New Zealand Golf General Manager Dave Mangan is at Royal Lytham & St Annes as a referee for the 141stOpen Championship. The course is steeped in history for Kiwis being the venue where Sir Bob Charles won as a 27-year-old in 1963. Mangan is at the Open courtesy of the Royal & Ancient who have covered his flights and accommodation.
Here is his Blog summing up the final day of The Open that will go down as the one Adam Scott lost and Ernie Els was an unlikely champion.
What an amazing Open Championship and what a devastating finish for poor Adam Scott. Four holes to play and he was marching to victory, pretty much with one hand on the Claret Jug. But winning a major isn't easy and while Ernie Els was a worthy champion you had to feel for Scott.
That dramatic finish aside I did have duties during the final round of the 141st Open Championship and I was to act as the observer for Nick Watney and Anirban Lahiri the ninth to last match due off at 12:55pm.
I got to the course nice and early to watch a bit of golf and catch up with the referee of our match Stuart Lloyd. When you observe the pressure is slightly off and I was looking forward to my final walk around Lytham & St Annes and finishing well in time to watch the leaders play the last few holes.
It's again a nice sunny day and finally a pretty good breeze! The course has dried out and is playing firmer and faster. Both Watney and. Lahiri struggle at the start and drop a few shots. There isn't much for Stuart and I to do although on the sixth hole Lahiri misses the green way left and Stuart is concerned his ball maybe in a grandstand or against a leaderboard and asks me if it is ok. Apart from having to part the crowd the ball is fine. It's an uneventful day. The only real ruling we get is clearing a mobile TV cart. There are lots of these around the course and if one of these is on the payers line between his ball and the hole, if the driver is around they can be moved. In this case the driver was in the buggy so I asked him to move it. Had the driver not been there then it would have taken the status of a TIO and Lahiri would have been entitled to intervention relief.
The field is moving really well and we hardly see the groups in front until we hit the 15th hole. Steve Alker is two groups in front and as we wait on the 16th fairway I watch him hit into 17. A quick peer at the carry-board with his groups shows him at two over. Not too bad, definitely holding his position and Watney and Lahiri are struggling so at least he will jump in front of them.
We reach 18 and the crowds lining the hole are already massive. It is an unbelievable feeling walking down the 18th. The crowd loudly applauds the players as they reach the green and with two balls safely on the green the work for the week is nearly done.
Watney birdies the 18th to sign for a 72 and beat Lahiri by one. They both lost not a lot of ground today and while Watney played pretty tidy golf in the middle of his round, their driving meant they were chasing par on most holes. Stuart and I wait for the players to sign their cards and the week, work wise is over. It's been more than I could have imagined, getting to referee Steve Alker in the first round and have him perform so well, observing two great players Graeme McDowell and Dustin Johnson in round two, refereeing that great group Vijay Singh and Aaron Baddeley in round three and then the assignment today, I feel truly privileged.
Now it's time to sit back and enjoy the finish! Back to the Committee Room and all the finished referees are arriving back in watching it all unravel on the TV in the room. A quick check on the computer I see that Alker birdied 17 and finished at one over in a tie for 19th! Great stuff! Hopefully he takes that form onto the web.com tour for the rest of the year. If you look at the leaderboard he is certainly in esteemed company and takes a few shots of Tiger Woods on Sunday - I bet Adam Scott wishes he could have Alker’s 71!
The feeling in the committee room is pretty relaxed as it looks like Scott is cruising to victory. I'm sitting with Yvonne Cassidy from the LET and we decide to watch Ernie Els putt out on 18 and then we will head greenside to an allocated area for the referees. Els makes birdie to make things slightly interesting at that stage Scott is in the middle of the 17th fairway so off we head.
The area we get on 18 is ridiculous! Right behind the green we are literally leaning on the clubhouse! Possibly the best seats in the house! Tiger hits it in close and the crowd roars, they cheer him onto the green and we are directly behind him and watch his birdie putt drop to further roars. Then an amazing hush comes over the crowd, the leaderboard changes with Scott dropping to seven under after 71 holes! He has now made three bogeys in a row, 30 minutes prior we all thought the Open Championship was over, and now he needs to birdie 18 to win! We can't see his drive but the groans give evidence to a poor drive which finds the bunker. A quick splash out and he has to up and down from more than 100 meters now just to force a playoff. His approach shot is brave and we are on the edge of the green ready to witness history.
I think that everyone around the 18th wanted to see him make the putt - no one wanted to see someone lose like that. When he misses everything is silent and flat. Everyone I'm sure feels for him. It's hard to know what to think as he trudges off the 18th everything is still pretty quiet, no one really knowing what to say, except realizing that golf is a cruel and very tough game. On refection, although Scott dominated most of the event, majors are won on the back nine on Sunday and Scott shot three over par while Els shot four under and in the end was too good.
