As has sadly become the way of things on the European Tour, only six Australians will this week tee-up in the Scottish Open at Gullane. And only three of that six – Marcus Fraser, John Senden and Scott Hend – are currently in the field for next week’s Open Championship just across the Firth of Forth at St. Andrews.
So it’s going to be a busy two weeks of links golf for at least three Aussies, even if the Caledonian weather has been its usual inconsistent self and the courses in this part of the world are currently a bit greener than is ideal. Firm and fast they are not.
Still, for Fraser at least there is a lot to look forward to, especially in conditions and an environment that has echoes of home.
“In terms of preparation I’m not doing anything different this week,” says the Melburnian. “But it is true that a course like this is very different from those we play most weeks on tour. It’s a bit softer than everyone would like to see too. So it won’t be quite as fiery as it could have been. It doesn’t feel all that ‘linksy.’ And it’s quite generous off the tee although avoiding the bunkers is very important.
“There are obvious similarities between links golf and Sandbelt golf. Yes, the bunkers here are more severe and the grasses are different. But in terms of how I the shots I have to hit, they are really alike. Both here and at home you have to take account of the bounce and roll of the ball after it lands. So I tend to play to spots or areas rather than just the pin.
“It’s all about where the ball lands and what sort of trajectory it is on. In other words, there are more dimensions to this kind of golf compared with what we usually see week-to-week. Which makes it so much more interesting than just standing there with a 5-iron and playing to whatever the yardage book says.”
Big as the Scottish Open has become – despite the injury-enforced absence of world number–one, Rory McIlroy, the field can boast 15 of the world’s top-50 – the players who will make their way north come Sunday evening would be less than human if their thoughts did not stray to next week. Any Open is special, but an Open at St. Andrews stands alone.
“For me, thinking about the British Open at St. Andrews started as far back as the Irish Open at Royal County Down,” says Fraser, whose best finish in four previous Opens was T-35 at Hoylake in 2006. “It was firm and fast there, as it was at Chambers Bay for the US Open. Last week was the same at the French Open, as it will be here if we don’t get too much rain. So that is four weeks of links-like golf, which is great. I’d be in favour of a ‘links season’ culminating at the British Open, much like they have a grass court season in tennis that ends at Wimbledon.
“I love St. Andrews. I first went there in 1990 to play in the Links Trophy as an amateur. At first, I wondered what all the hype was about. But the more I have played there, the more I have come to appreciate it. I’m not sure about all the new tees. They certainly don’t suit a short-hitter like me. But more importantly, a lot of the strategy has been lost. Which is a shame. On the Old Course it shouldn’t just be about length. It should be about where to place your ball on the fairway in relation to the pin. And where the wind is coming from. It’s still a great course though.
“I’ve shot some good rounds there in the past. It’s a fair test when the wind blows. But when it doesn’t you can go low. My style of play can work there. But it’s important never to get too greedy. Try to bite off a little too much and you can get caught out. You just have to think on every shot. Which is a testament to what a great course it is.”