From the Scottish Open to the British Open, Two Tournaments Linked


The Scottish Open, which tees off Thursday at Gullane Golf Club outside Edinburgh, is one of the most uniquely situated tournaments on the European golfing calendar.

Perhaps no other tournament enjoys such a symbiotic relationship with the one that immediately follows it — for many golf players and fans, the Scottish Open is an annual bellwether of golfing form and playing conditions heading into the British Open a few days later.

Operating in the shadow of a major tournament could create an identity crisis for many tournaments, but for the Scottish Open organizers there is a certain pride that the national tournament of the home of golf should still occupy such a strategically relevant position. In recent years, the European Tour has leaned into that reputation in managing and promoting it.

Peter Adams, director of international championships at the European Tour and until 2017 the Scottish Open tournament director, attributed what he described as “the year-on-year growth of the tournament” partly to the fact that “it’s a good barometer — a good form guide” for the British Open.

Adams said that there was actually a very strong statistical correlation between those golfers who play at the Scottish Open and then play well at the British Open. “It’s an important factor for the tournament — the links factor.”

One aspect of the tournament that Adams said he played a part in shaping — the 2011 switch of venues for the Scottish Open, from the picturesque but sedate Loch Lomond Golf Club to a rotating series of links courses — was a move that had underscored the tournament’s relationship to similar conditions at the British Open.

It’s a decision that registered strongly with players and managers. Mark Steinberg, who represents the 2014 Scottish Open champion Justin Rose, as well as several other elite golfers, including Tiger Woods and Justin Thomas, said that shift in emphasis was significant.

“Of all the events, I’d say the Scottish Open is the most course dependent in determining participation,” he said.

This year, that replicating of potential conditions at the British Open will be even more pronounced. By the time the eventual winner steps off the podium at Gullane on Sunday night, many of the golfers will already be making the 99-mile road journey to Carnoustie Golf Links, about 30 miles north of Gullane on Scotland’s winding North Sea coast. The British Open tees off there on July 19.

A Winning Field

Whoever that Scottish Open winner is, they will be in august company. As the profile and strategic significance of the tournament continues to consolidate, so does the pedigree of its champions.

“It’s worth pointing out the great players who’ve won this tournament,” Adams said. “Just the last five winners, for example. Rafa Cabrera Bello, Alexander Noren, Rickie Fowler, Justin Rose, Phil Mickelson. Incredible players. When you see the winners of major tournaments who’ve also won in Scotland, it’s one players want to win.”

Looking at that list, and their performances in tournaments before and after the Scottish Open, shows the competition is something of an inflection point for players’ fortunes. Cabrera Bello had been in modest form coming into the 2017 event for example. But victory in Scotland propelled him to a top-10 finish in the following week’s British Open. He returns to defend his title this week.

For Noren, the 2016 champion, winning in Scotland started a surge in which he won three more European Tour titles before the end of the year and earned a place in the world’s top 10.

Rose’s win in 2014 followed a victory at the PGA Tour’s Quicken Loans National, his first back-to-back career victories.

Rose was recently quoted on the European Tour website calling that Scottish Open win a “memorable” one in his career: “It was the first time I had gone two in a row, after winning in America the previous week. I really got to love the golf course and had a very special week.”

Rose is one of several golfers at the tournament who have long seen the benefits of the Scottish Open in planning their annual campaigns. Steinberg described Rose’s routine at this time of year, as being “a good six-week period in the U.K. where he’s come off a long stretch competing in the U.S.

“He gets to play, catch up with friends, satisfy some sponsor commitments. And he looks forward to the Scottish Open. His thought is that he likes to play it and truly feel his way” into the British Open championship. “He can acclimatize himself to the conditions again.”

From One Open to the Other

The runway to the British Open is different for every golfer of course, and Steinberg said the current configuration of the golfing calendar offered attractive options.

“The way the European Tour is set up right now, you’ve got three strong events leading into the Open with the Rolex Series playing in France, Ireland then Scotland,” he said. “Some will play France and Ireland and take Scotland off, some will play Ireland and Scotland and take France off. I had Justin Thomas go over to play the French Open, then Matt Kuchar and Justin Rose will be going over to play the Scottish Open.”

The Scottish Open is not only good practice for the British Open, it is also part of a key sequence of tentpole European Tour events in the Rolex Series — with the French, Irish and Scottish Opens following on the heels of each other.

The proximity is no accident. After pointing out the significance of this year’s Open de France being played at the same Le Golf National course that will host this year’s Ryder Cup, Adams emphasized the sequence of links course that follows as having the makings of a summer feature.

“You’ve got this links swing really, which starts with the Irish, goes through the Scottish and then on to the Open Championship,” he said. “So it’s a really attractive time of the year for golfers around the world to come and play in Europe, adjust to the weather and play for great purses on these historic courses. The Rolex Series has added luster.”

Balancing Schedules

Yet players must still make decisions about how to juggle PGA Tour commitments with preparations for the British Open. Francesco Molinari is going straight to the British Open on the back of a runaway victory at the PGA Quicken Loans National, skipping the Rolex Series summer sequence to concentrate on maintaining his PGA standing.

Noren decided to balance the need for momentum going into the British Open with the need for recuperation. He had been rounding into form with a victory at the Open de France, but will not play in Scotland.

His manager, Andreas Lagercrantz, said in an email that Noren’s aim was to arrive at the British Open fresh “and to give some prep for all the big tournaments coming up in August/September.”

For golfers like Noren, who are on the bubble of Ryder Cup selection, the British Open is not the only major event on the calendar to calibrate around this year.

Yet beyond such calculations of whether to play, or looking beyond Gullane to brighter lights up the coast in Carnoustie days later, Adams said there is a fundamental lure for all the competitors this week that will keep them focused on the here and now.

“It’s a chance to win a national championship at one of the homes of golf,” he said.

Source : NYtimes