After the shock of what unfolded is put to rest the crowd doesn’t move at all waiting to see the Chief Executive of the R&A Peter Dawson announce Ernie Els as the Champion Golfer of the Year. After watching the presentation and hear him mention that line so many times on the TV on a Monday morning in New Zealand, it is so cool to be there. Els gets a great reception from the crowd and we’re off and on to a champagne reception.
It's the end of a wonderful week and two things stand out. Firstly the generosity and organisation of the R&A is second to none. From their hardworking staff to all of the committee members in attendance we are looked after so well all week. Secondly the skill level of the players just doesn't come across on television. To be up close and watch how good their ball striking is as they get around what was a very difficult course is impressive. They are all just so good around the greens. Hopefully I'll get another chance to do it all again one day.
Blog Six - Round Three
It's not every day you get to referee a former World No.1 and major winner but today I have been given match number 10 with Vijay Singh and Aaron Baddeley. I try to tell myself that it shouldn't matter who you referee, but the bigger the player the higher the nerve levels are. Singh is a legend of the game and Baddeley, a Presidents Cup representative and PGA Tour winner, is no slouch himself. I certainly didn't expect to receive such a high profile group in my first Open Championship, but I'll take it!
The other slightly worrying thing is that at 9:45am this is my earliest assignment of the week and there is a small chance I could over sleep! I set my phone alarm, the radio in the room and book a wakeup call with reception, don't think turning up late would be a good look. I shouldn’t have worried too much as my sleep in anticipation of the big day ahead means I'm wide awake at 5am!
I have breakfast and make my way to the course where play is scheduled to start at 8:00am. The referees out with the early groups are all getting their bits and pieces ready and checking the board for any updated information. The main talking point this morning though is what to wear! The English summer has finally arrived and it is sunny and warm. The previous days it was an easy choice - shirt, jersey and waterproof jacket - the Met Service boys tell us it will be nice and warm all day, so I like most opt for just the shirt for the first time this week.
9.15am rolls round pretty quickly and it's time to collect my radio and head to the first tee. As I get there we go thought the usual process of meeting the scorer, bunker raker and carry board holder. I head to the tee shake Ivor Robson’s hand and wait for the players. Both players left it pretty fine with their arrival to the first tee and as I was about to report that to base, that we had no players on the tee - they quickly appeared. After pleasantries were exchanged I ask the caddies as per instructions to check that there are 14 clubs in the bag and we’re ready to go.
Baddeley’s first tee shot is poor and heads left and looks as though it finds a bunker - there are some on the course which are still water logged and I hope this isn't one of them. Singh finds the middle of the green and we stride off down the first. I quickly take a look at Baddeley's ball in the bunker and fortunately it has no water in it although his lie is awful. A good bunker shot sees his ball eight feet from the pin and he knocks it on for a par, while Singh two putts.
We are told only to talk to players when spoken to and I am quite surprised that when walking off the second tee, Singh comes over and starts a discussion about the bunkers with water in them this week. He can't quite understand how there is still water in them today and I inform him it's due to the water table being so high. After clearing that up he gives his views on the relief they should get from casual water in the bunkers and not surprisingly from a players point of view he thinks they should be allowed to place the ball to avoid it getting plugged in the wet sand. He is very friendly though and in a good mood - it puts me at ease for the rest of the round.
Baddeley makes birdie and Singh par and we walk back to the third tee. Baddeley being first to play flies his ball into a fairway bunker. Casual water in the bunker, plugged ball in the face scenarios run through my head. Singh then loses his tee shot way right. It clatters into the trees and I know there is out of bounds there too, but the Marshall's wave their bright yellow signs, so it must have been found. I quickly check the bunker and Baddeley’s ball is ok although he can only splash out. Fortunately Singh's ball is free from any ruling situations, although a nasty lie in thick rough and trees forces him to lay up also.
Baddeley misses the green right and Singh finds the green as we near the green Baddeley calls me over and first ruling of the day is done as he needs simple abnormal ground relief. Both players make bogey and Baddeley follows it up with another at the fourth.
The Aussie is struggling with his driving and off the sixth hits it way left. It's another long walk to his ball wondering what nasty scenarios may lie ahead. On the walk Baddeley talks to me for the first time. He is keen to know a few things about the rules around bunkers. He was unaware that if he wanted to declare his ball unplayable in a bunker he had to drop it in the bunker with the two club lengths (28a) and straight back option (28b) and could only bring it out of the bunker if he went back to where he last played it (28c). I clear that up for him and he is quite surprised.
Both players bogey the sixth and with them both two over through six they aren't having a great moving day. Off the seventh Baddeley is again wayward with his drive going way right, again I'm called over and this time deny abnormal ground relief, to Baddeley's displeasure. After some disagreement I call the rover on the hole, European Tour Chief Referee Andy Mcfee, who backs up my decision.
