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BILL DWYRE

It's mudders' day at the British Open

Apparently, only mad dogs, Englishmen and golfers would go out in slop like this. Many of the 206 sand traps became water hazards.

July 20, 2012|Bill Dwyre
  • Brandt Snedeker mastered the 206 bunkers in the best way possible: He didn't land in any of them.
Brandt Snedeker mastered the 206 bunkers in the best way possible: He didn't… (Harry How / Getty Images )

LYTHAM ST. ANNES, England — After what took place here Friday in the second round of the British Open, one might theorize that Brandt Snedeker can walk on water.

His golf swing isn't bad, either.

But let's not deviate from the real heroes at this Royal Lytham & St. Annes layout.

Sure, Snedeker mastered the 206 bunkers in the best way possible. He didn't land in any of them. That takes more luck than genius, which Snedeker acknowledged. And sure, Snedeker's 66-64-130 tied Nick Faldo's 1992 British Open record for the best 36-hole start, but Faldo's ego could use a little jolt, anyway.

More important, let's raise a glass to the British galleries who keep showing up, despite the daily challenge of distant parking lots, overpriced lousy food and weather as moody as Andrew Bynum. But there is an even bigger challenge.

Mud.

It's not as if the Brits weren't warned. Early Friday morning, the lads on the telly were advising all spectators heading toward the course to "wear your Wellingtons." Those are rubber boots made popular by a basic need here in the land of eternal wetness. Dry feet.

Along about midnight Thursday, the skies over the twin cities of Lytham and St. Annes let loose. At certain times, that might excite the organizers of this event, known affectionately — and occasionally otherwise — as the R&A. Steady rain, tossed about in gusts of bone-chilling wind, makes their tournament the kind of manly challenge that allows the Royal & Ancient to demonstrate the vincibility of the best golfers in the world. If that brings the golfers to their knees, or to tears, so be it.

Those kind of ideal British Open conditions occurred last year at Royal St. George's and turned golf's current young hero and heartthrob, Rory McIlroy, into a temporary villain. After being buffeted around the course for much of the four days and deciding not to fake the party line about loving this sort of "real" golf challenge, McIlroy said he had had enough and was going to play more in the States, that he had spent more time with his rain suit than his girlfriend.

The tabloids ran with that, and only his charming smile and winning potential allowed him to be rationalized back into a beloved one. Rory is just a youngster and kids say silly things sometimes.

Totally dry British Opens, such as Hoylake (Royal Liverpool) in 2006, are a different story. Those make the courses hot and dusty and make the R&A look to India with monsoon envy.

What has happened this week is somewhere in between, and has to be driving the R&A crazy.

The days leading up to the event were rainy. The course took on lots of water, and they even opened a new city drainage system to make sure the water level didn't get dangerously high on the course, which is a few city blocks inland from the Irish Sea. Still, several huge cloudbursts kept things dicey during practice rounds.

When people turned on their TV sets, they mostly saw players in short sleeves, under partly cloudy skies. The dark thunderclouds always hovered nearby.

Like the mother of the bride on the day before an outdoor wedding, the R&A watched, wondered and worried. Then the skies burst around midnight.

Friday, the fairways stayed lush — much more than the R&A might like — and the greens continued to accept approach shots and spin them back, almost as if this were theReno-Tahoe Open. Snedeker himself said he had never seen that before in a British Open, where the play to the green on these links courses has always been to hit it short and let it release.

The R&A, forced into action, had the greens double-cut to try to make them faster, but the balls keep hitting, holding and spinning. There were ball marks on British Open greens. Horrifying.

Then they had to make adjustments because dozens of those 206 traps had standing water in them from the midnight deluge. First, they changed some pin placements that had really become unplayable because of nearby water-filled traps. Then they allowed free drops in the pot bunkers, which, in some cases merely meant hitting from a more shallow lie.

Which brings us to the mud.

The hardy British golf fans, tough and undeterred, came and tramped. Call it stiff-upper-lip-ism.

Organizers spread wood chips in some of the areas, but there weren't enough in all of the United Kingdom to neutralize all the gunk. Soon, the already-gooey fairway crossing paths became eyesores and hazards. A typical caddie-player conversation might have gone like this:

Player: "How far to the third pot bunker on the left?"

Caddie: "Exactly 262 to the front."

Player: "How far to the gunk?"

Caddie: "Exactly 280 to the front, 287 to the seven-inch-deep gouge where the fat guy slipped and fell."

Player: "We'll play to the bunker."

The last time the British Open had to go to a Monday finish was 1988. That's because rain had washed out an entire round. Guess where they played that one.

The way Snedeker played — blitzing all of the field except Adam Scott, who hung tight a shot back — there were no worries for the former Vanderbilt star.. No bunkers, no gunk, no sweat.

As a matter of fact, he was entitled to make the perfect toast to other golfers in the bar afterward, a toast that originated from a winning jockey whose horse kicked up debris in the faces of those who trailed him.

Here's mud in your eye.

bill.dwyre@latimes.com

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