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The Loop

In defense of St. Andrews: why are low scores such a bad thing?

July 20, 2015

Depending on your definitions of "venerable" and "archaic," the golf world is not honoring its elder.

St. Andrews is an institution, a breathing beacon of the sport. Unfortunately, the way the players and press are discussing the consecrated grounds, you would think the Old Course was a muny pitch-n-putt. Or worse, Chambers Bay.

Every five years, St. Andrews takes center stage on the rota of Open courses. And every five years, you can count on the blasphemous premise to be raised: has the Old Course become an antiquated venue?

Normally this discussion is simply fodder for radio hosts or writers grasping for attention. There's little spirit to the conversation, filled with hot air rather than avidity. The type of banter that makes you wish Depends could be tailored to mouths.

However, the table is set for one of the more exciting final-round finishes in major history, and instead of celebrating this fortune, the "Is St. Andrews obsolete?" issue has emerged at the forefront.


Worse, it's not just local hacks or shock jocks inciting this subject. Some of the game's recognizable personalities are probing the Old Course's championship merit, including the players themselves.

"When you see the type of power that these guys are using and putting on the golf ball, you start wondering what they can do with it to keep it up to modern times," Graeme McDowell told reporters on Sunday following his round. "The bunkers are just not really in play enough."

A tad strange McDowell would say such a thing. Given that he's tied for 64th at two-under, it's like a student boasting History class isn't that tough after receiving a "C."

Yet the Irishman is a major winner, a respected voice in the locker room. He's not alone in harboring this opinion. And if there was ever a week to question the R&A, now's the time.

Nevertheless, it's an easy proposition to counter. Regarding the idea that modern technology is rendering the course passe, Nick Faldo posted a 19-under 270 when winning at St. Andrews in 1990, a mark that likely won't be reached in 2015. Besides, it's not the Old Course's length, or lack thereof, that makes it vulnerable. It's the wide-open fairways and manageable rough that takes the bite out of this tiger. Two facets which, upon request, could be altered.

Red numbers are not singular to St. Andrews. Jordan Spieth finished the Masters at 18 under, while Rory McIlroy tossed up a 16-under score to win the Wanamaker at Valhalla. Don't remember the pitchforks coming out amidst the burning light of those leader boards.

Speaking of which, let's take a peak at the final groups for the 2015 Open. There's three top-12 players in the World Golf Rankings, a two-time Open winner, the 2010 champion and one of the rising stars of the game. Oh, and some guy who's captured the first two legs of the Grand Slam.

The purpose of a major championship is to identify the best of the best. St. Andrews more than passes this assessment.

Contrary to popular belief, in tournament golf, a player's competition is not the course; it's the field. The ambition is to shoot the lowest number possible. Whether that's 15 under or five over is irrelevant.


If provided the choice between watching players salivate or suffer, I'll go with the former. I want to see Spieth work his irons like a witch with a wand, Dustin Johnson eliminate "par 5" from golf vernacular and Patrick Reed turn every green hit into a birdie attempt. I don't need to see pros struggle to make par. Have enough of that nonsense in my own game.

Alas, this argument is missing the point. St. Andrews is more than an Open host. A trip to the Old Course, be it in flesh or through broadcast, is a celebration of the game. More than any other sport, golf promotes its past in the present. No course in the world embodies this notion like St. Andrews.

It's been said that, in society, our elders are living novels. Leaving St. Andrews wouldn't be turning the page of golf's transcripts. It would be throwing the damn book away.