Monday, July 17, 2017

Fantasy Golf: The British Open Preview Part 1

There are two ways to win a debate: (1) Craft a well thought-out argument that both emphasizes your positive points while slamming the door on any valid counterpoints by delegitimizing them before they're even raised; and/or (2) Have your opponent completely implode under the pressure of the moment and gift you the victory Atlanta Falcons style. Under the second scenario, your job is to generally just sit back, don't get in the way of it and let it unfold in all of its gut-wrenching splendor. If you're feeling especially cocksure, however, you might as well wipe your opponent off the map so that he/she doesn't come back to kill your whole family Arya Stark style.  

And in a segue that made more sense when I was conceptualizing it, that brings us to the debate over which is the second best major in golf. Now some will argue that the Masters is not #1 and even fewer will make the case that the PGA Championship is not #4 but, for the sake of getting to the point and not suffering the ill-founded opinions of a bunch of outlying nitwits, let's assume that we're dealing with rational people here so that the battle for #2 is between the U.S. Open and the British Open

Still too soon.
Coming-out of 2013, you could've made a compelling case for either. Justin Rose had just won a classic U.S. Open at Merion over a top five that included Jason Day, Phil Mickelson and Jason Dufner. Then Phil played an epic back nine at Muirfield to run away from a pack that included Henrik Stenson, Adam Scott, Lee Westwood and Tiger Woods. Both tournaments were riding high and had put years between themselves and their most recent suspect champions.

Then in 2014, Martin Kaymer opened with a pair of 65's at Pinehurst to take a six shot lead over Lerch from the Addams Family impersonator Brendon Todd before eventually stretching it to an eight shot win over Erik Compton and Rickie Fowler. I distinctly remember only watching about a half dozen shots that weekend because it was so obvious that Kaymer wasn't going to be caught. Fast forward to the 2014 British Open where you had a somewhat similar scenario unfold with three key differences: (1) The guy blowing-up was Rory and he's in that small class of players with Tiger and Phil who are almost as entertaining to watch in a runaway as they are in a nail-biter; (2) The pursuers were more intriguing as they included Fowler, Dustin Johnson and Sergio Garcia ; and (3) It actually tightened-up a bit on Sunday and the guy doing the tightening was Sergio so we knew that we were either going to be treated to some drama or we were going to get to watch him come-up short. Again. And remember, that was before he somehow managed to become endearing so watching him falter was fun. 

The real tipping point in the debate, however, came in 2015 when the USGA's decision to sell-out was put on full display at Chambers Bay, a golf course unfit for the raising of livestock. Gary Player called it "the worst golf course I might've ever seen" and Stenson said the greens were like "putting on broccoli." The week could've been salvaged with a playoff but D.J.'s putting and the greens took care of that on the 72nd hole. The British Open then responded with a three-man playoff at St. Andrews. You know, the home of golf. If 2015 was a singing contest, the USGA gave us drunk Lori from accounting singing a karaoke version of Mambo No. 5 and the R&A responded with Marvin Gaye performing the national anthem.

"Don't touch anything until me and Flash can
get down there to start touching everything."
And from there the spread just got wider. In 2016, the USGA handled the Dustin Johnson ruling like Roscoe P. Coltrane and Chief Wiggum setting-up a crime scene which negated any goodwill they might have engendered by actually playing on a major caliber golf course (Oakmontgate: Winners and Losers). The British Open then went for the jugular by producing arguably the most riveting two-man display of golf that a major Sunday has ever seen with Stenson and Mickelson shooting a 65 and a 63 respectively to lap the field. 

And most recently we had the birdie fest at the soon to be renamed TPC Erin HillsSeven guys at -10 or better? Pfffft. If the U.S. Open was the Black Knight of Monty Python fame, that would've represented the lopping-off of his last limb. I'm not even sure a comeback is possible this decade.

Or maybe, just maybe, this is the week when the scale starts to tip back towards this side of the Atlantic. I mean it's not as if Royal Birkdale has a history of great champions like Arnold Palmer, Tom Watson, Lee Trevino and Johnny Miller (uh oh). Even its damn lower tier winners like Mark O'Meara, Padraig Harrington and Peter Thomson all have multiple major titles. And the last time they hosted, the leaderboard included Greg Norman, Ian Poulter, Henrik Stenson and Jim Furyk in the top five so we could finally be in store for the showdown between some combination of D.J., Spieth, Day, Rory, Sergio and Rose that we've been waiting for since the middle of last year (don't forget Jon Rahm). In short, I don't see the British Open giving any ground this week (nor do I want it to).   

As far as I'm concerned, the debate ended for now with Stenson and Mickelson last year but, if we get any kind of leaderboard combined with some Sunday drama over in Southport, then the U.S. Open will be firmly entrenched in the #3 spot for the foreseeable future. Then again, its next three stops are Shinnecock, Pebble Beach and Winged Foot. I'm pretty sure not even the USGA can fuck those up but, if anyone can, it's the Keystone Cops on crank.

Tomorrow we'll get to some picks. See you then. Can't wait.    

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