The 18: Odds and ends from Royal Birkdale
The 18 is a look at eighteen stories from the previous week or so in the world of golf, and they will usually be on stories that I didn’t dedicate a full post towards. Expect a combination of thoughts, GIFs, images and anything else that caught my eye from the past seven days. Some will be longer thoughts, and others will be no more than a line or two.
The 18 will (hopefully) run every Tuesday. You can catch up on previous versions of The 18 right here.
1. In case you missed it, I posted a piece on Monday about Jordan Spieth’s Open Championship win at Birkdale, but I didn’t touch a lot on the overall context of what we’re seeing. It’s really weird with Spieth because it seems like we all know that what we’re dealing with here is an historically great player, but it also feels like we’re not talking enough about the fact that a 23 year old has won three majors and that just after he turns 24, he has a chance to complete the career Grand Slam. I’m not 100% sure why that is, but I have three theories.
- The first is the obvious one that I’ve talked about at length in the past, which is that Tiger’s dominance of the game at such a young age has numbed us all and made it very difficult for us to appreciate just how good the next generation of player is.
- Since Jordan doesn’t bomb the ball out there like Rory, Dustin, Jason and others, he doesn’t get looked at as a player that can overpower a course and a field. Of course, this notion is a little absurd because of how good he is, but I think that’s a thing that exists. The sidebar is that because of his ridiculously good distance putting, people tend to only look at him as a great putter, even though he’s one of the best iron players any of us have ever watched.
- Lastly, golf tends to get obsessed with the newest, shiniest object that appears. As strange as it is to say because he’s just 23, the emergence of Dustin, Jason and all of the other young players who have come up in recent years, as well as the constant presence of Rory and players like Rickie and Sergio have allowed the focus to shift from time to time. Golf is deeper than its been in a really long time, so attention is going to be divided.
I’m not placing blame on anyone for this, as it’s just kind of the way its gone in recent years. Jack completed the career Grand Slam at 26, and Tiger at 24. The fact that Spieth (and Rory) are as close as they are to those two is pretty damn special, on top of being a whole lot of fun.
2. So, I had a coworker mention to me that he thought that what we saw out of Spieth on 13 was beyond ridiculous, and that a) it gave him an unfair advantage over Kuchar and b) he should have been given a penalty for slow play. My first thought was that yes, Kuchar did get a raw deal by having to wait about twenty minutes to finish the hole while Spieth was figuring out his situation with the rules officials and Michael Greller. I’m not sure that any of us can say with any certainty how much it affected Kuchar, but you have to think that it did in some fashion. At the very least, it allowed Spieth to settle down and get his bearings after a pretty terrible stretch of 12.5 holes.
The slow play issue comes up a lot with Spieth, and I totally get it. He’s not a fast player, especially when you compare him to someone like Kuchar, but I’ve said it hundreds of times before: if you want to stamp out slow play at the professional level, it comes down to the rules officials enforcing the book while on the course. At no point during that sequence of events, was Spieth without a rules official, who was definitely well aware that they were approaching twenty minutes without a shot being played. Having said that, I do think that there needs to be a little leeway given in situations like this because as insane as the events unfolding were, it wasn’t like Spieth was needlessly wasting time.
I feel bad for Kuchar, but I also don’t think this was handled incorrectly, either.
3. Last thing on Spieth: I said this on Twitter while he was giving his winning address to the people at Royal Birkdale, but it’s always so impressive to watch and listen to him speak. It’s honestly astonishing to see how poised he is at such a young age.
4. So, this definitely felt like the best chance that Matt Kuchar has had to date to win a major championship, and I thought he played fantastically. There are moments that we can argue about here and there, but I don’t really think there’s a lot to criticize. He’s not a guy that is (often) going to go out there and post a super low number, and the fact is that he went out in the final group of a major with one of the best players in the world and shot 69. He didn’t blow up and he didn’t give Spieth the championship, either. There was one player in the field last week who was better than him, and 154 who were worse.
He simply got beat, and sometimes that just happens.
5. For a good portion of the day on Sunday, Haotong Li seemed to be the story. He was on fire as the leaders weren’t really making a move, and after a 63, he was in the clubhouse and the possibility of a playoff at 6-under par was absolutely in play. Then Spieth on 13-17 happened, and we all forgot about Li, who because of all the insanity on the final day, posted what will likely end up being the most forgotten final round 63 in a major championship of all time.
Li is only the sixth player to ever shoot 63 in the final round of a major championship, and the most it’ll ever be is a footnote. Crazy.
6. On Branden Grace’s 62: yes, the course was easier on Saturday and yes, Birkdale plays to a par-70, but that doesn’t make his accomplishment of being the first male to shoot 62 in a major any less impressive. Major setups have been easy in the past on certain days, and courses don’t always play to a par-72, and while we need to keep those things in mind when discussing the significance of the round and where it sits historically, it’s still pretty crazy that Branden Grace was the first one to get it done.
I also wholeheartedly agree with and endorse the take of Kevin Van Valkenburg when it comes to Johnny’s analysis of the 62, and realize that I too am as guilty as anyone of the Miller tweet firing when things like this happen.
7. It seems like for the past few months, I’ve been doing an awful lot of Rory defending, and I’m getting ready to do it again. It goes without saying that starting out any tournament, much less a major championship, with five bogeys in your first six holes is suboptimal and that climbing back into the tournament was going to be difficult after that, even with someone who has Rory’s immense talent. The fact that he got back into the tournament and finished tied for 4th is a testament to that talent level, as are all of the arguments that I was making in my head on Sunday about how he still had a chance, even though it was clear that he didn’t.
