Hi Nick, it’s the week of the 148th Open Championship being held at Royal Portrush. What are you expecting from the course and the tournament?
I think it’s an epic event going to an epic golf course. The new holes (7 & 8) are two of my favourites on the entire course and Martin Ebert has done a super job on the alterations. They actually had to remove the old 17th and 18th to make room for the spectator village. It asks all of the questions an Open Championship venue should, and it will find a worthy champion.
The field adds to the excitement because of the superb stories with Tiger pursuing major number 16 after winning the Masters, Koepka with his major domination of the last couple of years and Rory gunning for a second open in his home country (which he has said will be the biggest achievement of his career).
Add in the passion of the amazing Northern Irish people and their hunger for this tournament to return after 68 years and it has all of the ingredients for one of the greatest ever Opens.
Many of the players will be suitably warmed up for Links golf following the Irish Open at Lahinch and the Scottish Open at the Renaissance Club. The eventual winners, Jon Rahm and Bernd Wiesberger finishing on pretty low scores. Do you think that will be the case at Royal Portrush?
Like most Links courses, the wind will play a huge factor. Aside from a couple of days here and there, the weather was quite kind to the field at the Irish and Scottish Opens which is why there were low scores.
That could be the case again; if it doesn’t blow, the guys will have the opportunity to give it a good spanking. Royal Birkdale in 2008 is a great example where the wind blew and defended the course. That was the year Pádraig Harrington won with +3 and I was T78th at +22. Then to contrast that, Branden Grace managed the lowest ever round in Major Championship history in 2017, also at Birkdale. The weather is key.
Have you had the chance to play any other courses in Northern Ireland?
I played Ardglass the week before last which was out of this world. If you want to talk about a Heritage course, this is it. It has the oldest Club House in the world and the golf is almost a throwback to the origins of the sport. It's a dinky course, carved out of the Earth, almost as if somebody put some flags in the ground, stuck some tees out and then started to play.
And that’s the beauty of the course - in a world that’s so manufactured and manipulated, there is still room for this natural beauty, which is what Links Golf encapsulates for me. There's the smell of the air, the feel of the breeze, the way the ball is out of your control (to a degree). It’s nice to know that there are still throwbacks to the time technology and precision became the focus of golf.
The Open is often referred to as the most sought after Major Championship and has created numerous magical moments in its 147-year history. What are the moments that stand out for you?
There’s too many to count, to be honest...I remember Seve holing his putt on the 18th in 1984 at St. Andrews, that footage is just seared into my mind. Obviously, I didn’t see it live but I remember seeing it over and over again growing up because it’s so iconic. The putt had no right to go in, but somehow came in the side door and dropped. We all remember the reaction and it ended up being his emblem at the Old Course.
Costantino Rocca’s putt on that very green in 1995 is another example that displays the emotions these players have to go through in an Open Championship. John Daly was stood on the steps with his wife, thinking he had just won The Open and out of nowhere had to lace up his shoes and go again.
Then in 2009 at Turnberry, Tom Watson took it to a playoff with Stewart Cink at 59 years of age. He already had five titles for goodness sake! I actually played that year and hung around to see that, because I wanted to watch history being made. He was one hard bounce away on the 18th after his second shot from being a six times Open Champion.
And finally, who are you expecting to lift the Claret Jug this year?
I think Rahm will be hard to beat based on current form. He’s had links success in the Irish Open in back to back fashion just a couple of weeks ago and let’s not forget, he was T3 at the last major in the US Open.
Despite that, I am going to go for Rickie Fowler, as much from my heart as my head. He is a major champion in the making and has had so many near misses, including a 2nd to Rory at Royal Liverpool in 2014. He has won this season already in Phoenix and loves his links golf and the opportunity for creativity it provides. Let’s not forget that he has tasted success in this style of golf when he won the Scottish Open a few years ago.