Baddeley recovers well to make par and Singh makes birdie which he follows up with another on eight. A good iron into the ninth sees another birdie opportunity but it just slides by. Baddelely meantime is in the right greenside bunker and drops another shot.
That's the story for the next few holes. Singh is starting to play really well. His ball striking is impressive but he can't get a putt to drop. Walking to the 13th I chat with his caddy and get a small insight to what a hard taskmaster Singh is and how hard he works himself. They have been here practicing since last Tuesday!
There are a few more moments of worry as Baddeley hits a tee shot way right on 14 and Singh hits his way right on 17. Fortunately in both cases apart from moving the crowds, nothing else on my part is required. We finally make it to the 18th tee and with two good drives away I can relax and enjoy the walk down. The reception the players get as they walk down 18 is really cool and it has been another amazing experience of an already amazing week. It's a shame that Baddeley wasn't quite at his best and another dropped shot on 18 sees a 74 for him. Singh has fought back well to shoot 68 after being 2 over early. It's easy to see how he was the World’s No.1 player and has won multiple majors. Today if his putter had been really hot he could have gone much lower, which I believe has been the story of his career, highlighted by the fact he is still wielding the belly putter.
My day is now done and on reflection it is pretty cool to think I have refereed a game at The Open with such high profile players in it. It's only 1.30pm so I grab some lunch before heading to the first tee to watch the only Kiwi in the field Steve Alker tee off in the sixth last group with World No.1 Luke Donald. The grandstand at the tee and green are packed and I'm sure it was a huge thrill for Steve. His first tee shot looks online but comes up a bit short and he can't get it up and down and makes bogey. Five pars and a birdie on seven rights the ship, but the back nine is playing tough and he signs for a 72 back to fall back to even for the event in a tie for 22nd. Hopefully he can go low tomorrow and pick up a good cheque. [He finished tied 18th]
I watch a bit of golf and head back to the committee room to spend some time with the other referees reflecting on each other’s days. It's an interesting day for the leaders with Adam Scott charging to the front with Graeme McDowell making up ground too. Tiger doesn't do too much and Brandt Snedeker has a bad day, but isn't out of it. Scott finishes the day four shots in front and I guess tomorrow there will another Kiwi out there with Steve Williams is on his bag. Everyone wants to see Tiger in the last group with Scott, as there is a fair bit of history there, but Woods doesn't finish well and will again be in the second to last group. The wind is supposed to get up tomorrow for the first time this week and while it would be great to see Scott win, I guess I have to cheer for McDowell seeing as he was in the group I observed on Friday.
We head off to dinner and during that time the final round assignments come through and as expected I will be observing tomorrow with match 33 at 12.55pm. The players in the group are Nicky Watney from the USA and the Indian golfer Anirban Lahiri who made a hole in one on the ninth today. With nine groups behind us it will be good to get in early and find a nice spot in the 18th grandstand to hopefully view am exciting finish of the 141st Open Championship
Day 5 - Round two
The second round of the Open Championship for me is slightly more relaxed than yesterday. Firstly I have a nice leisurely tee time of 2:32pm and secondly I will be an observer today instead of a referee so a little bit of pressure is off. However, the bonus is two of the best players in the world Graeme McDowell and Dustin Johnson are in our group game 43.
Acting as a walking referee or observer at an event is a slightly different feeling for me compared to what my usual roll at our national events as tournament director is. Instead of being one of the first to arrive (apart from the hard working green staff) and one of the last to leave, we are only required to be at the course for our allotted match. When I wake at a reasonable hour and read that heavy overnight rain has further water logged the course, I think of the R&A staff who will have been at the course at first light this morning after no doubt leaving late last night.
Turning on the television to watch some of the early play there is a lot of attention surrounding the bunkers, showing green staff feverishly trying to clear them of causal water before the players get there. Despite their hard work the water table is so high that casual water will remain in them all day. This will mean that there will be some tricky rulings as while players are entitled to free relief from this water there is a chance that dropping where there is relief may mean a tough stance, and in some cases players may not even be able to stand in the bunkers, forgetting about the risky business of having to drop the ball in a wet bunker, where the ball may plug.
I arrive at the course a few hours before my tee time to soak it all up again. The best news of the day so far is the performance of Steve Alker. He played so well yesterday when I refereed him I wasn't surprised to see him perform well again - I catch his birdie putt on 18 to sign for a second consecutive 69. The back nine at Lytham is a lot harder than the front nine and Steve is five under on the back nine this week! I bump into Steve and his wife Tanya who is here caddying for him - I wish him the best for the weekend and at the end of the day when the draw for round three is done he is playing with the world number 1 Luke Donald ! What a great thrill that will be for him - hopefully my Saturday assignment will allow me some time to watch him play a few holes.
