GM columnist Matthew Southgate gives his memories and thoughts on The Open Championship.
Matthew Southgate - 'Accuracy Is The Name Of The Game At Portrush'
The Open Championship is a tournament that means a lot to me and one where I’ve made some good memories over the years.
My first Open appearance came in 2014, but I was so excited about it and I just played so poorly. I made too much of an occasion out of it. I paid too much attention to the players in the field, the history, the size of the stands and everything like that and lost my focus. I felt like I let myself down, so I was delighted to get in the 2016 Open field after winning final qualifying at Royal Cinque Ports. I played some lovely golf at the Irish Open after that, so I was heading to Royal Troon with confidence.
I remember standing on the 18th tee in the second round thinking I needed a par to make the weekend. I hit a great drive, knocked it to about ten feet and holed it for birdie to get safely through. I went back for a nap after the round and was woken up by the rain hitting my window. I turned the TV on and saw everyone toiling and racking up huge scores. I managed to do more climbing over the weekend and ended up finishing 12th, which was amazing. Annoyingly, the top ten qualified for The Masters that year, so I just missed out.
In 2017 at Birkdale, I was again in a good position after three rounds and I thought if I played well I’d have a chance of qualifying for The Masters. I ended up holing a putt on the 72nd hole to finish in a tie for 6th and as top Englishman at an English Open venue. It was incredible. A lot of emotion came out on the final green – it was the longest seven-foot putt of my life! Everything inside you is just trying to will the ball in.
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I popped the champagne after that as I thought I’d qualified for Augusta, but little did I know they’d changed the rules that year and only the top five got invites! It was heartbreaking, but it was such a great journey in 2016 and 2017.
It’s an event I believe I can do well at again. Once you come to understand the tournament and what it demands of you – most notably a good sense of perspective when it comes to making mistakes and a lot of heart – you can enjoy repeat success. It’s the kind of event where you have to battle and a run of pars can see you move up the board, which I enjoy.
Royal Portrush is a cracking golf course and the crowds will be amazing. I played the Irish Open there in 2012 and I think I’m right in saying it was the first European Tour event to sell out. The Irish fans absolutely love their golf and I think it was a great decision from The R&A to give The Open to Portrush.
Accuracy is the name of the game at Portrush. You have to be straight and stay out of the rough and bunkers. And I always think a key to doing well at The Open is iron distance control. You can’t afford to hit good shots that end up long or short. The greens generally aren’t too fast at The Open because of the potential for strong wind, so the toughest test is usually getting the ball from the tee to the putting surface.
It’s the type of course that should suit the likes of Francesco Molinari, Tiger Woods and Tommy Fleetwood down to the ground. And fingers crossed I’ll be there challenging them!
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