Column: Some thanks for the player who saved the Open
ST. ANDREWS, Scotland (AP) — Brooks Koepka may not win the British Open, though a lot of people in golf believe he has the kind of talent to win a major championship in the not so distant future.
On Saturday, though, he may have saved this Open.
Someone had to do it, and it wasn’t going to be the bumbling officials from the Royal & Ancient. The people who run golf on this side of the pond somehow couldn’t figure out that it’s a game that can’t be played if there’s no way to put a ball on a green and stop it from being blown away in the howling wind.
They were so determined to finish the rain-delayed second round Saturday that players who were still on the Old Course late the night before had to get up at 4:30 a.m. to get ready to do it again, even when forecasts warned of severe wind.
Lack of sleep for the players wasn’t the issue. Lack of judgment by the officials was.
“It was always going to be a difficult day, we knew that,” R&A rules director David Rickman said. “But we were keen to give it a go.”
A little too keen, as it turned out. Suddenly, the greens on the venerable Old Course looked as if they belonged on a miniature golf course, with only the clown’s mouth missing.
Louis Oosthuizen had a putt on the 13th hole when play resumed that moved a foot to his right before he could even address it. When he tried again, it rolled away again, making what had been a 2-foot putt an 8-footer.
Back on the 11th green, which was most exposed to the wind, Koepka was having similar problems. He had marked his ball in darkness the night before, returning to a 6-footer for par.
When he put his ball down Saturday morning, it moved a few inches, and Koepka told a rules official he didn’t think it was playable.
“He basically told me I had to hit it,” Koepka said.
Koepka did, running it 4 feet past. He marked it, and the ball moved again. Marked it again, and the ball moved once more.
Finally, he took a stand.
“I just said I don’t want to play anymore,” Koepka said.
Another official came over and they huddled. Soon word came on the radio about Oosthuizen’s debacle on the 13th.
Reason finally prevailed, and the horn sounded to end the silliness 32 minutes after it began. It would be more than 10 hours before the now suddenly cautious R&A allowed it to resume, forcing the Open into a Monday finish for the first time in 27 years.
A second round that began early Friday ended up stretching over 38 hours, 46 minutes. It included rain, flooding, heavy wind, sunshine and just about every other meteorological activity you might encounter on the coast of Scotland — and more.
“It’s going to sound stupid, but it felt like a tropical storm growing up in Florida, like the winds like that,” Koepka said. “I wouldn’t say a hurricane, because I think that’s a bit extreme, but it resembled a tropical storm.”
That it got so out of hand isn’t totally the fault of the R&A. It controls a lot of things, but no one controls the weather in these parts.
Still, the rush to finish created an uneven playing field, especially for those on the course who played up to three holes in conditions that were at best unfair. The decision to play when the forecast said otherwise meant little sleep and longer days for 42 players while others — including early clubhouse leader Danny Willett — essentially got the entire day off.
Give some credit to Koepka, though for making sure it didn’t turn into a complete farce. He stood his ground, even if it might have cost him a spot in a major championship.
“I don’t know,” he said, when asked what might have happened if his decision to stop was challenged. “I wasn’t going to play. I really wasn’t.”
The 25-year-old, who had a breakthrough win this year in Phoenix, would return when play finally resumed at 6 p.m. to make his putt on the 11th hole for bogey. He played the rest of the way in 1 under, finishing with a 70 that put him 3-under par and seven shots off the lead held by Dustin Johnson.
Almost as good, he got some thanks for being the player who called their bluff.
“Yeah, the guys behind us did (say thanks),” Koepka said. “Because they didn’t have to hit a shot.”
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org or http://twitter.com/timdahlberg
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