It was nice to sign off at Royal Aberdeen with a final round 66, my lowest score of 2014.
That stat alone tells you the kind of year it’s been – pretty frustrating at times, to be honest. But there’s a lot of good in my game, so let’s see if we can really get something going at this week’s Open Championship. My optimism levels are always high for what is my favourite tournament of the year and obviously this is links golf, where I feel very much at home. My career record in this event reflects that I think.
I fell in love with links golf playing here as an amateur in the late 1980s. I remember making birdie on the final green at Open Qualifying in 1989 to get to tee it up in my first Open at Troon, with my brother Dirk caddying for me. We walked on to the range the first day and chose a spot next to Jack Nicklaus – still remember the thrill of shaking his hand that day and having a quick chat with the great man. Then shot 72-76 to miss the cut and remember being totally disgusted with myself!
Now 25 years on, the excitement of arriving at an Open Championship and getting a first look at the golf course has for me never worn off. It feels amazing and I love being out on the course, playing all those different shots, the bump-and-runs and so forth, it’s just magical.
And it’s exciting to be back at Hoylake, a great Open venue and a great links test. My history on this course goes back to the late 1980s when I won a top amateur tournament here, the Tillman Trophy. Looking at the photo of a skinny teenage version of me that still hangs on the wall in the clubhouse, I’m amazed the wind didn’t blow me over that week!
Then I finished third here in the 2006 Open, which gives you mixed emotions. I’d not long returned from injury, having had knee surgery the previous summer, so on the one hand you’re happy – almost relieved – to be right back in the mix and competing for major championships. Then again, it’s hard to be completely satisfied when you have a chance to win a major and you don’t get the job done. All credit to Tiger, though, because he played great that week. He had a very disciplined game plan, he stuck to it, and it worked out perfectly for him.
Everyone probably remembers how rock hard and dry Hoylake was that year. Playing with Chris di Marco in the final round, I can honestly say I’ve never seen a golf course so dry and playing so lightning-fast in my entire life. Also the wind was up that afternoon and the pin positions were about as tough as any of us had ever seen at an Open. It was a challenging day, to say the least, but that’s what the Open is all about. When the golf course is playing hard and fast, you have to use the full extent of your imagination and creative shotmaking skills. That’s one of the things so many of us love about this championship.
Anyway, we arrived here at Hoylake on Sunday and straight away played a few holes in the late afternoon sunshine – it was just beautiful out there. They’ve made a few tweaks to the golf course since 2006, rebuilding some of the bunkers, moving a few here and there, and adding a little bit of yardage, but not much.
Actually, it’s not a super-long golf course by today’s championship standards, but yardage is irrelevant if the wind starts getting up. For instance, last week in the first round at Royal Aberdeen you could virtually drive the green on one of the par-4s on the back nine; the next day it was a driver and a 2-iron. That’s links golf for you.
Strangely enough during the Open here in 2006 the wind didn’t really blow, apart from on the final day, but let’s hope we get some breeze this time. That’s the way it’s meant to be on a links. To me it is the purest form of golf – the ultimate test of your skills as a player. You don’t have to bomb it everywhere. You have to play smart, use your experience and obviously putt well. That’s what happened at Lytham in 2012. Maybe this year, too? Why not! I like my chances every time I tee it up in the Open. In fact, if I can stay fit, stay flexible and keep turning, then I feel like I can be competitive in this tournament for at least another 10 years.
I’ll write here again soon. In the meantime, you can follow me on Twitter @TheBig_Easy