Fancy a bet? Curious as to who to watch out for? In need of some nostalgia? Ahead of The Open coming to the North-West, we rang up the local pros to gather their predictions and memories of the world’s oldest golf championship
It’s difficult to move in Merseyside and Lancashire without stumbling upon a golf course. Golfers really are spoilt for choice, and so were we when we decided to ask as many local pros as possible about who they thought would win The Open at Royal Birkdale, who was the wildcard (or one to watch) and what their fondest memory of The Open was. Below are the responses from the men in the know. EJ
Image by Golfers’ Warhouse
BRIAN HODGKINSON, ROYAL BIRKDALE
WINNER: The US Open was a strange event with Rory Mcilroy, Dustin Johnson and Jason Day missing the cut. They all seemed slightly ‘undercooked’ but I am sure by the time The Open arrives they will be back to their best. Despite that I am going to pick Jordan Spieth. To me he has all the attributes of an Open champion at Royal Birkdale. A very thoughtful player, patient, superb short game and as Royal Birkdale is relatively short by modern standards he may not have to hit with his driver, as it can let him down at times.
ONE TO WATCH/WILDCARD: Again the shorter course lends itself to the straighter hitter who hits a lot of greens. Before the US Open I might have picked out local boy Tommy Fleetwood but know he is regarded as one of the favourites so I am going to pick Matthew Fitzpatrick. He knows the course and has displayed an ability to maintain his position when in contention, he is also is a very nice young man.
MEMORY: This will be my fifth Open Championship being attached to Royal Birkdale, the previous four have all had so many good memories attached, so to pick one is difficult but I will go back to my first in 1983. It was late on a Tuesday evening when I wandered down to the practice ground after a long day in the shop where I met Alfie Fyles, a Birkdale caddie who caddied for Tom Watson amongst others. He sat me down to watch his boss practice chipping and it was a masterclass. Easily the most impressive I have seen in golf. I am certain that Tom Watson’s chipping prowess was a major factor in him having such an outstanding Open Championship record.
BRYAN JOELSON-MULHALL, ALLERTON MANOR
WINNER: I think Henrik Stenson will be the first back to back winner since Padraig Harrington in 2008. He finished tied 3rd last time the Open was at Royal Birkdale so has good form in The Open and at this year’s host course.
ONE TO WATCH/WILDCARD: Tommy Fleetwood has to be the one to watch. Great year so far and solid performance in the US Open finishing 4th. He will have the local support and the crowds behind him.
MEMORY: Being in the stand on the 18th at Royal Birkdale when Justin Rose held his pitch shot for birdie in 1998, the noise from the crowd was deafening and he finished in a tie for 4th as a 17-year-old amateur. I went every day that year (I took a week off school) and it was the best week of education I’ve ever had.
Image by B The Club
GAVIN ABSON, WEST LANCASHIRE
WINNER: Personally I believe Rory McIlroy will win The Open. He’ll be playing in the Irish Open as a warm up for the event – which is being held at Portstewart Golf Club – and I believe this, along with a few weeks of practicing, will allow him to peak at just the right time.
ONE TO WATCH/WILDCARD: I will be very interested to see how local favourite, Tommy Fleetwood gets on. He knows the course well, he’s playing arguably the best golf of his career and he has a great caddie and close friend on the bag in Ian Finnis, who happens to be a member at West Lancs.
MEMORY: My best memory of the Open has to be seeing Henrik Stenson win at Royal Troon last year. Having worked at Royal Troon for two years, it was fantastic to see him and Phil Mickelson go head to head on a course I am so familiar with. Also Henrik’s caddie, Gareth Lord, is a good friend of mine so I was pleased for him too.
ALAN GIBBONS, CALDY
WINNER: On current form I would say Jordan Spieth is definitely up there now. He won last week in America (The Travelers Championship) and he’s putting well again. He’s quite a streaky player, but when he gets in good form he gets in good form. Definitely Jordan if I was going to put my money on anyone.
ONE TO WATCH/WILDCARD: I would have to say going with a local lad, Tommy Fleetwood, would be the wildcard. He played so well at the US Open and being a Merseyside lad he’ll know Royal Birkdale like the back of his hand.
MEMORY: One of my best memories was at Birkdale, the year Justin Rose held out. Dwarfed by the likes of Faldo and so on, was great to see a streaky little amateur do so well. I watched him all day on the Thursday and I was just amazed at this little whipper snapper of a kid. I wasn’t there for the chip at the 18th unfortunately, but I do remember going out to play [at Caldy], getting ready to lock up the shop, getting a call and then running back in to watch that chip on the big screen in the clubshop.
BRIAN SEDDON, HILLSIDE
WINNER: It’s not that easy these days, is it? In 2016 all the winners of the majors were first time winners. Obviously what Tommy Fleetwood did in the US with a top four finish, he must be one of the favourites, especially being a local lad. He’s certainly played Royal Birkdale a few times. But you wouldn’t bet against Sergio [Garcia] either.
ONE TO WATCH/WILDCARD: There’s quite a few out there that can do it and they gain confidence because there are a lot of first time winners. There’s not been the likes of Tiger Woods winning so many in a row for a while. I would say Justin Rose because he finished in the top four as an amateur so he’ll be happy to come back. I remember him qualifying at Hillside that year.
MEMORY: My favourite memory is probably meeting Tom Watson, it might have been the 83’ or 89’ Open, I can’t remember which one. He was a nice guy. You meet quite a lot of the great players being so close to Royal Birkdale.
MIKE ADAMS, WALLASEY
WINNER: I think Justin Rose has a great chance now he has matured into an established USPGA Tour Pro, and how fitting would that be after making a name as a young amateur at Birkdale all these years ago.
ONE TO WATCH/WILCARD: My wild card would be Tommy Fleetwood, but not so much a wild card after his US Open performance.
MEMORY: My greatest memory was walking inside the ropes with Jack Nicklaus for 18 holes on a practice round in the 1976 Open at Birkdale.