British Open Comeback: Royal St. The Two-Year Wait Ends at St. George’s

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SANDWICH, England – Royal St. Right in front of the British Open at George’s Golf Club, Edward Kitson strode through the dunes Wednesday night, went to the clubhouse, and thought about last year.

The open was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, so Kitson and other members of the club played a tournament among themselves and replaced famous players in famous links.

“Four days and we can even play back tees if we want,” said Londoner Kitson.

Now, after an unusually long wait, the world’s best golfers – or at least most of them – have gathered on the English coastal course, which first hosted the Open in 1894 and last staged in 2011.

It’s not business as usual.

Players are required to remain in protective bubbles with a small number of support personnel when they are not on the field and are not allowed to mix with the public in restaurants or shops. Social distancing and masks are required indoors, even for vaccinated players that are no longer valid on the PGA Tour in the United States.

However, there will be 32,000 fans a day roaring from outside the ropes.

“I am so proud that they were able to manage this,” Kitson said. “It’s especially meaningful to have fans.”

The players would agree.

“I think everyone missed the Open Championship last year by watching or playing on TV,” he said. Lee Westwood, 48, British star who is the most successful active male player to have not won a major.

Of the four men’s golf, only the Open did not compete in 2020. The financial blow has softened as the Open is one of the few sporting events with cancellation insurance that includes pandemic coverage. Wimbledon had similar coverage and was the only Grand Slam tennis tournament to be canceled in 2020.

“I’ve said it many times that it was probably one of the hardest decisions we’ve ever had to make, but at the end of the day, we had no choice,” said Martin Slumbers, CEO of R&A, which organized the Open. “But the insurance we have has allowed us to reduce much of the financial risk and actually increased our investment in the game as part of that. Last year we launched a £7m $10m Covid recovery fund, and that fund went straight into the golf course.”

It’s not the first time the Open has been played since WWII, a point that resonated with Rory McIlroy, 2014 champion, looking at the list of tournament winners and venues in the clubhouse this week.

“Every time you look at 2020, you’re going to say, ‘The championship has not been played,’ it kind of stuck in my head,” he said. “It was like, ‘Wow, it’s been a really different and weird year,’ and I think everybody’s very happy to be back and play again and kind of get back to normal.”

Still, not everyone came back. Hideki Matsuyama winner of the masters This spring, he tested positive for coronavirus, as did the winner of the 2015 British Open, Zach Johnson. Bubba Watson, a two-time Masters winner, had to withdraw after being in close contact with someone who tested positive.

Although the number of virus cases in the UK is rising again, the British government still plans to lift most of the remaining official restrictions on meetings on Monday. The government had experimentally allowed large crowds for sporting events, starting with the final rounds of Wimbledon and the final of the European football championship at London’s Wembley Stadium on Sunday.

The Open Championship is the next stage of the experiment. Despite serious security breaches at Wembley, he said he was confident the Slumbers Open would not face similar problems as fans without tickets broke through the barriers and entered the stadium.

“Great sporting events need big crowds,” he said. “We’ve worked really hard with the government to get this done. We are all very conscious of the environment in which we work. There are very strict conditions for any of these spectators to enter the field and they are kept further from the players than we would normally do. ”

Royal St. George’s is the southernmost route of the British Open rotation and the closest route to London which is one reason why it remains in rotation. Although the Open began at Prestwick Golf Club in Scotland in 1860, Royal St. George’s was the first English course to host it.

More than a century later, opinions continue to divide due to several blind tee hits and bumpy fairways that can create unexpected jumps and send good-hitting shots into hard hits.

After an unusually wet spring, this roughness is higher than usual, which can lead to more challenging scoring conditions on a par-70 course that is by no means a paradise.

“This week will be a bonus to keep him on the fairway,” said Darren Clarke. “This long thing is really long and thick.”

Northern Irish Clarke, won the 2011 Open, Royal St. George’s only major championship. He did so at age 42, in weather ranging from sunny and good-natured to a Saturday storm that shattered umbrellas and the hopes of many competitors.

But Clarke, who grew up playing at the Royal Portrush and other major Irish links courses, was able to weather the storm with the help of two sports psychologists and her ability to drop the ball flight.

He finished five points under, three strokes ahead of Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson.

“My whole mentality was very accepting,” Clarke said on Wednesday. “You can shoot really well on this golf course. But we have to say that because of the ripple – like any connection but maybe a little more here, especially if it’s solid and fast – you can get some weird jumps. It’s part of the connection play, but it can get a little worse here sometimes. I was very ready to accept that week.”

The splashes should be less extreme at the start of this year’s tournament as the rain softens the grass. But the forecast requires dry weather, and links courses can solidify quickly.

Royal St. George’s head green goalkeeper, Paul Larsen, said in an interview Wednesday night that he and his team are trying to prepare the fairways and the first rough kick to reduce the chance of shots that randomly turn into deep trouble.

“We didn’t do this for any complaint, but because we wanted to make it fairer,” Larsen said. whose untamed black hair mop gained popularity on social media.

His vest, with the white cliffs visible in the distance, seems to be a fitting reflection of the strong winds on this scenic stretch of the English coast.

As Larsen’s team walked the field, filling in the gaps and the Royal St. Wednesday night was relatively quiet as George prepared for his biggest moment of the decade. As it worked, electronic scoreboards next to the greens displayed pictures of past winners there. Some were multiple Open champions, such as Harry Vardon, Walter Hagen, Henry Cotton, Bobby Locke, and Greg Norman. Others were big surprises like Clarke and American. Ben Curtis in 2003.

On Sunday night, after an unusually long wait, another man will join them.

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