Golf: The Open - Greens man cuts up rough

Tim Glover hears criticism of stars who failed their biggest test; `They thought they would rip the guts out of it. Who do they think they are? This is very special'
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The Independent Online
ONE BY one they came in battered, bemused and even embarrassed and the message was the same. Carnoustie revisited was, by common consent, unplayable. The rough was too high, the fairways too narrow and the wind too windy. Good grief, it was like the Day Of The Triffids out there on the Angus coast and there was a danger to life and limb.

This time the Royal & Ancient had gone too far, had gone over the top. "It's a joke," said Sandy Lyle, a former Open champion. "I saw them putting fertiliser on the rough." It is not just the blue blazers of the R & A who have been taking the flak. John Philp, the links superintendent, has been likened to the Marquis de Sade as the man ultimately responsible for producing a course which brought the world's best players to their knees. Philp has not lost sleep over this.

Carnoustie, run down and neglected since hosting its last Open back in 1975, was described as a "sleeping giant". Philp, recruited from St Andrews 14 years ago, has reawakened it. "My aim was to create a course for the millennium, to set a new standard," Philp said. "The players haven't got the game for it. David Duval said the only variation to his approach was to hit the ball a little lower. What sort of crap is that? They don't play links golf on any of the tours until they come to the Open. Christ, they don't know what a low ball is. We used to call them daisy cutters. This is the old style, the natural style.

"They're all geared up to hitting shots precise distances. They can tear up the yardage charts here. This isn't target golf and was never meant to be, but they're not prepared for this type of game. They have just not grasped it. They thought they would come here and rip the guts out of it. Who the hell do they think they are? This is very special. This is serious.

"It's not just to do with length. There is a lot of subtlety involved. This is the true form of the game. You have to use the contours, the banks, the mounds and swales. You have to think about it. Required to hit a half- swing seven iron they're mesmerised. Usually they don't have to think too much about shaping their shots but this is a different class.

"There is so much money in the game I think they're losing touch with reality. A lot of them have made no preparation for the world's greatest event. They thought it would be just another venue to be ripped up with the winner finishing at 19 under par. I don't think so."

Philp, as you might have gathered, is passionate about golf and even more passionate about Carnoustie. His handicap is eight, it used to be two, although he admits that around the Championship course here it would be 28. He was recruited from St Andrews by Jock Calder, chairman of the Carnoustie Links Management Committee - he died two years ago - and Philp's remit was to restore the sleeping giant's reputation. This he and his team of 22 ground staff have accomplished with a vengeance.

"In 1975 the course was shortened and there was hardly any rough," Philp said. "There was no penalty for being off line. Prior to that there had only been five rounds below 70 in four Opens. When Ben Hogan won here he did his homework. He was at Carnoustie for two weeks walking the course, plotting his approach, taking notes of where everything was. A lot of the players who have been moaning this week have never been here before. They're the top guys in the world and they didn't think they needed to practise and prepare. They're wrong. This is the ultimate test and they just haven't sussed it. It's brought them down to earth. They've got to forget about the percentage shots and take the course on. Nobody will win the Open here by sitting back and playing conservatively.

"One player told me that this is the toughest course on the planet, but the man who gets aggressive with five or six of the holes will win. Christ, the winner gets pounds 350,000. You shouldn't get money for nothing. They've got a job to do."

Philp admits there are certain pockets of rye grass that are "horrendous". He added: "The rough is not uniform, but that's not what happens in the natural world. Because of the weather we've had phenomenal growth. At Muirfield and Turnberry the rough is up to your waist. I knew the criticism was going to come but we're not going to change the course just to suit them. The R & A are satisfied and they have stuck to their guns. People in the street have said, `Good on you, John'. There's not been one complaint about the condition of the fairways, the greens or the bunkers. They are world class.

"Carnoustie has all the credentials and it requires a whole variety of shots. Many of the players are simply not geared for it. One bad bounce and they moan. I hope they will learn from this and take something home with them. They are talented people who can play the game but this is a different league and it requires a different game plan and a different attitude. The trouble is they have an ego problem. They don't want to be seen shooting 82 in public. A lot of them should be able to play here but somehow they can't force themselves to do it. If the Open doesn't come back to Carnoustie I'll eat my hat. It's unsurpassed."

When Lyle played at Carnoustie a couple of weeks ago he claimed he saw the ground staff putting fertiliser on the rough. "What he saw," said Philp, "was somebody spraying seaweed, but that's not a fertiliser. We haven't put any fertiliser down for about five years. We widened the semi- rough and applied a wetting agent to make the leaf more consistent. That was designed to help the golfers."

On Friday Philp, who is up at 3.15am every morning to cut holes, had lunch with the green-keeping staff of St Andrews, the venue for the Open in 2000. "They were delighted with what we've done to Carnoustie," Philp said. "They said they would try to emulate it.

"The wind, of course, has been a key factor but this is pure links golf. There will be a winner and then we will see who really wanted it. I fancy Tiger Woods. He's got a strong desire, he's got himself in gear, he's got a plan, and he doesn't moan."