WRITTEN BY PIERS WARD FROM @MEANDMYGOLF
The Open Championship (or "British Open" for our American readers) presents a unique challenge for PGA TOUR golfers. While the majority of the season's events take place on tree-lined, "parkland" courses, The Open holds its competition on traditional links golf courses. For golfers unaccustomed to links-style golf, the adjustment can be a significant challenge alone.
When playing links golf, the biggest difference from parkland golf is the type of trajectory you need to play. Because the courses are typically along the coastline and exposed to the elements, there will be plenty of wind. Patience is a massive part of being a successful links golfer because of the outside agencies. Remember, a bogey is sometimes a good score.
Be prepared to hit 180-yard drives and 260-yard 4 irons, depending on the wind direction. You will need to play low drives, low iron shots, and even low chip shots. Links courses are also very raw, so you need to understand that you will get bad lies, see strange bounces, and the wind will affect your ball in ways you didn’t think possible… but this is all part of the charm.
In order to help you further understand the keys to success in links golf, we went out to Royal Birkdale, the site of the 147th Open Championship, to talk through some strategies that are specific to the course but can also be applied to many links courses around the world.
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TEEING OFF ON HOLE #1 AT ROYAL BIRKDALE
Visualizing the perfect shot is an important part of your pre-shot routine that can help avoid any negative thoughts creeping into your head. Saying “I always hit it in that bunker” is obviously not a good thing to think about, but neither is saying “don’t hit it in that bunker,” as the mind can’t process the word don’t or can’t when it comes to providing imagery.
Imagine this: “The dog not chasing the cat.” Instantly, your mind imagines the dog chasing the cat, so as long you continue to say "don’t hit it in the hazard," you will continue to imagine and rehearse that bad shot in your mind.
Take a look at how Andy and I use positive imagery in our pre-shot routine before the opening tee shot at Royal Birkdale.
HOW TO PLAY FROM POT BUNKERS
Getting out of pot bunkers is all about creating loft. You have to understand how to create loft by first of all twisting the wedge to the right (for the right-handed golfer) and then applying your normal grip. Then you need a stable base. By lowering your lower body into the sand and getting a lot of leg flex, it allows you to lower the arc of your swing while also keeping the lower body quiet.
The swing is all about maintaining that loft. Since you’re creating so much loft, you will also need to generate power to get the distance you require, hence the extended length of the swing.
Watch Andy use loft to his advantage to escape a pot bunker on the 12th hole at Royal Birkdale.
PLAYING WITH STRONG WINDS
The biggest problem we see when golfers are playing in the wind is they tend to try to hit the ball harder. This in itself creates more unwanted backspin and lift as well as causing the golfer to be more inconsistent in general. So the first thing to realize is that you need to “swing with ease in the breeze.” Now in order to really work the golf ball, you need to first understand the shot shape required, then you need to practice it. Definitely don’t try and hit a draw for the first time when you’re on the golf course!
Watch as Andy adjusts his swing with his TaylorMade driver to play a low draw off the tee on #17 at Royal Birkdale.
PUTTING UNDER PRESSURE AT THE OPEN
The first thing to go wrong when putting under pressure is the tempo of the putting stroke. By focusing on having a consistent tempo and swing length, you will be more consistent under pressure. We’re OK with a quick, medium or slow paced tempo. All we ask is the length of the back and through-swing is the same. This will create good, consistent distance control. The next thing you need when putting in extreme wind conditions is a very solid base. A wide stance and focusing on keeping that lower body solid whilst putting is a must to get a centered strike.
In this video, I'll help you putt when the pressure (and wind) is on at The Open Championship.
The tradition surrounding links golf truly gives you a feeling unlike any other. Playing amazing golf courses that have stood the test of time and have allowed the natural elements to be an integral part of the game really puts your skill to the test.
Before playing links golf, you need to practice the shots you require in advance, the knockdown shot, the long chip-and-run, the high-lofted bunker shot with an awkward stance… These shots aren’t normally used when playing traditional parkland or “American-style” courses. Be prepared for the bad bounces as well as the good.
Most importantly, be prepared for the elements… pack your rain gear!!
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