Walking around you quickly realize the massive scale of The Open and all the extras that are available for the public. The village that is created is massive. Everything is also very interactive. You can go and hit balls down the virtual 18th in a long drive competition in the HSBC marquee and even play out of an exact replica of the Road Hole bunker at St Andrews. There are three hitting nets set up by the R&A where you can book a lesson with a teaching pro. As well as all these interactive zones there are a mass of temporary pubs and food stalls not to mention the huge merchandise marquee. You could spend hours in this area before you even stepped foot on the golf course to watch the golf!
After spending some time in this area its back off to the committee room to catch up with John Bodenhamer who I will be observing for today. We collect our radios and head off to the first tee to meet our team for the day and the players. The main role of an observer is to walk ahead of the group and report back to the referee any rules situations that may arise so they can mentally prepare themselves as they walk towards their balls.
With the pressure of refereeing off, I'm excited about getting the chance to watch two of the best players in the world in Graeme McDowell and Dustin Johnson. McDowell is in contention starting the round at three under and Johnson Is at three over with maybe a bit of work to do to make the cut. An added bonus of the day is Lee Westwood and Bubba Watson are in the group in front so with me having to walk in front I get to watch a bit of them as well.
The first three holes are all pretty straight forward until the third player in the group Hiroyuki Fujita finds a bunker on the fourth filled with water. Fortunately for Fujita the relief option isn't too bad and he gets relief and makes his up and down. The next hole McDowell calls over John to ask if there is a stone lying behind his ball. In the local rules stones in bunkers are deemed to be movable obstructions allowing players to remove them if they are near their ball. John tells McDowell that he cannot determine if something is a stone or not, that is up to the player, and McDowell doesn't take the risk to remove what he thought may be a stone. If he had removed it and it turned out just to be a lump of dirt or shell then he would have incurred a two stroke penalty.
That's the final time that either of us are required to do anything for the rest of the round, barring moving the crowd and a few ropes for a couple of wayward shots. Both McDowell and Johnson play well, McDowell drives it very well although he hits a few poor iron shots but his short game is amazing and on most occasions he saves his par. He shoots 69 for the round and At four under par he is right in it. Johnson hits the ball a mile and on at least half a dozen occasions the Marshall's on each hole comment that his drive is the longest of the day. He hardly holes a putt all day but shoots 68 and successfully makes the cut.
The pace of play today is very good and we are under our time par coming of 17. The walk down 18 is pretty awesome, the crowds love McDowell and the players get a stirring welcome onto the 18th green by the packed grandstands. The crowds all day around our group have been massive and I can only imagine they are going to increase over the weekend. Our day is finally done at 7.00pm two minutes ahead of schedule. John and I hand in our radios and enjoy a beer in the committee room as we watch the last few groups finish on television. The cut is hovering around 2 or 3 over and with Westwood and Tom Watson on three over the crowds certainly are hoping that the cut slips to three over which is does.
With the late finish we miss the usual committee dining and its room service tonight as we wait for the draw for round three to be completed and our assignments to be sent through. I am expecting to head out refereeing an early group or observing one of the final groups of the day and at 10:15pm I find out that I'm off tomorrow at 9:45am with match 10. I have heard of the two players in the group before too - Vijay Singh and Aaron Baddeley!
Wow, didn't expect that, no doubt it will be pretty awesome tomorrow referring a former world number one and major winner!! Best of all my day will be done pretty early and I will be able to go out and cheer on Steve Alker and watch him play alongside the world number 1!!
After all the waiting all the preparation over the last three days. The countless walks around the course, deliberating over TIOs, metal finding and immovable obstructions round one finally arrived and I was the walking referee for match 29 at 11:53am.
Things had changed slightly over night and for round two I was scheduled to referee Richard Finch and Garth Mulroy, however Robert Hansen had withdrawn and the draw had changed slightly. This meant my group was gone and on Friday I will now be an observer with Graeme McDowell, Dustin Johnston and Hiroyuki Fujitsu. Lee Westwood and Bubba Watson are in the group in front and Tiger Woods is in the group behind, so while there is a small amount of disappointment in that I won't be referring, the new assignment quickly gets me over that !
The first morning of any event everyone always seems on edge and even though most here are the most experienced officials in the world, nothing changes. After a pretty restless nights sleep, thinking about everything that could go wrong I make my way to the course to catch up with Andrew Langford Jones and watch him start his round. I watch him Introduce himself to the players, ask the caddies that they have checked there are 14clubs in the bag and then he is off on his day. Walking around following Langers for a bit and watching other groups seems to ease the nerves, nothing seems to be going wrong - the players are so good they rarely stray too far from the fairways and greens.
