The three-time Open champion exclusively told Golf Monthly that the Old Course is at the mercy of certain players if the weather holds when the 150th Open Championship starts on Thursday.
“We have a very interesting thing now with how far they’re hitting it,” said 64-year-old Faldo. “Poor old St Andrews really is at the mercy of these longer hitters. You could start taking it to ridiculous levels if the conditions were right – you went out with some helping wind, and came in with some helping wind.
“It would not surprise me if someone had a go at the 1st hole. If you can land it 320 or 330 on a rock-hard fairway, the next bounce would be 360 or 370. Even if you hit it in the burn, you’d only be 25 feet from the flag, so you just drop it there and go. I can remember how close they came at the 2nd last time. You can definitely drive the 3rd. On 6 you could get so close that you could putt it.
“Anything from nine to 12 greens you could get really close to in one. If somebody got the right wind, helping everywhere, then something crazy could happen at St Andrews. Somebody could shoot 60 or 59. The only protection is the wind and really firm greens and maybe some very tight hole locations. I don’t think we want some really crazy scoring on such a gem of a course.
When pressed for those he thinks could go well at St Andrews, Faldo, who recently announced his retirement from broadcasting, picked out those who combine length and solid ball striking with good short games.
“It’s the bombers and good drivers,” he told Golf Monthly. “But there are some who are sneaky long, who hit it low and it runs out there. Jon Rahm, I like his chances. The guy who gets it on the ground and runs it – you can run it 60, 80, 100 yards on some holes. Guys who can drive it well, they’ll just drive it and then bump and run it onto the greens.
“You can putt it from 60 yards off the green at St Andrews on a couple holes. When it plays a little cold and windy there, with every hole you feel the wind into your face, then it plays pretty tough. There’s the 320 club with DJ and Rory. They’ll just hit drives and all the scrambling will be right in front of them, it really will. I think there’s a lot of guys who can do that.”
Faldo says the Old Course at St Andrews - where he won the second of his three Claret Jugs - provides a unique test. “All the slopes, angles into the greens and so many ridges and rolls make the Old Course one of the most strategic layouts in the game,” he said. “ When those greens get firm, which they should be, and you’re on the breeze, you’ve got to calculate all that. It’s going to land here, bounce to there, and run to somewhere else.
“Amazingly, coming down that 7th green, even with a wedge, it can be 25 yards that it runs out. So you land it in a spot and feed it in. It’s amazing, there’s nothing like that in golf. You can land 25 yards short on any golf course and it’s well and truly missing the green, isn’t it?
“You’re also playing on ground that can be rock hard, and dust comes up. All of those things are great. So you’ve got to be a great ball-striker to play a links course. I liked doing all of those calculations. Just because it’s 170 yards people think they have to grab a certain club, but when you’re downwind and landing on the downslope, that could mean a variety of things.
“Your landing spot could now very easily only be 150 if you’re downwind. Then you think that’s a wedge but if you mishit your wedge then the entire shot doesn’t happen. So you have to hit the right shot and execute.
“Everything gets so accentuated at St Andrews. If you miss a shot on a normal golf course it finishes 30 feet from the hole, there it finds a way to finish 30 yards away from the hole, it really does. So you have to accept that you have to be really good at putting from 20 and 30 yards away. You’ll get a couple of 100-footers the week of an Open and you can’t get wound up about them. You have to find a way to get it inside six feet and knock that one in. You need a good eye to find the true line on those greens because they’re hundreds of years old.”
From a personal point of view, Faldo said he took to St Andrews straight away. He played his first Open at the Home of Golf in 1978, finishing tied 7th behind the legendary Jack Nicklaus.
“It was just amazing,” said the six-time Major winner. “I loved it from the word go. Some people say, "What the heck is this place?" but I kind of got it and enjoyed it straight away.
“I only finished four shots back of Jack in 1978. That was when I told myself I can win The Open one day; that gave me the belief. When you give yourself the belief that yes, this is doable, it becomes a genuine goal. I knew I could handle that. Obviously it took nine more years until it happened.”
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Jeff graduated from Leeds University in Business Studies and Media in 1996 and did a post grad in journalism at Sheffield College in 1997. His first jobs were on Slam Dunk (basketball) and Football Monthly magazines, and he's worked for the Sunday Times, Press Association and ESPN. He has faced golfing greats Sam Torrance and Sergio Garcia, but on the poker felt rather than the golf course. Jeff's favourite course played is Sandy Lane in Barbados, which went far better than when he played Matfen Hall in Northumberland, where he crashed the buggy on the way to the 1st tee!
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