GLASGOW, SCOTLAND | The majority of those who visit Loch Lomond say they would sooner be there than anywhere else in the world. That, though, does not apply to the professionals who play in the annual Barclays Scottish Open prior to the Open championship. Most of them spend their days with more than half an eye on what lies ahead.
It has always been that way, with the situation magnified on that occasion when Melissa Lehman walked the last 18 holes of the Scottish with the car keys dangling from her fingers. Much though she and Tom loved Loch Lomond, it was all about moving on.
Phil Mickelson may have been like that in the past, notably when he played in the 2004 Barclays Scottish Open and spent as much or more time practising at Troon. This year, though, the world No 2 was never less than respectful towards the event of the moment. He talked of St Andrews but always he reverted to the first of his two Scottish weeks. That he would miss the cut – he had a trouble-strewn nine at the last for a second-round 74 – was the last thing he wanted.
He had been looking for a win and, though he was not admitting as much, to nudge ahead of Tiger Woods on the world rankings.
Even more so than Mickelson, Simon Dyson had his feet firmly on Loch Lomond soil. “I’m genuinely not thinking about St Andrews,” he promised. “My mind’s right here.” He explained that concentration was easier because of how he won last year’s Dunhill Links championship at St Andrews – namely, with a four-round aggregate which was as many as 20-under par.
“By winning like that,” he said, “I proved to myself that I can play the Old Course. I can feel it in my heart and in my head. I’m quietly excited about next week but I’m trying to keep that excitement in store. The memories are all in place and the hope is that they’ll come into play when I get there on Monday”
Martin Kaymer, while plying his skills at Loch Lomond, said that thoughts of St Andrews – and, indeed of the Ryder Cup – were all popping up at regular intervals but that he was not attempting to quash them. “If anything,” he said, “they can inspire me.”
He mentioned the preceding French Open where, after making a poor start to his fourth round, a few thoughts about the Ryder Cup had helped to turn his game around. “All of a sudden, I got a little bit more keyed up and there I was tied in the lead again.” To recap, Kaymer just missed out on the three-way play-off at Golf National.
Graeme McDowell, meanwhile, had an unashamedly one-track mind. The new US Open champion was at Loch Lomond in person but not in spirit. In truth, he could not begin to disguise the fact that all he could see in his mind’s eye were the fast-running fairways of the Old Course which, he thinks, are going to be faster still by the time the Open gets under way.
“This week,” he said, “it’s about getting the body back in shape and the business head screwed back on. I just need to shake the beginnings of rust out of the system. I’ve had a couple of weeks of not doing a lot but I’ve made enough good swings in the last few days to know that they are still there. I’m definitely going to St Andrews with expectations of competing and playing well.”
It goes without saying that the reverberations from McDowell’s success have been having their effect on his fellow Europeans, with all of them thinking along the lines, “If Graeme can win a major…”
Rory McIlroy was so affected by his friend’s win at Pebble that he turned his attention at once to winning at St Andrews. He pulled out of the Barclays Scottish Open in favour of practising in Fife. “He’s scary excited,” said McDowell.
Pete Cowen, a wise old coach if ever there were one, suspected that it was those who were at Loch Lomond and giving the event their undivided attention who had got it right.
“They need to keep their games sharp before the Open,” he said. “Loch Lomond may not have much in common with St Andrews but they still have to hit the shots and they still have to score.”
Cowen, of course, has been around for long enough to know that there are occasions when everything can be out of kilter for a player and he or she can still come out on top. Just take Catriona Matthew. She had a baby 11 weeks before last year’s Ricoh British Women’s Open while, in the week immediately preceding the event, she was caught in the full fury of a hotel fire.
In other words, Tiger Woods’ decision to head back to Florida at the weekend to see his children does not begin to spell the end of his chances.