SOUTHPORT, ENGLAND | Henrik Stenson, the defending champion, is in the older, more experienced age group they’re all talking about this week. He’s 41, he knows what it is to have won an Open and he’s comfortable with the kind of golf you have to play when the weather gets tough. Why? Because he’s been doing it for years.
“Bad conditions,” says the Swede, “call for shots you don’t often have to play – and that can be harder for the younger ones.”
Stenson was frustrated after dropping a couple of shots coming home in the final round of last week’s Scottish Open: “I didn’t have the kind of consistency I needed and I’ve been trying to get it back.” Yet the fact that he is not feeling overly confident about winning here at Birkdale is no different to how he felt ahead of Troon.
Long years though he had been playing before he finally captured the Claret Jug, Stenson said he had never been known as “one of those guys on that list that are the best players not to have won a major.” Having avoided that pressure, he is refusing to take on the stress of thinking that he has to win another.
“I’ve worked hard my whole career to win last year so I’m just going to go out and do my best,” he said.
His plan for Birkdale is “to go up and down the centre line” and to play the kind of consistent game which will reward patience: “That way, the birdies will come eventually.”
Jordan Spieth, 23, is another who, as you would expect, pictures himself sticking to the fairways. A little like Justin Rose, Spieth took a holiday ahead of this week, a seaside week in which he felt the sand on his feet and took a deep breath – and felt all the more ready for the Open as a result. However, with the weather set to take a turn for the worse, he is hoping against hope that he does not find himself on the wrong side of the draw for the first couple of rounds. “The most frustrating part of this championship is that if you turn out to be playing in the right end of the draw, you put pressure on yourself to make the most of it. You are thinking, ‘I need to take this opportunity to jump ahead.’
With this being his fifth Open, Spieth believes he has seen “a bit of everything,” enough to deal with all eventualities. Yet five years. as the older fry will tell you, is not long in the course of an Open education.
Ricky Roberts, who is caddying for Ernie Els, says that what Tom Watson did at 59, in coming within a whisker of winning at Turnberry, went a long way towards telling all the over-40s that they should not be beginning to write themselves off.
Butch Harmon, the coach-cum-commentator, says much the same. “You have so much more knowledge when you’re that bit older, not least because you’ll have learned from all the downfalls you’ve had in your younger days. The other point to mention is maturity. People are more comfortable with who they are when they’re 40-plus.
Pádraig Harrington, who won here in 2008, and Stenson, the defending champion, are just two good over-40 bets for this week. Zach Johnson, Ian Poulter and Ernie Els three more. “I have this sneaking feeling about Ernie,” says Roberts.
No-one, incidentally, has been more bemused by this brand of chatter than the 37-year old Sergio García. When the over-40 theory was put to him, he replied with a delicious, “Am I old enough?”