I get that people expect a ton of out not only Rory, but the other players that we perceive to be as head and shoulders above the pack. I also get that people are exceedingly frustrated with the fact that Rory hasn’t seemed to deliver in recent major championships relative to those expectations. Having said that, there’s also a reasonable take out there that understands that what we’re dealing with in this moment, is a player who has admitted that he’s not 100% healthy on top of the fact that he’s trying to adjust to new equipment.
Now, he’s not blameless in that. Maybe you’re one of the people who believes that his workout routine led to the injury, and he certainly didn’t have to make an equipment switch mid season, but regardless, those are the factors at play here, on top of the fact that sometimes, you’re just not going to have your best stuff. Last week, he struggled for nine holes, and you can argue that it cost him a major championship, and while we can all play the arbitrary endpoints game, he did end up outscoring Spieth over the final 63 holes of the championship. He’s close, and overall, I think it was a good week for him even if he didn’t walk away with his second Claret Jug.
Also, count me as one of the few apparently who didn’t think that his attire (blade collar, aside) was bad on Sunday.
8. Shout out to Austin Connelly for showing up and being part of the conversation. This happens a lot at the Open, where players we’ve barely heard of pop up out of nowhere, and they rarely hang on to post a decent number at the end of it, but a T14 for Connelly is super impressive.
I’m super interested to see what comes of Connelly going forward, and it’s definitely another feather in Cameron McCormick’s cap as well.
9. Coming into the week, I thought it was possible that we saw something out of Ian Poulter, and for the most part, he was actually really solid. The 71 on Saturday when conditions were by far the easiest of the week is a little disappointing, but much like Rory, I don’t see how you take anything but positives away from the week if you’re Poulter. So much has been made about the up and down season that he’s had, but it really does feel like he’s turned a corner here and is getting things back on track. After his T14 at Birkdale, Poulter is now back up to 71st in the OWGR, and considering that he started 2017 at number 186, and was as low as 210, he’s had a pretty impressive comeback.
10. Any tournament that sees Phil Mickelson eject early and miss the weekend loses a lot of juice, but it just hurts a little more when it happens at a major. Unfortunately, it’s very easy to see this happening more often than not going forward, and if we’re being honest, Birkdale never really seemed like the place for Phil to contend anyway. Although, as Jordan was going through his mess on 13, I couldn’t help but think about how Phil would have handled the whole thing, and I think it probably would have looked very similar, with the exception of Phil likely finding some kind of sprinkler head amongst the dunes.
11. So much of the analysis that we all give the game is about the players, and rightfully so, but over the week, we had three great examples of how important caddies can be on the course and I wanted to highlight those.
- “You’re Rory McIlroy. What the f— are you doing?”, came from J.P. Fitzgerald while Rory was in his front nine tailspin on Thursday morning and it apparently helped shake Rory out of his funk.
- Matt Kuchar and John Wood had this conversation on 14 on Sunday:
- And KVV also relayed a story on the NLU podcast about Greller reminding Spieth that he belonged amongst Michael Phelps and Michael Jordan, referencing a photo Spieth posted on Instagram recently, when he started to struggle.
There isn’t a one size fits all solution when it comes to the caddie-player relationship, and the best ones always find ways to motivate their players, or keep them loose on the course. Ultimately, the players are the ones who are going to decide the championship, but this week was a good reminder about the value that a caddie can provide.
12. Speaking of caddies, I thought Bones did a great job on the NBC broadcast, at least from what I saw on the weekend. He was smooth, and brought some quality insight and perspective. It shouldn’t shock me since we’re talking about Bones, but the fact that he was this good in what was essentially his first time out on the course, was amazing. Assuming he stays on with NBC for a long time, I really believe that he has a chance to be one of the best to do it, but part of me still thinks that we’ll see him carry someone’s bag in the future.
13. For the most part, I thought that the NBC broadcast was tremendous, aside from them going to commercial break in the middle of the Spieth drama on 13 and talking a little too much over the scene when they were live. They had a great mix of live golf and analysis, and they didn’t break away super often for pre-packaged stories that took away from the action. I’m still on #TeamFox when it comes to their broadcast quality, but NBC really showed out last week and it really had a major championship feel to it, so props all around.
Lastly, they gave us this fantastic shot from high up above of Spieth on the dunes that I’m never going to forget. So good.
14. In terms of the actual course itself, I thought Birkdale was great, and I say that as someone who didn’t know/remember a ton about it coming into the week. I love the way the R&A sets up their championships, and doesn’t let their ego get in the way or gets too concerned about what the final score ends up being. With the changes in technology, so many of these courses are basically defenceless unless the wind gets up, and we saw some of that on Saturday with the low scores being posted, but we also saw Birkdale show its teeth on Friday, as well. Overall, I still think I prefer the Old Course, Troon and Muirfield as venues, but Birkdale was tremendous.
15. One note away from Birkdale: Grayson Murray won the Barbasol, and I don’t really know what to do with that, aside from the fact that him being potentially involved is…interesting. There’s no doubting his talent, but to say there are issues there is a massive understatement. Intrigued to see where it goes.
16. Must reads of the week:
17. Must listens of the week:
- Kevin Van Valkenburg joined the NLU podcast to recap everything from the week, and he gave us an impression that may top his Gary Player.
- Tron Carter and DJ Piehowski jumped on with Andy Johnson to discuss the week on the Fried Egg podcast.
18. The random GIF of the week isn’t so random. “Go get that”.