CARNOUSTIE, Scotland — For those who love a story about a tee shot that rolled for a freakish amount of time and for those who can manage to refrain from dying of boredom while hearing a story about a tee shot that rolled for a freakish amount of time, here’s the 147th British Open, where the balls roll to yonder and give players much to ponder.
“The ball’s running 50 to 80 yards on certain shots,” first-round leader Kevin Kisner said Thursday.
“I hit a 3-wood where I’m at like 330,” Kevin Na said.
“I hit a 4-iron on 9; it ran to 290,” Pat Perez said.
“Even with almost no wind, we’re playing 5-irons to go 250, 260 yards,” defending champion Jordan Spieth said. “Downwind, close to 300. It carries 205, 210 downwind, and it just doesn’t stop.”
“I hit my 3-iron, 4-iron and 5-iron,” Tony Finau said. “I pretty much wore it out today. . . . That tells you how far the ball is rolling out.”
“I’ve never hit an 8-iron off a par 4, and I hit an 8-iron off a par 4 today,” Zach Johnson said.
As the first-round leader board went chockablock with under-par scores — Kisner at 5-under 66; three-way ties at 67 and 68; a 10-way tie at 69 with Rory McIlroy, Justin Thomas and Johnson in it; and a 14-way tie at 70 with Rickie Fowler in there somewhere — and as Tiger Woods opened with even-par 71, everyone was said to be playing in Scotland, except that this is Definitely Not Scotland.
Eternal sunshine of the rainless kind has left the fairways brown and turned them steadily to mortar. An immigration agent at the Glasgow airport said he has been kidding with the usual arriving tourist golfers, telling them that while they’re technically playing golf in Scotland, they’re not really playing golf in Scotland. Sure, the lack of rain has kept the rough from transforming into the menacing, devouring foliage of custom, but the golf balls are not only rolling but also apparently giggling.
“Guys have hit it like 380,” said Na, a 34-year-old American who joined that 14-way convention at 1 under. “It’s amazing how much it rolls. There’s almost no grass out there. Just going forever.”
“Yeah, you just don’t know,” said Perez, a 42-year-old American lodged in that 10-way tie at 2 under. “[Playing partner] Julian Suri hit a perfect flier in the middle of the fairway, and it kept rolling and rolling and I kept watching, and it rolled right into the bunker. It was just unlucky.”
“I hit it in two bunkers today that I felt were out of play with the club I had in my hand,” said Finau, a 28-year-old American who joined the three-way gathering at 4 under, “and it rolled right into the bunker.”
All the rolling — plus other factors — has spawned a few byproducts. It has helped to expand the array of plausible decisions about how to approach a hole. “That’s the beauty this golf course is right now,” said Johnson, 42, the 2015 champion and two-time major champion who wedged in with the horde at 2 under. “You can hit 7-irons and 6-irons off the tee box. You can hit drivers, but you’d better hit both of them straight.”
If deciding tires the human brain, as studies have shown, then this has been one tiring British Open so far. “Definitely harder,” said Spieth, 24, who arrived at No. 15 at 3 under, then played the last four holes in 4 over to reach 1-over 72. “You hit a shot, and it doesn’t go as planned, and you’re always second-guessing yourself; you could have hit somewhere else. ‘I could have hit driver,’ or, ‘I could have hit 5-iron.’ ”
Calling the greens sort of “boring,” Spieth said, “This course is the first two shots, you know.”
Yet as the concrete fairways and the welcoming greens represent a sort of inverse of the American way, Perez sees something else in the way Carnoustie has played in its first turn hosting this event since 2007, here in Definitely Not Scotland. He sees something lovely.
“I wish a lot more courses were like this,” he said. “It doesn’t really favor the big hitter for once. For once in a major, it doesn’t favor the long hitter because everybody can kind of hit it down where they could get it.”
A gaze at the PGA Tour and PGA European Tour statistics found that players with lofty driving-distance rankings such as Nos. 2, 3, 14 and 21 do appear on the leader board, but so do those with rankings such as Nos. 126, 131, 140, 167 and 176. No. 176 is Kisner, 34, who led the PGA Championship on Sunday morning last August before finishing seventh.
As the weather forecast does call for a good chance of Scotland on Friday morning, this British Open has managed even with its funkiness to uphold the British Open’s legendary demand for creativity and thinking, even if this British Open is in Definitely Not Scotland and really even Britain.
“The beauty of what we’re seeing right here is that Mother Nature just took it over,” Johnson said.
“You’ve got to play the golf course,” Finau said. “You’ve got to think a lot and be very strategic.”
“But it all depends on where it hits the fairway, also,” reminded Kisner, who hit seven of 15 fairways but clearly rolled it well.
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