Practice makes perfect, so the saying goes. And if you were watching practice on Wednesday at Royal St. George’s, it’s hard to imagine a more perfect group to follow than Phil Mickelson, Jon Rahm, Bryson DeChambeau and Dustin Johnson.
That Fab Four was on the course on Wednesday, and represented the winners of four of the past five major championships. All that was missing was the presence of Hideki Matsuyama, who captured the 2021 Masters in April. Matsuyama is not playing this week, having tested positive for COVID-19.
Not surprisingly, a large number of spectators followed the celebrated group and got a taste of what to expect when the championship begins on Thursday.
Johnson, the 2020 Masters winner last November, insisted no alliances were made and nothing was on the line other than practice. “Nope,” said Johnson, when asked about possible teams or friendly wagers. “We were just out playing, practicing, trying to get a good feel of the golf course.”
DeChambeau, the 2020 U.S. Open winner last September, leads the PGA Tour in driving distance, averaging 321.9 yards. He wasted little time in demonstrating his distance - and the possible perils of employing it - by bombing a drive off the first tee into a fairway bunker located 357 yards away.
But hey, that’s why they call it “practice.” DeChambeau promptly reached for another ball, pulled out a hybrid club, and landed a “mulligan” safely in the fairway, in the same area where his playing partners settled.
And so it went, as the players mixed irons and hybrids off the tees, and searched for the acceptable merger between accuracy and distance. That said, all four in the group are capable of tape-measure swipes and at No. 4, both Rahm and Johnson cleared the notorious “Himalaya” bunker to set up their second shots.
Touch promises to be at least as important as power this week, particularly around greens that are speeding up as the start approaches. The four headliners all spent considerable time testing approaches and rolling putts from various locales and angles.
The study sessions seemed especially earnest at Nos. 4 and 9, surfaces that feature steep inclines and dramatic undulations. At the par-5 7th, Rahm, the 2021 U.S. Open champ, landed in egregious rough on the left. Both Mickelson, the recent PGA champ, and Johnson were able to advance shots out of the rough on the right side.
At the par-3 6th, Rahm and Johnson each took time hitting shots out of the bunker behind the green, just in case. Interestingly enough, Johnson recently unseated Rahm for the top slot in the OWGR. Not surprisingly, the understated Johnson said the rankings were not a topic of conversation.
“We didn’t talk about it,” Johnson said. “But I mean, yeah, the rankings are tough to figure out. Obviously if you play well, you get to No. 1. I need to continue to play well if I want to stay there. Obviously, Jon’s been playing really well lately. I need to step up my game a little bit.”
After nine holes, DeChambeau and Johnson headed back to the clubhouse. None of the four are together during the first two rounds at Royal St. George’s. DeChambeau will be with Jordan Spieth and Branden Grace at 4:25 a.m. (ET) on Thursday. Johnson plays with Justin Rose and Will Zalatoris (5:20 a.m.). Rahm goes off with Shane Lowry and Louis Oosthuizen (4:58 a.m.), while Mickelson joins Kevin Kisner and Tyrrell Hatton at 9:48 a.m.
While Johnson, Rahm and DeChambeau all own majors, all three might benefit from studying Mickelson, the only one of the heavyweight foursome with a British Open to his credit. Mickelson won the 2013 championship at Muirfield.
Johnson and Mickelson were both in contention the last time the British Open was at Royal St. George’s (2011), tying for second at 2-under par, three shots behind winner Darren Clarke.
But Johnson pointed out 10 years have passed. “That was a long time ago,” Johnson said. “But yeah, obviously, I have good memories here and I did play well. I do like this golf course. I feel like it’s a tough golf course, and it’s going to be difficult, especially with the wind direction that it’s supposed to blow during the week.”
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