During the summer, an entire nation was aboard the “It’s coming home” World Cup bandwagon – including many of us in and around St Andrews – however now, instead of football being the topic of discussion in our small town, it is golf.
There is no systematic way to introduce this unique, prestigious event that strays away from our notion of a typical golf tournament. Golfers, united with other greats in the world of sports, are paired with celebrities, politicians and youngsters alike, to test their golfing skills and endure Scottish weather at Kingsbarns, Carnoustie and on the Old Course, the “Home of Golf”. The pros, vying for another piece of silverware, are always eager to shoot low numbers in line with the notion there isn’t a point in colonising other courses if you haven’t done so at the sport’s origin. But for the rest, paparazzi coverage and good-old banter with fellow icons tick their boxes for the weekend. St Andrews welcomed the likes of Piers Morgan, Hugh Grant, Shane Warne, Bill Murray, and Kevin Pietersen, amongst many others this year. Although they arrived with a wealth of experience in journalism and punditry, acting and producing, and cricket respectively, the game of golf is a levelled playing field where accolades exogenous to the game had an impact this weekend – well in exception of the fact their mere presence drew dozens of starry-eyed admirers, many being students, to follow the proceedings.
The Alfred Dunhill Links Championship is the single annual major professional tour event to be played on the hallowed turf of the Old Course. The concept of having both an individual tournament for the pros and a simultaneous Pro-Am, adds a different dimension to the event. This weekend played testament to the fact that golf is a game for the ages; proven by the participation of many retired sporting legends along with celebrities and personalities who have approached the twilight of their careers.
Prior to the tournament, many downplayed the potential of Dunhill due to the so-called “ hang-over” effect of the previous weekend’s Ryder Cup and soon closing of the 2018 golf season. However, these concerns and myths were dispelled from Thursday’s onset, with a stalwart in Padraig Harrington asserting a strong statement early on shooting 3 under Par (-3) at Kingsbarns, only to be bettered by Marcus Fraser and Matt Wallace who both shot an impressive 4 under (-4) at Carnoustie. Those who were drawn to commence their challenge at the Old Course found it a tad difficult early on.
As the weekend approached, those best suited to Links golf surged ahead. Tyrell Hatton, victorious at this event in 2016 and 2017, recorded rounds of 66 on Friday and Saturday, playing a commendable and steady brand of golf to take the lead going into the final round on Sunday. The history books beckoned Hatton, and a win on Sunday would enrol him in an elite club comprising of just two other players, Colin Montgomerie and fellow Englishman Sir Nick Faldo, to have won a tour event for three consecutive years. It seemed inevitable that Hatton, a recent Ryder Cup victor as well, would coast his way to victory as his demeanour on the course was unfaltering and unflawed.
However, golf is a game of uncertainties and one which requires you to be at your best at all times. No lead is inextinguishable, and if a player allows pressure to wear them down on the course, they could descend from riches to rags in the blink of an eye. Unfortunately for Hatton, the Golfing Gods threw him a curveball on Sunday and one that will not be forgotten soon. Holding onto a five-shot lead as he made his way to the 10th tee, the two-time defending champion looked set to clinch a hat-trick of triumphs, but the Hatton we had seen and admired till this stage was on another paradigm in comparison to the man who made careless and very costly errors on the back 9. With the trophy in sight, he was losing his grip at an alarming rate, dropping shots at a canter in similar style to those we’ve seen on memorable Sundays by the leader, like Adam Scott’s steep descent at the Open in 2012, Hatton’s collapse resulted in him being toppled by Dane Lucas Bjerregaard, who scripted a great round of 67 in difficult, murky conditions.
The Old Course took us all by surprise on Sunday. On a day when easy scoring opportunities were expected, it seemed as though it would be tough for the rest of the field to bridge the gap Hatton created. However, the Old Course prides itself on being the unprecedented “ Home of Golf” at the helm at all time. It taught Tyrell Hatton and the eager followers a lesson we would never forget- it is never over till the last putt is sunk.