Thoughts on the 2016 Open Championship

Stenson trophy

Henrik Stenson won the Open Championship on Sunday at Royal Troon, holding off Phil Mickelson to claim his first major championship victory. Here are my takeaways from the week.

Final Leaderboard

  • 1. Henrik Stenson -20
  • 2. Phil Mickelson -17
  • 3. J.B. Holmes -6
  • 4. Steve Stricker -5
  • T5. Rory McIlroy -4
  • T5. Tyrrell Hatton -4
  • T5. Sergio Garcia -4

Phil vs. Henrik

So much of what we saw at Troon on the weekend defies explanation. For 36 holes, two players in a field of the best golfers in the world seemingly played a course that the others didn’t, and it was an absolutely magical ride. The quality of golf played by Mickelson and Stenson was off the charts, and at certain points, it actually just became comical that they were both as locked in as they were.

The unfortunate thing of course is that someone actually had to lose even though neither deserved that fate, and as has happened a seemingly infinite number of times, it was Mickelson that got the short end of the stick. What we saw on the weekend, and it’s important to note Saturday’s round as well in difficult conditions, is something that we’ll probably never see again with two top players just going at it at the very height of their games while being so much better than everyone else.

At the end of it, Stenson’s 63 was two shots better than Mickelson’s 65, meaning that if Mickelson wanted to even make a playoff out of it, he needed a 62. 62! Stenson’s 63 ties the record for lowest ever major round, and he joins Johnny Miller as the only players to shoot 63 in the final round of a major and go on to win. Miller’s round in the 1973 U.S. Open at Oakmont was obviously incredible considering the conditions and the fact that Oakmont is probably the toughest course on the planet, but I think there’s an argument to be made that what Stenson did on Sunday is the greatest major round ever. Miller was five shots back to start the final round in 1973, so obviously he knew that he had to go low and he was super aggressive. Stenson though was trying to maintain a lead and having to fight off one of the greatest players of all time, and he didn’t blink at all. The shots he pulled off, and the putts he made were otherworldly and there was nothing Mickelson could do to stop it.

This was like watching two prizefighters throw haymakers at each other for twelve rounds. If you missed it for some reason, you need to do whatever you can to watch it because it simply doesn’t get any better than what we saw on the weekend from Mickelson and Stenson.

What The Win Means For Stenson

We all know the deal with Stenson. Much like DJ winning at Oakmont last month, you can now cross another name off of the “best player to never win a major” list, and it goes without saying that winning your first major is a huge deal for any player, but it feels like this one means more to Stenson than it would for others. He’s the first Swedish player to win a men’s major (Liselotte Neumann, Helen Alfredsson, Annika Sorenstam and Anna Nordqvist have them on the women’s side), so that means a lot obviously and he said as much during his post-round pressers, but we’re also talking about a player who has been through the absolute ringer when it comes to his golf game. He’s fallen off the map twice, only to come back both times and at this point, I think it’s safe to say that he’s not going anywhere and while I generally think that all of us put a little too much stock in major championships compared to other tournaments, it’s wins like this that solidify a player’s career. When you do it like Stenson did it, by steamrolling the competition, it’s even better. The particulars:

  • Earns $1,549,590 for the win.
  • Gains 600 FedEx Cup points, moving him from 51st to 14th in the standings.
  • Jumps one spot in the Official World Golf Rankings from 6th to 5th.
  • Sets a new Open Championship record of score in relation to par with -20. The previous record was -19 by Tiger in 2000. The 20-under par score also ties the overall major record set by Jason Day at the 2015 PGA Championship.

What The Loss Means For Mickelson

It’s impossible to not feel at least a little bit bad for Phil Mickelson in the aftermath of this tournament. He started out his week by firing a 63 and lipping out a putt for 62 on the 18th green that absolutely should have dropped. It was dead in the heart of the cup with perfect pace, and somehow turned at the last second.

After that, he got a little fortunate in the second round that the forecasted weather didn’t actually hit the course until he was just finishing up, allowing him to post 69 and maintain his lead. On Saturday, he was hitting it all over the yard, but somehow managed to shoot 70 thanks to a ridiculous display of wedges and putting. Then on Sunday, he’s playing in the final group of a major championship, just one shot back and he fires a bogey free 65 and loses by three? What?

None of it makes any sense, and I’m sure that Mickelson’s going to struggle to comprehend it for some time. He touched on it a little after the round on Sunday, per Geoff Shackelford at Golf Digest.

“I don’t look back on anything and say, I should have done this differently or that. I played what I feel was well enough to win this championship by a number of strokes and yet I got beat by three strokes. You know, it’s not like I have decades left of opportunities to win majors, so each one means a lot to me. And I put in my best performance today. Played close to flawless golf and was beat.”

Much like Stenson, we know the story with Mickelson and what he’s been through with coming up short at major championships. He’s given some away, most notably at the 2013 U.S. Open at Merion, but I think this one is so much worse. At least with the ones he’s given away, he can look back on what he did wrong and make adjustments, but in this case? There was nothing more he could do, and it still wasn’t good enough.

This one hurts, and it’s going to hurt for a long time.