I get back to the office and go over everything one last time. Read the local rules, go over a couple of decisions that the R&A guys have recommended we go over. Looking around the office everyone is doing the same thing too, that's slightly reassuring. The referees all slowly leave in 11 minute intervals to go collect their radios and head to the first tee. My 1153am start time nears and I collect all my bits and pieces for the course and collect my radio - do a sound check and I'm off to the first tee ! The second surprise of the day comes when I meet the walking scorer Janet who has a score sheet for Steve Alker, Lee Slattery and Michael Thompson ?? Huh - I thought I had Russ Cochrane. A quick check with base confirms that at 9am Cochrane pulled out and the first reserve Thompson is in. He has travelled all the way from the USA and has been here since 5am waiting to see if someone will pull out. Thompson most recently finished runner up at the us open behind Webb Simpson - so has some major form.
I introduce myself to my friends for the day - the bunker raker, Aser, carry board holder warren and walking scorer Janet. Part of the role of the walking referee is to also look after these three people that are with each group. I introduce myself to the open championship starter ivor Robson, anyone who has watched the open will know his distinctive voice that introduces each player to the crowds. The players arrive and I introduce myself to them as well, it's nice to see Steve I hope that having a fellow kiwi with the group makes him feel at ease. Having him in group certainly makes me feel a lot better. I take a look around the grandstand and it's not that full, which takes a bit more pressure off then I notice the plethora of television cameras. thats right even if I do stuff up in front of a few hundred people here, that's maybe not so bad but there are millions watching at home !
The throat gets a little dryer and the heart beats a little faster.
As Ivor introduces the players to the tee it really sinks in that I'm not in new Zealand in the middle of the night watching it on tv, I am actually here at the Open Championship refereeing a game. It's an amazing privilege to get to do what I do, and the experience till now has exceeded every expectation I had heading over here. The organization from the R&A leaves no stone left unturned the only thing that can go wrong now it that I stuff up !! Right for the next 18 holes don't make a mistake I tell myself
The first hole is a par three with a lot of metal fencing to the left, for the last 12 hours all I have been dreading is a ball on the first hole resting up against this, and a lengthy ruling required ! Fortunately these guys are good and all the tee shots find the green, including Steve's which is only 6 ft away and he causally knocks it in for a birdie to start !!
First hole down without too much difficulty and I start to think when do I want my first ruling ? Will I even get one at all ?? I don't have to wait to long as on the second hole, Thompson tugs his tee shot slightly left and it is right next to a tv cable. The cable is a movable obstruction so I advise Thomson to mark his ball without lifting it and we move the cables. During this process his ball isn't disturbed so he removes the tee marking it and ruling one is done. It feels good to get this out of the way, and a nice simple one too boot ! As soon as I relax and feel happy for myself thompson airmails the green up against the grandstand. He calls me over and I inform him that as per the local rules in play this week all the grandstands are TIOs and if a player wants relief and is entitled to it they must head to the nearest drop zone. As his ball is against the grandstand he is Entitled to relief and this grandstand has only one drop zone so we go there to put his ball back in play.
Jeepers two holes down, two rulings done, could be a busy day.
Those two out of the way I start to relax a bit more and start to enjoy the walk watching the three players play pretty impressive golf. Alker is playing really well, hitting the centre stripe of each fairway and finding the middle of each green. Then from 40ft on the 5th hole disaster strikes and he 4 putts to drop to 2 over par. The 6th hole is a beast as well and another shot is dropped there, but he strikes straight back with a birdie at the par 5 7th.
During that time I did manage my third ruling of the day as Alker called me over to the 10th green to question if his ball was unfit for play. Under the rules it is unfit for play if it is visibly cut, cracked or out of shape - but not if it's surface is scratched or scrapped or it's paint is damaged or discouraged. I have a look at the ball and in my opinion it is the later, so he is unable to substitute another ball. Alker doesn't argue and proceeds to two putt for a par.
With the group on the clock they play quickly down the 13th and 14th where Alker misses the green to the left and calls me over. Hs ball is lying in a wet, slightly muddy area. He says that he cant see any causal water but wants abnormal ground relief. The R&A have allowed the referees to give relief if we feel the ground is abnormal however I view this one as 50/50 and in these instances it is easiest for us to call on one of the rovers, to maintain consistency across the whole field. As JP has the group in the clock I wave him over and he refuses Alker abnormal ground relief. His explanation of it is good and fair and i agree with what he says, and am very glad i made the decision to call him over. The lie isn't idea and the area is pretty wet and there are areas of not too much grass but as JP tells Alker it isn't abnormal. Alker isn't over the moon and after closer inspection they look very closely under the ball and declare the the ball is in a slight amount of water, so causal water relief is now given, he makes a great recovery and par.
