British Open 2011: Strong winds could shorten course


English golfer Luke Donald stands next to a flagpole on a green during the practice rounds ahead of the 140th British Open Golf championship at Royal St George's. (PETER MUHLY/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)

The wind blew for the second straight day across Royal St. George’s on Wednesday, and if it continues to howl when the British Open begins Thursday, it could force organizers to whittle down the course from its stated length of 7,211 yards.

“I found it very difficult today,” American Nick Watney said. “I think if the wind blew like this, and they kept the tees back, you could see some extremely high scores.”

Wind is part of nearly any British Open, but the Royal & Ancient, which stages the event, said it has no interest in embarrassing players. In particular, the 564-yard par-5 seventh and the 243-yard par-3 11th may be played from forward tees if the wind keeps off the English Channel from the east.

“If the winds turn around, it’s a completely different story,” R&A chief executive Peter Dawson said. “But I think people should be able to reach the fairways and reach the par 3s, frankly.”

Memory lane

Royal St. George’s first hosted the Open in 1894, when it became the first club outside Scotland to stage the tournament. It has produced champions both expected (Harry Vardon, Walter Hagen, Greg Norman in 1993) and not. In 2003, Ben Curtis, playing in the first major championship of his career, somehow beat a leader board that included Tiger Woods, Davis Love III, Vijay Singh, and Nick Faldo in one of the biggest upsets in major championship history.

The danger for Curtis this week? Remembering that victory too much.

“The hard part is, we’re out there today and [I say], ‘Oh, I was here in ’03 and I was here on Saturday and I was here on Friday,’ ” he said. “When you get out there, you’ve got to kind of forget that because you kind of get more focused on what you did then.”

Curtis has two PGA tour victories since, both in 2008, when he also finished second at the PGA Championship.

Site check

The R&A all but announced that the Open would return to St. Andrews in 2015, keeping the “Home of Golf” on the every-five-years rotation it has enjoyed since 1990. Though details haven’t been finalized, Dawson said, “I would be very surprised if you were surprised at what we announced about 2015.”

Prospects for Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland, home course of 2010 U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell, don’t appear as bright, at least immediately. Dawson said wins in major championships by McDowell and Rory McIlroy, two Northern Irishmen, have caused the R&A to think about Royal Portrush because there’s “much emotion” about the country’s golfing legacy now.

“I understand that,” Dawson said. “You can’t, however, base where you hold the Open on where players come from.”

Dawson said the R&A would be concerned about how many hotel rooms would be available, whether the infrastructure is in place to support the tournament and whether the population would respond well enough to produce full galleries.

Barry Svrluga covers the Washington Redskins and golf.
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