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British Open 2023: Why the Open wrecks golf swings

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Jared C. Tilton

HOYLAKE, England — Nobody quite understands why, but ask players, ask caddies, ask coaches, and you'll find it's a near universally accepted truth.

Whether you realize it, there's a subconscious strand to your golf swing. One which seems to know you're aiming too far to the right, even when you don't think you are. One that makes compensations in your golf swing to help you undo some other technical flaw, without you even realizing. Some element deep in golfers' brains seems to understand the primary task at hand: To attempt to hit your ball at your target.

But those good intentions always seem to cause players peculiar issues at the Open Championship.

Golf swings move around at the Open, more than any other tournament in golf. An instinctive reaction to severe conditions, strange habits—sometimes ones the coach or player have never seen before—start to appear

It creates a kind of game of golf swing whack-a-mole, with the player and coach trying to fix problems as soon as they arise.

The driving range issue

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Jared C. Tilton

The driving range is usually a safe space for players. At the Open, it's a hazard.

Whereas on the golf course players will criss-cross around, facing the wind from every direction, it's not so on the range. Players stand in one spot with one wind direction, hitting balls for upwards of 30 minutes.

On Monday and Tuesday, the wind on the range blew from left-to-right, which is perhaps the most problematic wind for players.

Most pros hit small fades as their stock shot, but pair a left-to-right ball flight with a left-to-right wind, and that small fades starts to look like a big slice. That's when pros' instinct to straighten out the ball flight kicks in.

"Let's say you're in no wind, the player's comfortable, and the player is hitting a cut. Let's say the club path is three degrees [from out-to-in]. I've seen it move to six, seven degrees," Best in State Treacher Joe Mayo, who coaches Viktor Hovland, says. "They just keep pulling it up against the wind so they can hit their cut."

This shows up in other ways, too.

Into wind, some players will start leaning into their left side at setup as a way of keeping the ball down. On hardpan turf, the ball position will creep back to help them hit more down on the golf ball. Sometimes, even the speed of their swing will change, and throw off their distance control.

"They're trying to spin off the ball," legendary coach Pete Cowen says. "Their 6-iron will start going closer to their 7-iron distance, because they're trying to take the spin off and keep the ball low."

And when they finally get off the range and onto the course, some nasty surprises lurk.

"Guys who like to hit fades will start closing the clubface, then they'll get out on the golf courses and start hitting hooks and no idea why. Well, it's because they were just practicing in left-to-right wind for 30 minutes," Best in State Teacher Jeff Smith, who teaches Aaron Wise and Christiaan Bezuidenhout amoung others, says. "All week we're trying to figure it out."