Insights from a winning European Ryder Cup Captain and one of the tour’s more experienced wind players
BY: GARRETT JOHNSTON
For those working in the golf industry, when you can find on the weekends it’s likely we can find you watching golf. But there’s that one week of the year where you always make time before opening the golf shop, giving lessons and engaging the golfers at your facility. That’s British Open week, when the championship is on from the late night until early morning. Who’s ready to lose sleep in the name of golf’s oldest major?
There’s nothing like turning the TV on to watch these instant classics, and to see today’s best players trudging through 30-40 mph winds and heavy rain.
As fun as it may be to watch, what’s the experience like for the players and how do they prepare for links golf’s many subtle tests?
I sat down with Australia’s Marc Leishman(2015 co-runner up) and Bernhard Langer (seven career British Open top 5s and victorious 2004 European Ryder Cup Captain) to discuss how you should best practice and prepare for the daunting challenge.
Leishman says: “I grew up on links courses very similar to the Open Championship courses, the Sandbelt in Australia – where it’s very windy and soil is firm and sandy. I feel like if I leave on Sunday night and go over there for three days of preparation for the championship, that would be good enough for me. Any more than that and I start to get bored.”
This is a far cry from what Dustin Johnson used to do in years past. The world number one would fly over to Ireland the week prior and play the Irish links courses with Padraig Harrington to get acquainted with the conditions and style of golf. Tiger Woods would also go to Ireland early with his good pal Mark O’Meara and they’d play links courses, in addition to going fly fishing every chance they got. To each their own, right?
Leishman’s style is much different.
“I try and do my practice pretty efficiently, I feel like I don’t need to go over there and play a tournament before,” Leishman says. “I feel like it’s best for me to go in fresh and do the preparation once I actually get there.”
Leishman lives in Virginia Beach, so it’s not like he’s got numerous links courses and conditions similar to The Open venues. But he can harken back to the experience of his youth.
What to Practice:
1. Long irons, stingers into the wind–
Marc Leishman says: “A lot of your iron-work is gauging the strength and the heaviness of the wind, the density of the wind. It’s a lot denser over there than it is here. A 20 mph wind there will be a 3-club wind, whereas here (in the States) it will be a 1-club wind. Learning that particular course and just playing in the wind. I’ve always liked hitting the low, long irons so that’s not really an adjustment at all for me. I hit a few of them on the range before each round, thinking of the hole I will use it on.”
Bernhard Langer says: “With links golf, generally you can bounce the ball onto the green on a number of holes, and it can be windy, so you want to generally hit the ball lower. You want to focus on trapping the ball on the range. So I would say that’s part of it when you practice on the range.”
2. What’s the best rain preparation, or is there even one?
Bernhard Langer says: “There’s no preparation in the rain for me (laughs). Nobody likes rain, so you just deal with it when you have to deal with it but there’s no special preparation. Just make sure that your umbrella is waterproof and ‘your weatherproofs’ are waterproof and that you have a few extra gloves. That’s about all the preparation you need. You think I’m going to go out and practice in the rain for hours so I’m ready? No I’m not crazy (laughs).”
Marc Leishman says: “When I played well in 2015, we had a lot of wind and some rain. You just have to become comfortable playing in those conditions and know that’s what you should expect. I would say, just make sure you have a couple good towels for your grips and keep them dry.”
3. How do you play in pot bunkers?
Bernhard Langer says: “You want to avoid those things, period. Don’t go in them. If you do, you would be wise to learn how to properly stand in them, with the slope of the bunker.”
Marc Leishman says: “You seriously have to play them like water hazards. If you hit one in there you’ve got to take your medicine and try and get it out. Try and make sure you get it out. If you don’t on your first try then you often end up in a worse spot than your first spot. That’s a horrible feeling. We just chalk them up as water hazards. Avoid at almost all costs.”
4. Putting from off the surface:
Bernhard Langer says: “It all depends on the situation, but I’ve done fairly well putting from off the green, especially on a links course where there isn’t that much of a difference between the fairway grass and the green grass. It’s fairly flat and there’s not a lot of grain. So it’s a good thing to putt and practice that way to be best prepared. And you can practice this from any distance, too.”
Marc Leishman says: “In links golf you may want to putt some of the shots you have short of the green. The old saying: ‘Your worst putt is better than your worst chip.’”