The weather at Royal St. George’s Golf Club: you can’t live with, you can’t live without it. And sometimes you have to do both.
To put that in perspective, Gary Player, who appeared in 46 British Opens from 1956-2001 and won at Carnoustie in 1968, had this to say on the subject: “Royal St George's probably is the easiest of the (British Open) golf courses, but the thing that will make it, obviously, is the wind.”
Meanwhile, Sandy Lyle, who won the 1985 British Open at Royal St. George’s, ranks the course alongside Carnoustie and Royal Birkdale as among the toughest in the rotation. “You get deeper and deeper in to the rubbish,” Lyle told ESPN. “You have to be very accurate in places and it's not a very friendly course if it is breezy.”
Lyle finished 2 over par at RSG to become the ’85 Champion Golfer of the Year. During the two most recent British Opens on the course combined 2003, 2011), only seven players finished under par.
In 1894, when RSG became the first facility outside Scotland to host the championship, weather made it an especially sticky wicket, to coin a local phrase. Old Tom Morris withdrew after a third-round score of 100 and only two players broke 80 during the week. In the end, legendary John Henry “JH” Taylor prevailed in brutal conditions, nailing down the victory with back-to-back 81s and posting a final score of 326, which remains the highest winning tab in British Open history.
Bottom line, weather can be everything in this major championship. It can be friendly, it can be harsh, and it can be both … sometimes in the same week … sometimes in the same day. Forecasts for the next few days at Royal St. George’s indicate there will be no rain and relatively mild winds. But a weather forecast on the edge of the English Channel is about as reliable as a your cell service.
If the wind gets hawkish, the humpy-dumpy fairways harden and devil at Royal St. George’ - with his knee-high rough and knee-deep bunkers - gets his due. Then again, a bit of rain and gentle breezes paint a softer, kinder story.
In 1993, when it rained during the week at RSG, the grounds stood down. A total of 47 players finished under par in the first round, another 22 finished even. In the second round, Nick Faldo shot a 63 and in the end, Sir Nick finished with a 67. It wasn’t good enough.
Greg Norman shot four rounds in the 60s, closed with a 64, and came from behind to win his second Claret Jug. Ninety-nine years later, “The Shark’s” final score under friendlier conditions was 59 strokes better than Taylor’s, but who’s counting. Norman’s 267 set a British Open record - later broken by Henrik Stenson’s 264 at Royal Troon in 2016.
In 2011, the last time the British Open sailed into Sandwich, Kent, England, heavy rains and gusty gales ruled the weekend. On Saturday, only one of the first 30 players on the course - Rickie Fowler (68) - broke par. By the time the day was over, only two more - Darren Clarke (69) and Dustin Johnson (68) - fared as well.
“Saturday morning was hell for the guys. They just got blown off the golf course.” said Thomas Bjorn.
Things weren’t much better on Sunday, when the average score was 73.61. When the curtain blew closed, only four players completed the championship under par. The 42-year old Clarke was among the few, the proud, the British Open survivors, registering a championship-winning total of 5-under 275.
Dry and windy weather left the golf course hard and fast in 2003, when Ben Curtis captured his stunning British Open. Playing in his first major championship, ranked 396 in the world, Curtis was the only player to finish under par, a 1-under 283 that nudged Vijay Singh and Bjorn by a stroke. That was the same week Tiger Woods opened the championship by losing his ball off the first tee.
With the favorable outlook, with some rain that led into the week, with a wind that appears manageable, Royal St. George’s figures to be relatively accommodating. “Even before the rain yesterday, the course was quite lush, quite green,” Rory McIlroy said on Tuesday.
“We maybe weren't getting the bounces that we're accustomed to getting here at St. George's with the bumpy fairways … I think it's perfect, and as the days go on with a little bit of wind and sunshine, by the weekend it should just be absolutely perfect. It should be playing the way it should play.”
But where weather is concerned, “should” is a dangerous word when perfect can turn to perilous in no time. At a British Open, you have to be ready to live, either way.
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