The 15th and 17th are the two toughest holes on the course and Alker makes a great bridge to get back to even par for the tournament, follows that up with birdie on the 16th. As an impartial referee its kind of hard not to yell out "come on" he is playing some fantastic gofl, his driving is amazing. Two great par saves on 17 and 18 he finishes 1 under and in a tie for 22nd currently. He played so well all day minus the 4 putt, and had a few more not burnt the lip he could have really gone low. The group is third out tomorrow so he should get good scoring conditions and hopefully make the cut.
Slattery has a very good day as well and was 3 under with 2 to play but unfortunately dropped shots on 17 and 18. Thompson also played well but his tiny mistakes seemed to really get compounded but that is the nature of this very tough course. He signs for a 74 and will have a bit of work to do tomorrow to make the cut.
All three guys were just so impressive with their ball striking and gentleman as well, it was a pleasure to walk with them.
So before I knew it my day was done. We got round in 4 hours 38 minutes too which I thought was really good, I'm sure if the wind blowed a bit more we may have been out there for a bit longer. The relief of the day being over is pretty good, I hope that I get another chance on the weekend. I return my radio and my rules incidents and timing sheet and grab a drink In the committee room. Over the next hour the referees slowly make their way back in sharing their stories from the day. Everyone has had a good day, and so far avoided that nightmare ruling.
Looking forward to tomorrow already. It will be great to be right in the thick of the action and the experience of observing with Senior USGA official John Bodenhamer as the referee of our match due off at 2.32 will be awesome.
Wednesday at the Open championship is all about final preparations; for the players, green staff, TV crews and the rules officials for the week. Our day starts with a rules meeting at 8.30am. The R & A leave nothing to chance and come 2pm we should be as prepared for any eventuality as we can be.
The preparations for this year’s open have been slightly hampered by the English summer and the course at St Anne's took heavy rain overnight. This left casual water in a lot of the bunkers on course.
David Rickman from the R&A delivers the rules briefing to the attending officials. Even though some of them are the most experienced in the world, each situation that could possibly arise on most holes is covered. We are given a small blue folder which contains all the information we need, local rules, the R&A hard card, suspension of play procedures as well as a hole by hole guide identifying everything on each hole.
For me as a referee having mostly covered amateur events the amount of "furniture" on the course is the hardest thing for me to get my head around. The Open Championship has large grandstands and TV towers on every hole.
These are called temporary immovable obstructions, or TIOs. Some of them are very close to greens and fairways so the players need to be able to get relief from these in the most basic sense if they physically interfere with their swing or if they intervene with their line of play therefore they are in their way!
Another rule new to me is with regards to the metal fencing that keeps the large crowds around holes 18, 1 and 2 off the course. Due to the size of the crowds around these areas, roping isn't enough to keep them at bay. With the metal fencing if a player has hit their ball over the fence and doesn't have physical interference but their ball lies within four club lengths then they can come back on the course side of the fence!
Fortunately for us walking officials - the best referees in the world operate as rovers and there are four on each side of the course only a radio call away if we get stuck.
After going over each hole, pace of play and suspension of play policies are also covered and then were are given our referee assignments for the week!
I had guessed what I might receive earlier in the week and I was right with one part of my guess…I do get paired with Steve Alker, but it's in round one - I will be refereeing right from the start instead of easing my way into it with an observing gig! It's very exciting and nerve wracking news all at the same time and I also get a group to referee on Friday.
After receiving and reading that news the only thing on my mind becomes 11.53 am on Thursday July 19 when match 30 gets underway with Steve Alker, Lee Slattery from England and Russ Cochran from the USA. A quick background check reveals that Slattery is ranked 227in the world and won last year’s Madrid Masters on the European Tour. Cochran is the current Senior British Open champion having also won on the PGA Tour back in 1991. Cochran is also a lefty - so I will have to remember that when he is asking for relief!
Friday for me is also a nice start time of 1131 with one of the two two-balls playing this week due to an anomaly of qualifying; there are 157 players in the field. I’m walking on Friday with 2008 New Zealand Open champion Richard Finch from England and Garth Mulroy from South Africa who is ranked 190 in the world and won the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship on the European Tour last year.
After taking that unexpected news in, it’s off to the 18th for a group photo before heading out on out final walk of the course. All the referees are put into separate groups for the final walk and our group is led by a familiar face in JR Jones – the deputy chairman of the championship committee who I spent some time with on a prior course walk on Monday.
We have a good experienced group which includes Tom O Toole the chairman of the USGA Championship Committee and Simon Higginbottom from the English PGA. All three guys are very experienced officials and are a great help as we walk the course looking at various scenarios that may arise.
