Irish golfer Padraig Harrington is very familiar with the complexities… (Andrew Redington / Getty…)
From Sandwich, England — Expect this weekend's British Open to be the tournament of the big, bad wolf.
A field of 156 golfers will tee off Thursday in the first round of this major, and the interminable winds surrounding Royal St. George's golf course will huff and puff and blow their house down.
There will, of course, be a final, smarter-than-the-wind little piggy. They will call him the champion, he will smile, accept his trophy and then take off his earmuffs and gloves and apply salve to his own windburns.
For the next four days, the issue for the golfers here will be much less about drivers, putters and wedges and much more about the wind.
Wednesday was a final day of puttering around, literally, on the 7,211-yard layout that will determine the 140th champion of the prestigious event. It was a relaxed final practice for all, a time to try shots from every angle, golf with unlimited mulligans.
Players walked the course, dressed in several layers of the best golf clothing money can buy. Heavy clouds kept the sun away and the swirling waters of the adjacent English Channel rolled and roiled and eventually crashed angrily along the shoreline.
This, apparently, is life near the sea in Southeast England. One of the clerks at a grocery store in nearby Deal remarked, unprompted, that it was a nice day. Nice day? It was July 13 and the most pertinent factor was the wind chill.
One by one, the players finished their practice rounds and wandered off the 18th hole with the same message: This is going to be all about the wind.
Davis Love III: "The winning score? Everything depends on the wind."
Justin Rose: "We all expect the winds to be up tomorrow. It's going to be a tough day."
Even the very-proper, stiff-upper-lip people who run this event — the top officials of the R & A (Royal and Ancient) — knew what was ahead and copped to it.
Said Peter Dawson, chief executive, in true British understatement: "We do have some wind issues."
Yes, and Mt. Everest has snow.
Padraig Harrington, the articulate toast of Ireland and winner of the British Open in 2007 and '08, was a perfect person for additional perspective.
"The rough isn't as high as it was here in 2003," the last time the British Open was held at Royal St. George's, Harrington said, "and I think that is because of the weather forecast, of all the heavy wind expected. It's kind of a tradeoff they gave us."
Harrington pointed to the advantages a European tour player has in the British Open links setup. He didn't say it directly, but it would make sense that guys such as Steve Stricker from Wisconsin or David Duval from Colorado might be the best American hopes to do well here, mostly because they know how to be comfortable in stocking caps. Do we wonder, as we ponder the last time the wind-chill factor got below 60 degrees at the Bridges at Rancho Santa Fe, why Phil Mickelson has never done well in the British.
"When the wind is up, as it is here," Harrington said, "the guys brought up on these links courses like it a little. We like to see two days of wind and two nice days. The two days of wind separate out the men."
The unpredictability of all the huffing and puffing makes the predicting of scores impossible. At least that's how Harrington saw things.
"A 59 would be good," he said, tongue in cheek. "You'd like it. An 80 wouldn't be good. You wouldn't like it. With the wind blowing, anything in between might be just fine."
As the day drifted through the late afternoon practice rounds, the flags on the pins with the pictures of the treasured Claret Jug kept flapping and snapping. Spectators who came to get a better view of the stars than they will be able to when the hordes descend on opening day Thursday tromped over hill and dale and shivered in the gusts.
Royal St. George's is a moonscape with grass. It has mounds so high and grassy areas so thick that it is much better suited for mountain goats than golf galleries. There were plenty of walking sticks in evidence Wednesday and, from the looks of the pathways and lumpy walkways, far too few paramedics.
When the inevitable rains arrive to go with the irrepressible wind — "horizontal rain" is predicted for Saturday — the story lines and possibilities become endless. Rose, Love and Harrington all preached patience as the key to survival.
"You've just got to keep your head on your shoulders, and not panic," Harrington said.
None of the three, however, addressed the possible fate of the hordes of spectators expected here, who may be best served by bringing scuba gear and pitons.