The Open issues a 9th hole out-of-bounds rule for spectator safety
SOUTHPORT, England — Jason Day's caddie presented Open Championship officials with an interesting option on the par-4 ninth hole at Royal Birkdale. Colin Swatton wondered about hitting a tee shot onto the adjacent 10th fairway for a shorter, clearer shot into the green.
The R&A responded with an invisible white line in the turf.
In a decision aimed primarily at spectator safety, R&A chief rules director David Rickman issued a notice of a local rule for the week: "When playing the ninth hole only, a ball on or beyond the 10th fairway (defined by the edge of the closely-mown area) is out of bounds."
Out-of-bounds stakes typically are on the boundary of a golf course. It is rare a links course to have internal out-of-bounds, especially when it involves the golf ball landing in short grass.
R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers said officials were concerned because the only way to drive from the ninth tee onto the 10th fairway is to hit a drive over the top of the grandstand, and then hit over the gallery to the green.
"And we felt that was just dangerous," Slumbers said. "So that's been put in there to protect the fans and the players."
The ninth hole, with the wind at the players' back, requires a blind tee shot to a fairway and bends sharply to the right toward the green. A shot onto the 10th fairway also would be a blind shot.
It was reminiscent of the 1979 U.S. Open at Inverness, when the USGA planted a tree overnight after Lon Hinkle found a way to shorten the first hole by going down an adjacent fairway. The R&A opted for a local rule instead of going to the trouble of planting dozens of trees.
Day thought it was an overreaction, especially with no one even attempting such a shot. What troubled him was someone blasting one far to the right on accident and getting penalized two shots for being O.B.
"I don't think anyone was going to go down there, anyway. We just asked," Day said. "I can understand if guys are actually going to think about going there. But I understand the safety issue, as well, because if you're hitting a driver and guys are walking straight up 10 fairway, you can hit someone or injure somebody pretty badly. But if you lose one in the wind or something like that, and it bounces awkwardly and you're a foot on the fairway or an inch on the fairway, you're out-of-bounds. It's a little unfair."
TIGER EFFECT: No Tiger, no problem.
Open Championship organizers say they are expecting big crowds this week at Royal Birkdale that will rival the attendance records set at the Open when Tiger Woods was in his dominant prime.
More than 220,000 people are expected on the course set on the northwest England coast by the time play ends Sunday. That ranks high among recent Opens, some of which was blamed on Woods not being in the field.
"I think the sport should be eternally grateful for the transformation he drove in golf," said Martin Slumbers, chief executive of the R&A. "I hope he tees it up at The Open. He'd be extremely welcomed. But the game moves on."
Slumbers said the crowd this week should rank No. 4 among biggest crowds since the R&A started keeping attendance figures in 1960. The two biggest crowds were 239,000 at St. Andrews in 2000 and 237,000 on the same course in 2010, followed by 230,000 at Royal Liverpool in 2006.
Woods won the Open in both 2000 and 2006.
"I think there are some wonderful players out there now that people want to come and watch, and the game is moving forward," Slumbers said.
BUDDY SYSTEM: Dustin Johnson is close friends with Brooks Koepka and called him the night before Koepka won the U.S. Open to share some advice. They live close to each other in South Florida, practice together and spend plenty of time in the gym.
Johnson was on his own for a few weeks when Koepka headed from Wisconsin to Las Vegas to celebrate.
"He had a good couple weeks," Johnson said. "There was nothing for me to celebrate. I've been working pretty hard the last month. He had a few weeks off, which was well deserved. But yeah, he's back on it now."
If they are competitive on the golf course — they are the last two U.S. Open champions — they apparently are competitive in the gym, too. Johnson said they train at the same place.
"I usually get to the gym a little bit earlier than he does," Johnson said.
RORY'S MAJORS: Rory McIlroy has gone 10 majors without winning, and he still hasn't won a tournament this year. He's in one of his mini-slumps at the moment, though he only has to go back to his Open Championship debut to realize it's not all bad.
McIlroy played Carnoustie in 2007 as an amateur, opened with 68 and tied for 42nd as an 18-year-old. He turned pro later that year and quickly earned a European Tour card, and he was on his way.
He tried to imagine what he would have taken for a career 10 years later.
"If someone told me, 'You're going to be a four-time major winner and you won the Open and you're one leg away from the career Grand Slam, you've played on three winning Ryder Cup teams, you've won the Order of Merit three times in Europe, you've won the FedEx Cup in the State,' I'd be like, 'Yeah, I'll take that.'"
DIVOTS: The R&A plans tributes around the 18th for two of its former champions who died since the last Open Championship — Arnold Palmer, who won at Royal Birkdale in 1961 and Royal Troon in 1962, and Roberto De Vicnenzo, who won at Royal Liverpool in 1967. ... Mark O'Meara, who hits the opening tee shot Thursday morning, is playing in his final Open. He won at Royal Birkdale in 1998 for his second major that year. ... Jason Day received the Mark McCormack Award for spending the most weeks at No. 1 in the world in 2016. Day lost the No. 1 ranking to Dustin Johnson in February. The Australian now is No. 6.