Spieth’s comments

In the immediate aftermath of the tournament, I jumped on the No Laying Up podcast to discuss what happened and after I gushed about the tournament incoherently, we talked about the comments Jordan Spieth made earlier in the week regarding media negativity.

Here’s the thing: the media, and the golf world in general, is too negative when it comes to the top players when they “struggle” on the course. Golf is an extremely difficult game, even at the highest level, and expecting anyone to always be on their game is absolutely unfair, so Spieth is 100% correct on that point that we should probably ease up on them. With that said, the way he presented it on that podium, has me wondering how much of this is now in his head and if it’s actually affecting him on the course. He seemed so fired up while talking about it that it’s clearly bothering him, but we’ll obviously never know how much it’s affecting his play, if at all.

Ultimately, he’s too talented to not be just fine, and his results this year have been solid. If it wasn’t for a 42 minute stretch at Augusta, we probably wouldn’t even be talking about this either, but unfortunately, it has now become a topic of conversation. Some of that is on us, but now some of that is on Spieth as well.

Rory’s week

What a week for Rory. As he always manages to do because of his immense level of talent, he backdoored a good finish, but that wasn’t anywhere near the most interesting thing that happened to him all week. It was suggested at the beginning of the week that if he didn’t pick up his game, he was in danger of becoming the Ringo of the ‘Big Four’, and when he was asked about it in his pre-tournament presser, his reaction was pretty much perfect.

It was also in that same presser that Rory basically napalmed everything to do with the Olympics, suggesting that he didn’t get into golf to grow the game and that he would only be watching the sports “that mattered”, which didn’t include golf. Look, I love Rory and how he speaks his mind, and I’m on the record as saying that I don’t have a problem with anyone who wants to skip the Olympics, but there was a better way to do this, right? His presser was basically the equivalent of running someone over with an 18 wheeler, backing up a few times and then lighting it on fire. Maybe I’m making too much of it, but it definitely feels like it could have been handled a little better while still getting the same message across.

On top of that, he also did this on Saturday…

…and was accused of being in the gym too much by Johnny Miller, who thinks that much like Tiger, he’s overdone it with the weights in an attempt to wear tight shirts and show off his muscles. You know, golfers don’t need to be strong or anything, a point which Gary Player didn’t exactly agree with:

What a week.

And hey, much like Spieth, I have a feeling that Rory’s going to be just fine, too.

Troon

I loved seeing Troon this week. Even if it’s not one of the “best” courses in the Open rota, it’s still an amazing track that outside of Mickelson and Stenson, provided a stiff challenge to the best players in the world, and it didn’t feel tricked out. The short par-4’s weren’t overpowered, and with the high winds and rain, the greens were kept at a pace that were fair and playable. The gorse got the better of a lot of players when they were wayward, as did the train tracks to the right of the 11th and the clubhouse/out of bounds area behind 18.

The best part of the week though was seeing the Postage Stamp. It played anywhere from 100-123 yards depending on the tee, making it the shortest hole in the Open rota, and it caused so much havoc thanks to the wind and the bunkers surrounding the green. Short holes like this and the 7th at Pebble are the best because they make the players think, and it’s blatantly obvious whenever we watch one of them that a par-3 doesn’t need to be 235 yards uphill to be difficult. It was the highlight of the week for me, without question.

Golf Channel/NBC

I felt like it was a bit of a mixed bag for Golf Channel and NBC this week in their first broadcast of the Open. The positives are obvious: they showed an absolutely insane amount of golf, with 29 hours of coverage over the first two days alone and amazingly, they managed to get everyone on the broadcast at least once. It’s a feat that needs recognition and applause.

Having Mike Tirico on the coverage was great, and the usual crew of Dan Hicks, Johnny Miller (tight shirts aside), Gary Koch and Roger Maltbie were solid, as was the early Golf Channel coverage with Terry Gannon and Nick Faldo.

However, the commercial to golf shot ratio was not good on the weekend, and in the seven months that he’s been an employee at NBC, it feels like the network still hasn’t quite figured out how to get the most out of David Feherty. In the aftermath of the U.S. Open on Fox, there was also a criminal lack of Pro Tracer during the week. Fox set the bar so high at Oakmont from a technology standpoint that it’s hard for me to watch the other networks at this point and not feel like we’re missing out on what has now become a crucial part of coverage.

Parting Shots

  • This moment from Thomas Pieters is the best:

  • If anyone reading this was in the group of people upset that Billy Horschel wore his hat backwards in the rain on Friday to finish his round, get over yourself.
  • I know I say this pretty much after every major, but I feel like Golf Twitter was so ridiculously on point this past week, that it deserves to be recognized. Everything from GIFs/Vines to jokes and stats was fantastic, and it really made watching the tournament even more fun than it would have been otherwise. Love you guys.
  • BEEEEEEEFFFFFFFF
  • Steve Stricker finished in fourth place, and he continues to amaze me whenever he tees it up. That finish got him into the Masters again, too. Unbelievable.
  • Anyone up for a Stenson/Mickelson duel at the Ryder Cup? Sergio/Reed, Rory/DJ, Willett/Spieth, Rose/Bubba? September can’t get here fast enough.
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One Comment on “Thoughts on the 2016 Open Championship

  1. Pingback: 2016 Year In Review: Part Ten | AdamSarson.com

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