Any hopes within the R&A hierarchy that the Open Championship’s return to Royal St George’s would be free from venue-related controversy have been ruined by Brooks Koepka. The four-time major winner used pre‑tournament media duties to pointedly state the Kent course is “not my favourite of the rotation” owing to blind shots and what the American perceives as lack of opportunity for drama.
The tournament organisers would have shuddered at Koepka’s words. St George’s is viewed by many within golf as the poor relation of the Open circuit. Surprise victories for Ben Curtis in 2003 and Darren Clarke eight years later partly fuelled that negativity. Now Koepka, before his seventh Open appearance, has had his say.
“It’s not my favourite venue that we have played,” the American said. “I think Portrush and St Andrews are definitely the favourites. I haven’t seen all 18, I’ll see the back nine today. But quite a few blind tee shots, kind of hitting to nothing. Fairways are quite undulating. I don’t know, it’s not my favourite of the rotation, put it that way.”
Pressed on whether this sentiment affects his confidence level for the fourth and final major of the year – for which he would ordinarily be a leading contender – Koepka said: “It doesn’t matter. I’ve won on golf courses that I’m not a big fan of before. It has nothing to do with it. Still got to get up and go hit the shot and do what I’m supposed to do, so that doesn’t bug me. I don’t care whether I like the place, don’t like it. You’ve still got to play good and go hit the shots.
“Like I said, St Andrews is probably my favourite place in the entire world to play. Portrush two years ago was … I love that place. I thought that was just such a good Open. A fun golf course to play. Really enjoyed that. This one, it’s just not as exciting. I don’t know why. Whether it be a couple shots to nothing, a couple of blind tee shots or shots in where you can’t really see much. I’m not too big of a fan of that.”
It is easy to infer Rory McIlroy once shared Koepka’s view. Yet the Northern Irishman, the 2014 Open winner, appears to have had a change of heart. He finished in a share of 25th here a decade ago. “I walked away from the golf course on Saturday and Sunday thinking this is a much better golf course than I remember it being,” the world No 11 said.
“I think that’s just because of the way it’s playing right now. I think it’s perfect, and as the days go on with a little bit of wind and sunshine, by the weekend it should just be absolutely perfect. It should be playing the way it should play.
“I obviously didn’t have great memories from 2011 the way I played, and playing the last few days this is just my perception; and because of not playing my best that time, I came back here and it’s much better than I remember.”
McIlroy’s missed cut at the Scottish Open last week diminished hopes he may add a second Claret Jug to his CV in the coming days. The 32-year-old, though, is quietly confident. “I hit the ball great on the range yesterday and I hit the ball well today on the course,” he said. “I feel like I figured something out on Sunday and I feel good with it. I feel good about where I am going into the week.”
Meanwhile, the former Masters champion Adam Scott believes it is wrong for the upcoming Tokyo Olympics to take place. Scott was one of a raft of high-profile golfers to withdraw from the Games; – something he has no second thoughts about whatsoever.
“It’s questionable really whether it should go ahead, an event of that scale,” the Australian said. “The fan situation is not good at the moment. I think certain parts of the world don’t understand the fear that the Japanese are experiencing at the moment. They’re not as advanced, vaccination-wise, as some other areas. You have to question whether it’s really a responsible decision to go ahead.”