the rota of 10 courses. Eminently respectable, therefore.
‘I’ve only played seven of them,’ he added.