SOUTHPORT, England — Rich Beem was scouting Royal Birkdale this week in his role for Sky Sports when someone jokingly asked if he planned on working for more than nine holes this week at the British Open.
Beem chuckled at a decade-old memory, even if it was no laughing matter at the time.
The last time at Royal Birkdale, he was in the Thursday morning side of the draw. That tends to be advantageous on most courses because it takes time for the stronger wind to show up. Links golf operates on its own schedule, however, and the opening round in 2008 began in 30 mph wind and rain that fell sideways.
Beem was given a one-shot penalty when his ball moved on the second green (giving him an 8). He made the turn in 46 shots. And that was enough. Beem packed it in and withdrew, saying later he didn’t think he would break 90.
Hardly anyone noticed Beem leaving, because the British press was chasing after Sandy Lyle, who quit after 10 holes at 11 over par.
“It could take three weeks to recover from this,” Lyle said that day.
Even the best players in the world with their game in great shape for the British Open still have to rely on luck at golf’s oldest championship.
It sometimes comes down to the luck of the draw.
“When you feel like you’re playing well and you get the wrong side of the draw and you feel like the best you can finish is 10th, it’s a bitter pill to swallow,” Rory McIlroy said Wednesday. “But you have to realize in a 25- or 30-year career, you’re going to get some years that you’re on the good side of the draw.”
McIlroy was on the good side at Hoylake three years ago and won the claret jug.
Louis Oosthuizen was on the right end of the draw in 2010 when he finished up his second round at St. Andrews with a 67, right about the time McIlroy was headed out into the high wind. McIlroy, who opened with a 63, shot an 80.
Rain began pounding Royal Birkdale on Wednesday afternoon, closing the course because of the lightning that accompanied the storm. How long will it last? How bad will it be? When will it return? These are questions that players won’t know until they’re in them.
And if they’re in the worst of the weather, that becomes a greater challenge than any of the pot bunkers dotting the fairways.
It doesn’t seem fair, not that golf was ever meant to be that.
And for all the complaining that accompanies being on the wrong side of the draw, Padraig Harrington stands as the example to keep the head down and play on. He also played that Thursday morning at Birkdale in 2008, about 45 minutes behind Lyle and an hour ahead of Beem.
His name was on the claret jug by the end of the week.
“Padraig won the thing from the bad side of the draw, so it can be done,” McIlroy said. “You just have to stick in there and make the most of whatever the weather presents you and go with that.”
One of the more famous incidents was at Muirfield in 2002, when Tiger Woods was going after the third leg of the Grand Slam, two shots behind going into the third round. The storms arrived about the time he teed off — 40 mph wind, rain and a severe drop in temperatures — and Woods shot 81.
McIlroy went through it again last year at Royal Troon. Henrik Stenson and Phil Mickelson each finished about the time the nasty weather arrived Friday, and instead of trying to catch up to the leaders, McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day and Justin Rose found themselves effectively out of the tournament.
“If it’s an afternoon round and the other side has already played the morning, that’s when it’s tough,” Spieth said. “Because you’re like: ‘I can’t shoot those scores. It’s not possible.’ And that’s the frustrating thing when you think you can play your best and it doesn’t happen.”
Rose took it the hardest of the star players last year, saying it was “ridiculous” to see the disparity of scores based on the draw. And he had a point — the top 14 on the leaderboard after Friday at Royal Troon had all played in the morning in the rain but very little wind.
“I’ve looked at the draw, and when it hasn’t gone my way, focused too heavily upon that fact,” Rose said. “And this week, I just embrace whatever side of the draw I happen to be on and just compete to the best of my abilities. So we’ll see what happens.”
McIlroy was asked if he had ever seen a player who gave up after realizing he was on the wrong side of the draw. He thought back to 2011 at Royal St. George’s, where McIlroy went 74-73 on the weekend. He complained that week about the conditions and said he would rather play when it’s 80, sunny and not windy.
“I was on the wrong side of it at St. George’s and wasn’t very happy about it,” McIlroy said. “Made some comments that I probably shouldn’t have made. So, yeah, have I been around someone that’s done that?”
He broke into a broad smile and pointed his thumb at his chest.
“Yeah, I have.”
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