OPEN champion Darren Clarke reluctantly handed the Claret Jug back to the R&A and then warned his fellow competitors at Royal Lytham and St Annes this week: “If you start spraying the ball around you may as well go home.”
He described the rough as “brutal” and warned of the ever-present “nightmare” of the 200-plus bunkers, predicting that errant golfers would even be forced to take drops out of the sand.
Agreeing with Tiger Woods that parts of the course were unplayable, Clarke added: “It’s not quite what we would expect in links – the grass is going different ways and it’s quite thick. It is really tough.
“There’s no chance of coming out of this rough at all and some of the longer par fours are going to play into the wind. Obviously, if you start missing the fairways you are really going to struggle, so it’s a big challenge. There’s a really huge premium on accuracy this week.”
Clarke, winner at Sandwich 12 months ago, predicted lost balls in the thick rough.
The popular Northern Ireland golfer said that winning The Open had brought added demands, which affected his game. I got into a mentality that I had to go out and play like The Open champion, instead of just playing the way I played up and down in the first place. I tried too hard.
“All I ever wanted to do was win The Open. It took me quite some time to reflect upon it and see where I wanted to go after I had won it, and I struggled with that for quite some time.
“Then when I did start practising every hour, it wasn’t quite clicking into place.
“Maybe now I have given the Jug back for this week, I will get back to playing the way I can. My whole game has been very, very average.
“Patience is obviously something I’ve needed an awful lot of this past year and maybe this week I will start knocking a few in.”
Clarke is not fazed by the likelihood of wild weather at Lytham. “I grew up in it. I played a lot of links golf at home in Ireland and we haven’t always had good weather over there. That’s what we expect and that’s what we will get. If conditions are tough, that’s fine.”
Clarke said the bunkers were always ready to catch the unwary at Lytham.
“It is just a nightmare and the bunkers are very penal.There are going to be occasions this week when I think you are going to have to take penalty-drops out of them because you won’t be able to move the ball anywhere. They are a huge part of this golf course and you have to be careful with them.”