It’s a major week and the eve of the Ricoh Women’s British Open, the fourth of five majors on the LPGA Tour. This year the ladies are playing Royal Lytham & St Annes, just south of Blackport, England. There a few courses in the area, but this is the most famous, having hosted many big events like the Open Championship (11 times), 1977 Ryder Cup (which Mike’s Dad, Jerry McGee played), 2015 Walker Cup and several Women’s British Opens. I have fond memories from this event, especially in 2003 when I was able to capture it for the first time after finishing runner up on three previous occasions. As a European, this championship has always been close to my heart, and to finally be able to win it and complete the career grand slam made it even more special.
When you play links golf, you’ll almost always be challenged by changing weather conditions. As a rule, the wind will pick up in the afternoon, if not before lunch. Royal Lytham is perhaps best known for having 174 bunkers (after the removal of 37!), which are tactically placed in the fairways and surrounding the greens. It’s not the longest of courses, but to play well on this world renowned layout you need to display exceptional course management and a well-thought-out strategy. The key for lower scores is accuracy, rather than distance. I was lucky to stay out of the bunkers for all four rounds the year I won. I was very disciplined off the tee to ensure I’d avoid these penalizing hazards.
Another element that makes links golf so special is that you need amazing imagination and touch around the greens. Normal flop shots and high pitches that work on parkland courses are often less effective than the bump-and-run shots that keep the ball closer to the ground.
This week will be interesting to watch. The weather in the U.K. has been extremely unusual the last month with high temperatures and little precipitation. Having said that, I expect to the course to play fast and firm, which will open up the field a bit and give a chance for more players to win.
The Rolex ANNIKA Major Award continues this week and lots of points are up for grabs. The hottest player on the tour is Ariya Jutanugarn, recent winner of the Scottish Open and the U.S. Women’s Open, but the field is full of world-class competitors. Lydia Ko seems to be in good form, defending champion In Kyung Kim is playing solidly, and Inbee Park will be returning to the tour. I think a dark horse pick for those of you who may be looking to wager a few pounds on the outcome may be England’s Charlie Hull -- she’s rounding into form and hoping to have her major breakthrough this week.
I’ll be watching with great interest, and recalling some of the shots I hit back in 2003 when I topped my rivals Se Ri Pak by one and Karrie Webb by two. You should tune in, too, to see how much fun (and different!) links golf is from what most of us typically play.