At the conclusion of our walk after asking JR a few final questions that I have about metal fencing and TIO's I feel that I am confident that I will be ok tomorrow. Being my first open I thought I would have been observing in round one so I think that I will get to the course early tomorrow and catch up a good friend from the PGA of Australia Andrew Langford Jones or Langers as most people know him as just to watch him prepare and introduce himself to the players on the first tee.
Langers is off at 858 with a great group in Vijay Singh, Nick Watney and Ian Poulter. I think I will probably take the chance to watch them play their first few holes as well.
I briefly touched on the front nine yesterday but as with every golf event the last nine holes will decide the championship and the closing few holes at Lytham & St Annes will certainly sort out the men from the boys.
The 10th hole starts at the far end of the course and the drive on 10 would be one of the toughest on the course. The players have to hit over a mound to a blind fairway when the wind blows into their faces they won't even be able to clear the mound! The 11th is a par five which has been lengthened and the drive almost sees the players hitting over the 10th green - at 601 yards and primarily into the wind this will be a true three shot hole. The 12th is the final par three and is well bunkered like all of the par threes with particular danger for a ball that is hit long.
13 and 14 are relatively short par fours where solid drives will represent good birdie chances, but that may be the players last chance! The last four holes should provide a great spectacle. 15 is a brut 464 yards with the corporate hospitality out of bounds right and deep rough and bunkers left. 16 is short - 358 yards and rumour has it Alvaro Quiros drove it though the green in practice, but if you aren't brave enough to hit driver your iron off the tee had to be pin point to avoid the fairway traps.
The second to last hole is the toughest on the course! Long, tight, dog-legging to the left and severely bunkered. If you are in the championship after 70 holes - waking of 17 with a par will feel like a birdie. Standing on the 18th is intimidating - there is a sea of sand with a dozen odd fairway pots bunkers waiting for an errant drive. Not to mention the massive grandstands creating an amphitheater of intimidation!
Royal Lytham & St Annes is a great course and the set up this week is spot on. The fairways and greens are immaculate and despite the horrendous weather the course has held up very well. I can't wait for things to get under way at 6.19am tomorrow morning! Thank goodness for me I wasn't given that group!
One final thing I should probably add is that after moaning about the English summer the sun does finally come out for the first time in a few weeks! And of course I am caught short with no sunblock or cap and I am now sporting a rather burnt face.... At least it's not raining any more.
The Lytham St Annes Links is a great course with tight fairways and hundreds of pot bunkers. Most of them have that distinct riveted face which give them that real Links characteristic. The first hole is strangely a par 3 measuring 209 yards. It's heavily bunkered and par will be a good start to the Championship. All of the first nine holes with the exception of the fourth head out towards the far end of the course. The second and third holes are tough par 4s with out of bounds to the right. Both are made longer by the fact that most players will hit an iron keeping short of the fierce fairway traps but leaving a longer second shot.
The fourth is a shorter par 4 back towards the clubhouse which, with a good drive may be the players first really good birdie opportunity. The players are then greeted with the second of three par 3s in the front nine. Measuring 219 yards a pin point long iron is required with heavy bunkering to the left and a large fall away to the right.
The sixth hole is the first dog leg hole on the front nine and the fairway turns to the left. Miss the fairway and the players will be facing a 200 yard shot from a pot bunker or heavy rough. Clever bunkering 60 yards short of the green means that if players miss the fairway they will have to lay up short of these.
The first of three par 5s on the course is the seventh and it is dead straight with fairway bunkers waiting for both an errant drive and layup. Going for the green in two is dangerous as a shot leaking to the left or right will result in a ball search in knee high rough. The eighth hole will see a relatively easy iron off the tee, but will demand a precise mid iron to a green raised some 30 yards above the fairway, with severe run offs all around the green. The final hole on the front nine is a little par 3 played from 30 yards above the green surface. Players will be hitting 9 irons and pitching wedges to a heavily bunkered green with a run off behind the green straight into heavy rough. So that's the front nine - back nine tomorrow.
It's nearing lunchtime so I cut my walk short and head back and bump into another familiar face in Steve Kilpatrick. Steve is the father of one of New Zealand's best amateur golfers Keelan Kilpatrick and has been a regular supporter of Keelan's around the New Zealand Amateur circuit as well as having volunteered at his home club Russely at last years Amateur. It's great to see someone from home and I'm sure that Steve and his two other sons Regan and Connell will have a great time at this years Open. Steve had lost Regan and Connell when I saw him but was heading towards the expensive merchandise tent where he figured they were spending his money !
I catch up with Yvonne for lunch and then it's time for another walk around the course. She is a very experienced tournament official and bouncing rules scenarios off her is a useful exercise. No sooner do we comment on how the day hasn't been too bad the heavens open again. It's been a miserable summer in the UK and only the hardy with umbrellas and wet weather gear battle the elements.
