The 146th Open Championship

Oh we do love to be beside the seaside.

Well – armed with a bucket and spade, perhaps; but with a golf club? That’s rather more questionable.

I can think of very few sports in which the weather has more of an impact in so many different ways than golf. The rain will slow the course up and impair the ball’s roll along the ground. The drier and more parched the grass, the harder it is to control putting. The warmer and thinner the atmosphere, the further the ball will fly. Even the choice of clothing can impact on players’ comfort and be pivotal to their performance.

But I’ve played enough golf to know that the wind can wreak more havoc than any other weather element. And it’s not surprising, given how long a golf ball spends in the air.

So with huge anticipation the golfing world descends on the blustery Lancashire coast this week for the oldest and greatest tournament of the year – The 146th Open Championship – at Royal Birkdale. The unique pull of The Open is that every single year, this historic Championship is held at a different seaside ‘Links’ course. More than anywhere else in the world, The Open provides a challenge against the wind.

At times like these, that bucket and spade seems more useful than a pitching wedge. Crazy golf.

And Royal Birkdale can be windier than most links courses. There is nothing but hundreds of miles of Irish Sea between here and Dublin, such is the exposure of these 18 holes to the prevailing westerly winds. Lancastrian golfers are a hardy and windswept lot and there’ll be a few local club players more than willing to give the likes of Spieth and Mickelson a tip or two on how to cope.

Britain’s new young star Tommy Fleetwood comes from just down the coast at Southport. Might that local experience give him the edge?

Even on the calmest of summer mornings, the rising thermals above the Lancashire plain will suck in a testy sea breeze for afternoon starters. But how likely is it that the weather will stay so benign for four consecutive days? Our maritime weather seldom plays ball for that long.

From Tiger Woods downwards, even the greatest of players have perished amidst the dunes – their ball whipped sideways into knee-high rough or swept into cavernous bunkers – only to return to the fairways after manifold hacks – the sand whipping back into the eyes and rubbing salt into the wounds. At times like these, that bucket and spade seems more useful than a pitching wedge. Crazy golf.

An Open wouldn’t be an Open without driving rain, gale force winds and yes, a little sunshine too. Whoever lifts The Claret Jug on Sunday will need skill, nerve and more than a little luck to endure all the elements thrown at them this week; which is why it’s not just the British Open; it’s THE Open.

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