Rookies' knowledge of links game could be written on back of the Postage Stamp

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For the first time in the history of the Open Championship, Royal Troon will feature a hole measuring over 600 yards. The whole course has been stretched by 83 yards since the Open was last played at Troon in 1997 but the last couple of them were merely to push the par-five sixth to 601 yards.

For the first time in the history of the Open Championship, Royal Troon will feature a hole measuring over 600 yards. The whole course has been stretched by 83 yards since the Open was last played at Troon in 1997 but the last couple of them were merely to push the par-five sixth to 601 yards.

Adding extra length is not the only defence against the distances the professionals now hit the ball. Lack of length can also be tricky, especially at the 8th hole, at 123 yards the shortest on the Open rota. The name "Postage Stamp" accurately conveys the size of the target. "The only place to be is on the green," said the Troon professional, Brian Anderson.

Five fierce bunkers surround the tiny putting surface, there is a mound on the left and the ground falls away swiftly on the right and at the back. The hole has seen virtually every score in an Open from a one, famously by Gene Sarazen at the age of 71 in 1973, to a 15, infamously by the German amateur Herman Tissies in 1950.

"I got close at the eighth once," said club member Colin Montgomerie, whose best score at the course, even in practice, is in the mid-60s. "I won the scratch championship with a 69 one time. It's a tough course. It's always blowing. They say there is not much rough this year but you don't need it there." In the parlance of professional golfers, Troon is a course where "everything is out in front you". As opposed to Royal St George's last year, where the mounding in the fairways and such a dry summer sent the balls bouncing all over the place. It almost appeared there was a collective failure in adapting to links golf, something possibly exaggerated by modern equipment.

Ian Woosnam once had a memorable moan about how shot-making was going out of the game and that with the new drivers and balls it was merely a matter of standing up and hitting every shot as hard as you can.

Yet at Sandwich three golden-oldie Open champions with a combined 10 titles all finished in the top-20. Nick Faldo, Greg Norman and Tom Watson demonstrated the dying arts of working a ball around unsympathetic terrain.

"The modern equipment actually makes it easier on a links," said Ken Brown, the former Ryder Cup player and now a key member of the BBC commentary team. "There is much less side-spin on the ball so it penetrates the wind far better than in the past.

"We used to have to keep the ball low and work it on the ground. If you got the ball up in the air too quickly, it would just stop and you could run forward and catch it. If you had 150 yards to the green into the wind, it would probably be a four-iron.

"But we would be used to doing that. Not only were there more tournaments on links, but courses like Lindrick would be hard and fast and you had to manufacture more shots.

"It depends what generation the players are. Those who learnt with Persimmon woods, like Woosie, can find it hard to tee the ball up really high as you need to do now. It just doesn't look right. Darren Clarke learnt the game in the wind and he still plays a lot of different shots and Tiger Woods has made sure that he has learnt to play every shot you might need. But the younger guys simply don't know any other way of playing.

"What the new equipment has done is make it easier to play, and swing, exactly the same way every week. Then, when it comes to playing a slightly different shot, they have so little experience of hitting them that they prefer to stick with what they know."

Exposure to links golf is rare these days for the tour professionals, possibly even shorter than the grass-court season in tennis. One of the reasons is that if the weather gets nasty, swings can get messed up in a hurry. In one of the brief years of the Scottish Open at Carnoustie, many players, including Montgomerie, departed for the Open on the back of a final round of 80 or above.

There is talk of the Scottish Open moving from the lush, soft parkland glories of Loch Lomond to the links of Dundonald but even that may not attract Americans like Tiger Woods, who prefer preparing quietly in Ireland, where you can pick your own tee-times depending on the conditions.

Adapting back to links golf in two or three days prior the Open may not be long enough, according to Paul Casey, the former English amateur champion. "Probably not," he said. "We just don't play links golf as we did in the amateur game. It should be no different because you are still hitting a golf shot to a point, it just runs a bit more.

"But visually it is very different. They are two different fish. It is difficult to get into that mode in a couple of days. It would be nice if the Scottish Open was on a links as well instead of just coming to the Open. I am sure at some stage we will hit a seven-iron 250 yards. It can be very difficult to get your head around it. There is a lot of guesswork that goes on. Probably a lot of caddie-firings happen after the Open. It is hard to caddie and hard to play."

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