Hi everyone, back to The Home of Golf after the heroics of the Walker Cup Team just up the coast In Aberdeen! This month’s expedition sees me accompany JFGA students Gareth Maybin and Paul Cutler to the Dunhill Links Championship.
Paul is too modest to tell you but he arrived in grand fashion with a short hop across the Irish Sea in ‘Air McDowell’ – official aircraft of GMac!! On Monday, I too treated myself in a little less grand fashion – playing Dunbar and in the afternoon, and then Archerfield Links in the evening – two differing but lovely courses with friendly receptions at both.
Monday is usually a travel day for the players – a day to get to the location, find the hotel, gym and anything else they think they will need, and get ready for an early start Tuesday.
Obviously this week’s tournament plays a rota of courses which can bring its own set of challenges in terms of logistics and which course to practise on and when. Gareth has competed on all of the courses before in this tournament and had previously played well in a GB Amateur at the Old Course. Luckily Paul had also competed in the St Andrews trophy earlier in the year and also played the other two courses in preparation for the Walker Cup matches.
Gareth seemed happy with his game after a session at the base for the JFGA – Greenacres Golf Centre just a few days earlier, so that meant on Tuesday I was out walking early with the all Irish four ball of Culter, Lowry, Lawrie and McGrane at Carnoustie. Primarily, I was keeping an eye on Paul but also trying to pick up some knowledge of how best to manage the course from three guys who were all generous with their time and who have all played in the event before.
After lunch, we had some light practise in the evening at St Andrews – just checking the basics and answering any questions from Paul about certain shots he has hit during the day or feels he might need during the week on specific holes. Next up was the putting green to get a feel for this week’s surfaces with an introduction to putting coach Phil Kenyon, finished off by some short game challenges around the chipping green which for this week is the 18th of the New Course. Naturally the short term preparation the players go through on a week like this is largely getting used to that week’s specific challenges ie. Links turf, seaside greens & sand and ofcourse the customary ‘knock down’ shots. They might also rotate their club selection with maybe a driving iron to replace a hybrid, for example.
Wednesday’s weather started gorgeous and stayed that way throughout the day. What a lovely place to be – ‘working’ at Kings Barns in the company of Paul, Graeme McDowell, his brother Garry and Shane Lowry! Paul was playing lovely and really looking forward to the challenge of the links courses, which he felt offered him a great opportunity to do well as he has been playing championships on links like these all year! The afternoon also gave me the chance to chat quietly to Graeme and get some of his views and opinions on golf. Luckily, I have known him since we played foursomes for Ulster together in 1997. He is an intelligent and experienced guy, so well worth listening to.
Ofcourse the tournament eneded well for N.I. with Michael Hoey playing brilliantly and lifting the trophy with 266 (66, 66, 66, 68). Pretty impressive! Well done. As for my two guys – Paul finished lowest on 212 (214 – 71, 73, 70), again bemoaning a cold putter but a decent striking week. We, along with ‘Wobbly’ his caddie agreed that a few sessions wit Phil Kenyon is the way forward as it was only a few years ago that this week’s winner Michael decided to work with Phil and it has obviously helped!
I can’t finish without mentioning my usual expedition to the Anstruther Fish Bar – well worth the journey. Next up is the Andalucian Masters from Valderamma, can’t wait!