SALT LAKE CITY — The most miserable I can ever remember being on a golf course was on a day in July, of all months. That doesn’t make any sense, except that it happened to be at the Open Championship in England, at Royal Birkdale in 2008.
This week The Open is back at Royal Birkdale, which is in Southport, on the northwest coast of England on the Irish Sea. The latest forecast calls for heavy rain on Friday and Saturday, which means it could be much like it was back in ’08 when my son and I suffered through cold, wet and windy conditions on the opening day of the tournament.
The thing is, you never know what the weather will be like in the United Kingdom in mid-July. I’ve been to the British Open on two other occasions and hardly saw a drop of rain. And then there was that day at Birkdale where we slogged around in the mud and wet grass, doing our darnedest to stay warm and dry.
American golfer Billy Horschel put it well recently when talking about the weather in Britain for The Open.
“In the States when you look at a seven-day forecast, it holds pretty true. But here, it could be a nice day and ... all of a sudden the sun is gone and it’s cold and windy and it’s raining sideways and you just have to get through it.”
No wonder Horschel packed 15 extra sweaters, rain jackets and heavy outerwear to his luggage.
This will be the ninth time Royal Birkdale has been the host club for The Open and while it may not hold the same intrigue as other Open venues, such as St. Andrews, Muirfield or Carnoustie, it has produced an impressive list of winners.
Former Utah resident Johnny Miller won his only Open Championship and only other major besides his 1973 U.S. Open as a 29-year-old in 1976. Arnold Palmer won in 1961 when most Americans weren’t making the trip to The Open. That victory opened the floodgates for all the top golfers from the U.S., who started making the trek across the pond in the years the followed.
Lee Trevino won at Birkdale in 1971 and Tom Watson won there in 1983. Mark O’Meara won in 1998 and the most recent winner at Birkdale was Padraig Harrington, who won his second straight Open in 2008.
The other winners were Australian Peter Thomson, who won two of his five British Open titles at Birkdale (1954 and 1965) and another Australian, Ian Baker-Finch (1991), whose golf game completely left him just a few years after his win.
It will be fun to watch how Utah’s Tony Finau does this week, playing in his second Open Championship and his sixth major when he tees off Thursday morning at Royal Birkdale.
Finau was a late addition to the field, getting into the tourney due to the withdrawal last week by former champion Ben Curtis, who has had shoulder problems this year. Finau was the next alternate because of his world ranking, which is currently No. 64.
He will tee off at 10:53 a.m. in England, that’s 3:53 a.m. here in Utah, with Sung-Hoon Kang and Matthieu Pavon. Then on Friday Finau will tee off in the same group at 3:54 p.m. (8:54 a.m. MDT), which could be an advantage because the rain is supposed to come early that day.
The 27-year-old Salt Lake native has done very well in majors when he’s made the cut. In the 2015 U.S. Open he was in contention most of the way before finishing in a tie for 14th place. At the 2015 PGA Championship he finished tied for 10th. Then last year in his first British Open, he finished in a tie for 18th place.
Finau is getting to the point where he can start getting into major tournaments on a regular basis and not at the last minute. He has moved up to No. 26 in the FedEx standings and if he can stay in the top 31, he will be able to play in next year's Masters and the season-ending Tour Championship. He can also garner a Masters invite by getting into the top 50 in the world rankings. A strong finish this week at Birkdale could help Finau immensely.
Although I’d love to be there, following Tony and Jordan and Rory and Sergio and all the other big names in golf, this might be one of those years where I’ll be just as content staying dry and watching The Open on a big-screen TV in the comforts of my home.