It was interesting listening to players discuss the pace of play at Royal Melbourne on Friday. It would be ridiculous to expect them to know what happened on the opening day of the 1972 World Cup but the play in the two-man team event (played in fours) took well over six hours. Ever since, five hours has been the norm over the opening two rounds on the Composite Course not matter the tournament and no matter whether it is men or women playing.
Royal Melbourne is a slow course to play because it is the hardest course in the world to get the ball close to the hole no matter whether the shot is long or short.
Hitting irons shots close to the hole takes way more precision than is normal because you have to judge where to land the ball, how it is going to bounce and then control the pace as it moves toward the hole. There is a lot of guesswork involved especially from the rough and calculated guessing inevitably mixed with uncertainty takes time.
Many times a good iron shot, even with a wedge is one finishing twenty-five feet of the hole. Chipping is more difficult as it the putting. Rolling a long putt up to tap-in range is almost unheard of and inevitably with all the marking of the ball and waiting plays grinds on at an interminable pace. It is not however the fault of the players.
So rounds will take five hours, they always have and they always will. Not once in two days, so hard are the greens, has there been a need to fix a pitch mark and don’t look to them to be any softer on the weekend.
Lydia Ko was out early off the 10th tee and at the 12th hole we saw an instructive difference in the play between her and Charley Hull who sits two behind the leaders at 142.
Hull took a three wood off the tee, a curious choice in itself, and left herself a long second over the bunkers to a front right pin. Ko drove perfectly, long and down the right and from there she was able to hit, without great risk, the ideal shot fifteen feet away and straight under the hole. Hull in contrast was all but forced to play left and from just off the edge of the green three putts, whilst not a certainly, was entirely predictable.
This is a course where the key is to match aggression when it is called for with uncommonly defensive play when you are even slightly out of position.
Ko plays remarkable golf. There is almost no emotion, rather she clinically executes one perfect shot after another and it seems she hits every shot exactly where she aims. She was the only one I saw all day to pitch close to the flag at the fearsome 13th green and then after unluckily running a long second shot over the 14th green and not getting up and down for the birdie she holed her approach from 130 meters at the next to make up.
Caddying for Su Oh had us out with another of the leaders, Ariya Jutanugarn. She mostly avoids using her driver, perhaps because it isn’t her straightest club but more likely because she can hit her three wood and hybrid club easily as far as she needs on this course. Su simply calls it a ‘man’s flight’ and it is. She injured herself a while ago fooling around with her sister, slipping and making a mess of her shoulder but it was surely only a temporary setback. After watching her opening two days play the only assumption one can come to is she will be one of the best four or five players in the world by years-end and if she were to win this week it would be no surprise.