I have a meeting with South African golf and the home unions before the close of play so at least the rain hasn't put too much of a damper on the day. It's been another very useful day to familiarize myself with the course as well as getting the chance to get up close and watch many of the players during their practice rounds.
I am fortunate enough to have been invited to referee at the 141st Open Championship and the 11th at Royal Lytham St Annes, the venue where Sir Bob Charles became New Zealands first Major champion back in 1963.
I arrived into Lytham late last night and it was finally great to see a large Open Championship sign. After spending some time in London, where all everyone is talking about is the Olympics, it’s business time and the Lancashire region will be gripped with Open fever for the rest of the week. After spending the last 10 years watching the final round of the Open through the night and taking Mondays off work, this year I will be present and will get to observe or referee four matches while I am here.
My day starts with a run around the course and local area to get my bearings, the course is actually only a few hundred metres away. I’m told that this is one of the great beauties of the Open at Royal Lytham and St Annes, whereby everyone is able to stay close to the course and I will be walking to Lytham for my duties each day.The run around the course gives me a first insight into what a massive operation the Open Championship is. Everything has to be built around this small compact venue, but the temporary structures are all of the highest quality. You can’t imagine that the massive two story hospitality buildings will be pulled down on Monday morning. Such is the compactness of the course it doesn’t take long to run around and I am back to the accommodation for breakfast, now having seen the venue, I can’t wait to get back and check in. As I enter the main entrance Darren Clarke the defending champion is handing over the trophy he has held for the past year to the Chief Executive of the R&A Peter Dawson and conducting media interviews. I’m sure that he will have a few to do over the next couple of days before he starts the defence of his title on Thursday. As I walk around with eyes wide open I almost bump into Rory McIlroy as he casually chats with a few people, then Dustin Johnson walks past on his phone (which incidentally everyone is allowed at the Open this year!). It suddenly sinks in that I’m at the Open!
I see a couple of familiar faces in the CEO of Golf Australia Steven Pitt and their Chairman John Hopkins and after some trans-tasman ribbing it’s time to check in with the Rules Office.
There are over 70 rules officials who have been invited to assist with the Championship this week and it must be a tough task organising accommodation, accreditation and uniforms for all the officials in attendance, let alone the army of volunteers. However the check in process goes very smoothly thanks to the friendly R&A staff and I am quickly through to get my uniform sorted. This year Ralph Laren are the suppliers. An army of staff measure us and ensure that everything fits and the kit we are given is not only very generous but also of the highest quality. My gear all fits me straight off the rack, but had I needed, the trousers would have been taken up! Not a bad touch…
As I leave the fitting room I also pick up probably the most important piece of kit this week – an umbrella!! The English summer hasn’t been the kindest this year (worst on record I often hear!) and the heavens have just opened! With rain pouring down, the committee room where officials will eat during the week becomes home for the next few hours. As a rules official, preparation for the week is the key and we are supplied with a great deal of information to assist us with our duties during the week. As the rain falls it is a good time to familiarise myself with the information in the folder supplied to us. On each hole every thing that may come into play is identified as is its status, whether it be an immovable obstruction, TIO, integral part of the course etc.
While the rain falls it also seems like a perfect time to hit the merchendise tent, early in the week. The tent is massive as is the whole corporate village. Around the driving range the sponsors display their product. In addition to the merchendising there are many temporary pubs and fish and chip stalls.
Back in the committee room I am fortunate to eat lunch with JR Jones the deputy chairman on the Championship committee and Chris Hilton the Chairman of the Rules Committee. I am invited to attend a course walk with them and as far as a rules experience goes it is the most beneficial few hours of my career. As I said earlier, being prepared for any eventuation is the key this week and we look at many senarios that may arise on course.
We head to the first tee and wouldn’t you know it on the tee is the only New Zealander in the field and the first New Zealander to play the Open in a few years, Steve Alker. I say hi and wish him all the best for the Championship – it would be great to see him do well. I have a feeling that it won’t be the last I will see of him this week as the R&A do tend to pair referees with their fellow country-men when it is possible.
The course walk is very informative and the course is spectacular and very very tough! With another walk around the course again tomorrow I'll go more into each hole then.
At the start of the walk we are encouraged to spend a bit of time on the first tee and Chris and JR tell us to soak up the surroundings especially noticing the closeness of the large grandstand, so we are not too nervous come Thursday or Friday, whenever our first assignment as a referee may be. As I look around and picture the grandstand full and Ivor Robson standing there doing his usual starting duties, I start to get my first nerves for the week. The first thing I notice about the course is just how dry and firm it is despite the poor English summer, the beauty of links golf is that despite what mother nature throws, in the main part, these courses hold up. We spend the next four hours going over the course in reasonable detail discussing various senarioes that may arise. With another couple of walks around the course over the next two days, I feel confident that I'll be ready when I start my first match.
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