ST ANDREWS, SCOTLAND | Your average American golfer, buoyed by the performance of the US team in the Ryder Cup, could well be seeing Whistling Straits as an eminently playable course. After all, Dustin Johnson, in winning five points out of five, led the scoring stats at 19-under par, with Collin Morikawa second on 18 under.
Run-of-the-mill golfers in Europe – i.e. those with handicaps around the 10 to 12 mark – seemed to be viewing the venue in a less positive light. Perhaps out of loyalty to the beaten European team in which Tyrrell Hatton finished bottom on those stats at level par and Rory McIlroy second bottom on 1 under, they could not see themselves making it round the Ryder Cup venue in less than 100. And that was on a good day from the regular tees.
Ken Brown, the former Ryder Cup man and now BBC commentator, suspected that the figure would be more like 110 if those same players were to try their luck from the back tees. As for Dave Cannon, the famous Getty photographer who has taken pictures of putting surfaces all over the world and is currently playing off 12, he thought that club golfers, to a man, would be dropping shots even before they went anywhere near the rough or ended up in any of Whistling Straits’ 1,000 bunkers. “They would be doing well to have fewer than 40 putts on any of those greens. They’re so tough; so big and so undulating.”
Michael Vaughan, the former England cricket captain and a six-handicap man who is playing alongside Jordan Smith in this week’s Dunhill Links Championship at St Andrews, Carnoustie and Kingsbarns, thought that he might break 90. But on apparently detecting a somewhat doubtful look on my part, he upped that figure to 100.
Shane Lowry, who finished at an acceptable 8 under on the scoring stats, struck a more positive note for the regular golfer when, speaking ahead of his press conference at St Andrews, he suggested that Whistling Straits was not as alarming as the drones made it out to be. That said, he shook his head at the notion of too many amateurs returning a score to write home about.
“When you go to a course like that, you need to see it as an amazing experience rather than anything else.” – David Cannon
Another topic to surface among those Europeans who had watched the match unravel from home concerned how many balls they would have lost without the Ryder Cup players’ advantage in having a ball-watcher stationed beside every clump of grass.
Here, four golfing pals who had followed the unfortunate goings-on in the evenings while playing such relatively tame courses as Carnoustie and Dornoch by day, reckoned that a trip to Whistling Straits would probably cost them at least as much in golf balls as the transatlantic flights.
It was back in 2013 that Golf Monthly magazine asked their readers to confess to their worst days on a course in terms of lost balls. With this being ’21, it is maybe time to launch another such investigation. The first of the Golf Monthly responses came from a player who had lost eight balls in a single round, which didn’t sound that bad to someone like myself, who once left at least that many in the untamed rough at Skibo Castle in the Highlands.
To give what may or may not have been the winner in the Golf Monthly contest, if indeed it qualified as that, there was a Challenge Tour professional who, in looking back to one of his early amateur medal rounds, recalled a day when he set out with six balls in his bag and proceeded to lose two off the first tee. He lost a third when he hit a shank at the third, while a wild drive at the sixth had him saying goodbye to a fourth ball. “Luckily,” he concluded, “I made it home with two balls and saved face – sort of.”
Meanwhile, for another black stat to sit alongside those projected high scores and lost balls, there was one returning UK commentator who bore news of 34 to 40 broken ankles over the Ryder Cup week. On a slightly different tack, Hatton did not break his ankle but was said by The Sun newspaper to have ruined a £5,000 pair of trousers on the Saturday afternoon as he tumbled down a hideously grassy incline at the fourth.
Cannon, the photographer, had the feeling that people were perhaps pondering too much on all the bad things that could happen to a man at Whistling Straits. “When you go to a course like that,” he said, “you need to see it as an amazing experience rather than anything else.
“It’s a truly wonderful Ryder Cup venue but last thing you want to do is to go out with a card in your hand.”
Top: Scenes like this on the Straits Course 11th hole at Whistling Straits give pause to the average golfer. Photo: David Cannon, Getty Images
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