A British Open Green With One Last Catch: A 150-Foot Putt


The St. Andrews quirk of double greens offers thrills and aggravations whenever the world’s elite go to the Old Course.

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland — The wind can go from negligible to middling to mighty on the Old Course. It may very well rain, or look like it will, and for how long is anyone’s guess. People dressed in layers — this is Scotland in July, after all — pass sunscreen.

But for all the tricks required of a British Open at St. Andrews, a constant always looms, perilous as a pot bunker: some of the largest greens to be found anywhere in the world, often because they are shared with another hole.

“You don’t ever really get used to it,” said Ernie Els, who is playing his sixth Open on the Old Course, which has seven double greens.

Just on Thursday, Els, a four-time major champion, stood on a green and confronted a putt of about 150 feet. “I was on the one side,” he said, “and the flag was on the other side.”

It is a signature, though, of the rugged, mendacious charm of St. Andrews, the kind of place where a player can sometimes see only sky from a bunker. The double greens — and even the enormous ones that somehow serve only one hole — routinely make just getting to the green half the par battle (and, the BBC has noted, they can demand more than seven miles of walking to mow).

Gary Player, the winner of three British Opens, but never one at St. Andrews, likes to tell a story about how, with his ball perhaps 80 yards from an Old Course pin one day, he asked a caddie for a line. He received an impish reply: “I cannot give you a line, but I can give you a yardage.”

“It’s so difficult to play on greens that size,” Player said in an interview in May. “It eliminates a lot of chipping. So you have a lot of long putts, and when it’s windy, to have long putts is very, very difficult to knock it up close.”

John Daly, who won the 1995 Open at St. Andrews and played the course on Thursday, said the day’s greens would have been daunting no matter the weather.

“I’ve never had any more 70-, 80-, 90-foot putts in my life,” Daly said. “They put the pins in good spots. Those were Sunday pins. They were brutal. It’s hard to get the ball close with wind or no wind.”

Part of Daly’s 1995 strategy hinged, as many St. Andrews schemes do, on lag putting, where a player considers not just a first shot at the pin but also a second.

The approach has its scornful detractors. It also has a long record of powering victories.

“You’re going to have some real long putts here no matter how you hit it, and you just have to get down in two,” Tiger Woods, a specialist in the art form, said in 2010. “So many times you can three-putt, you can go around here and hit 18 greens and shoot a number — a high number — because you’re just so far away from the hole. And if the wind blows, hitting a wedge 30, 40, 50 feet happens a lot.”

Peter Morrison/Associated Press

But Woods was an Old Course veteran by then, and many elite players have scant experience with double greens, which are found more commonly in Japan than in North America and Europe. That did not stop Takumi Kanaya, one of Japan’s most sterling players, from saying Thursday that the St. Andrews greens had left him dazzled.

Asked how he tried to play them, he laughed.

Dylan Frittelli, appearing in his fifth Open but his first at St. Andrews, noted the challenge of simply directing traffic on a busy green.

“It’s kind of distracting when you’re trying to putt and you’re waving: ‘You? Me? Yes? No?’” he said. But he was pleased he had avoided the traps, with only a handful of putt attempts beyond 80 feet.

“It can get pretty nasty there if you have the 150-, 200-foot putts,” said Frittelli, who said he could not recall ever facing a competitive putt of more than 120 feet. “I’ve got a little system that I’m not going to tell you exactly what it is in case other guys get it, but it’s pacing it off, just trying to feel it, see it and try to get it to the hole.”

Danny Willett, who tied for sixth at the 2015 Open, the previous one to be contested at St. Andrews, was a bit more forthcoming. With few exceptions, he said, he saw each huge green as having two or three clearly defined sections.

“You need to section them off pretty well and hit into the sections,” he said. “Otherwise, you can see some really funky 40-, 50-footers. So they are big greens, but if you’re obviously going to try and do well and play correctly, you need to narrow your focus and try to pick out what section you’re trying to hit it into.”

Indeed, there are triumphs, even when golfers have struggles elsewhere on the course. Ian Poulter, the Englishman who has joined the Saudi Arabia-backed LIV Golf series, began his Open with jeers that he insisted he did not hear before he shanked his tee shot.

He arrived later at No. 9, where the green is merely a monstrosity meant for one hole, at one under par. His tee shot put the pin within distant reach, and then he turned to, by his own description, a bizarre strategy for a putt attempt that Open officials said was at least 160 feet.

“I kind of hit it two cups out to the right,” he said. “If you can ever figure a line of two cups to the right, I knew it might wander a hair right to left through the middle of the putt.”

It worked, good for eagle.

“Look, anything inside 6 feet from 150 feet is a hell of a putt,” said Poulter, who shot a 69, three under par. “So for it to drop is beyond lucky.”


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