Tuesday, February 20, 2018
Golf

The American invasion of Royal Troon for British Open

None in the crowd of roughly 10,000 suspected that when Bobby Locke of South Africa tapped in for a two-shot victory and a record score in the British Open, he would be the last player from outside the United States to hoist the claret jug at Royal Troon. … It was 1950.

Since then, there have been six Opens on the Ayrshire links in Scotland, and six American winners.

Surprising?

It was to Phil Mickelson, who went down the list of champions at Royal Troon: Arnold Palmer, Tom Weiskopf, Tom Watson, Mark Calcavecchia, Justin Leonard and Todd Hamilton. Mickelson came to a predictable conclusion. "I would be shocked if anyone other than an American won this year," he said laughing. "There's something to those trends."

Really, it's nothing more than a coincidence. The club motto at Royal Troon translates to "as much by skill as by strength," which goes against the American style of power golf that is all about hitting it high and far and firing at flags.

"I wouldn't say it's more Americanized. Birkdale has probably a little of that," Jim Furyk said. "We had a hell of a run there starting in the mid '90s (10 wins by Americans in 12 years). I think it's just one of those things that happens."

Royal Troon has had enough rain this spring — with more in the forecast during the Open — that it likely will play substantially softer, meaning more targets and less bounces that define the subtlety of links golf.

As for the players?

Dustin Johnson and a dozen other Americans are among the top 25 in the world. The attention has shifted away from Jordan Spieth, who a year ago came within one shot of a playoff in his quest for the Grand Slam, to the 32-year-old Johnson, who is just now starting to deliver on his awesome potential.

Johnson broke through for his first major, the U.S. Open, after four close calls. After a week off to celebrate, he chased down world No. 1 Jason Day on the back nine at Firestone to win a World Golf Championships event. Johnson was the 36-hole leader at St. Andrews a year ago. He contended in the final round at Royal St. George's in 2011 until a 2-iron sailed out-of-bounds.

This will be his first time seeing Royal Troon, and he was intrigued about the gentle start — three par 4s under 400 yards — and the tough finish.

Such is the stage for the 145th Open Championship that begins Thursday, where the list of favorites keeps getting longer. Spieth started the year at No. 1, has won twice and nearly won the Masters but is now down to No. 3. Day remains No. 1 after the PGA champion added the Players Championship, a WGC event and the Arnold Palmer Invitational to his trophy collection.

Of those 13 Americans in the top 25, seven have yet to win a major, which is relevant at Troon. Four of the past Open champions had never won a major until their names were on the claret jug (and they never won another).

Branden Grace of South Africa was stunned to learn it had been 66 years since someone outside the United States had won at Royal Troon: "Not to be funny, but hopefully an international player can win it this year."

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