Tough but very fair, which is why only the best win at Muirfield

 
Sam Torrance
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Glenmorangie: Proud to be the Spirit of the Open Championship

IT FELT like meeting Elvis. Muirfield, July 1972, my first ever Open and the first of 29 I’d go on to play. I was on the practice green and on walked Arnold Palmer, the great American golfer.

He was an awe-inspiring figure, tanned a deep shade of bronze and swathed in cashmere. I was 18, got goosebumps the size of golf balls and wondered how I could ever hope to beat this giant of the sport.

I was fortunate enough to go on to become friends with Arnold, and I am reminded of that experience whenever I return to that magnificent course, as I did just a fortnight ago.

It was in mint condition on my recent visit, and I’m sure it will be next week when the Open, and the world’s finest players, return to East Lothian after an 11-year absence.

Muirfield is a classic links course, one of the finest in the world, and has stood the test of time because, although it can be severe, it is very fair – and that is the greatest compliment you can pay it.

Unusually, and because of the layout, you hardly ever get two consecutive holes that face in the same direction. This has a knock-on effect on how you play the wind and is what makes it so tough.

But while most links courses can throw up a bad bounce even from a good shot, and the next thing you know you’ve lost two or three strokes, that doesn’t happen here. If you play it right, you will be generously rewarded.

Muirfield’s difficulty and even-handedness is the reason why only the best players win here. You don’t get any outsiders fluking their way to the Claret Jug here, as the history books attest.

The last eight men to claim the Open at Muirfield were all multiple Major winners, and include some of the greatest to have played the game: Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Lee Trevino, Tom Watson, Nick Faldo, Ernie Els.

The fairways are narrow and the rough is very severe, so it will favour those who drive straight. It also lends itself to strategic play – it was at Muirfield that Faldo parred every hole in his final round to triumph in 1987.

Finally, the weather can play a big part. There’s a huge gap between the earliest and latest tee times, so if the conditions change significantly it can make or break your first two days, and all due to the luck of the draw.

Sam Torrance OBE is a multiple Ryder Cup-winning golfer and media commentator. Follow him on Twitter @torrancesam

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