For most of us, when we step up to the tee, we’re usually just trying to hit a few greens, roll in a few putts, and keep the big scores off the card.
Choosing the right equipment plays a pivotal role as the world’s best step up to take on one of the most difficult links tests. With dramatic risk/ reward opportunities throughout the spectacular layout, we sat down with TaylorMade’s Senior Manager of Tour Operations, Adrian Rietveld to go inside the ropes at Royal Portrush.
‘In the build-up you have the Irish Open, followed by the Scottish Open. Playing in these events prepares players, but Royal Portrush is the main event, this is a pure links test.’ - Adrian Rietveld
Before any event—especially The 148th Open Championship—Tour players and their caddies spend hours scoping out the course. They'll find the proper lines off the tee with the aim of putting themselves in the best position, they assess every green for potential pin placements, and begin formalising their game plan. At Royal Portrush, the players are facing off against the course as well as their competitors.
"I’ve spoken to various players, they all mentioned that this is the widest Open Championship off the tee, in that they mean the course is wide but the rough is very thick and players will have to be strategic in their play. Hitting it long off the tee might seem advantageous but if you don't hit the fairway, you will find yourself in trouble. You’ll see a lot of players favouring their 2 iron to get themselves into position to attack the hole. Other Majors favour long hitters, but iron play and proximity into the hole is key at Royal Portrush, this creates a real emphasis on it being a second shot golf course, going for Par 5’s in two and strong iron shots into the greens."
"When Rory McIlroy stopped off at the ASI Scottish Open we worked on a new 8 iron with him. He’s had his equipment for a while now and we noticed that his 8 iron had been used a lot. As iron play is key we prepared a fresh one in his exact specification. He will practice with both and once he’s happy he’ll put his new one in the bag."
Adding to the excitement of the final Major of the season is the unpredictable nature of the British weather. Whether you’re sat at home or roaming the grounds of Royal Portrush the interchangeable conditions are an important factor that players have to consider.
"The weather is one thing that players tend to lose sleep over because all the players tee off from the 1st, being on the right side of the draw becomes an important factor which is less so when there’s a two-tee start. It could be bright sunshine and calm in the morning, and then the weather could turn, and good players could miss the cut. Playing well AND having the draw on your side is what will put you in contention."
"I’ve played Royal Portrush a handful of times and one thing I can’t emphasise enough is the coastal shots. They are magnificent and have a great atmosphere, you really feel the tradition of the golf course."
"The first of two new holes is almost 600-yards so the longer hitters such as Rahm and DJ will be able to get closer to the pin but will have to avoid the bunker on the right-hand side of the 7th. This Par 5 is open to birdie chances but with the high chance of cross winds, players will have to be careful off the tee. Moving onto the 8th players will have the option to lay up short of the fairway bunkers or take them on to get closer to a large, undulating green which is protected by a bunker on the right. Rory loves playing this course and having asked him about these new additions he thinks it will add to the difficulty of Royal Portrush."
Perhaps the most famous hole on the course, Calamity Corner is a must play as a follower of the game.
"It is hard to describe the feeling as you stand on this tee, looking out and knowing it will take a fantastic shot to hit the small target. It could play from 9i to driver without the tee even being moved!"
Between the tee and the green is a large chasm which must be cleared to have any chance of making Par. Players shouldn't have too much trouble finding the green but hitting the right portion for a birdie is another matter.
Be sure to tune in this weekend to see the equipment in play from Team TaylorMade and hold your breath as the best in the world come down the stretch at Royal Portrush.
Want to hear more from Adrian? Check out the latest Team TaylorMade Podcast here.