Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Old Course green-ness surprises Laird after Lundin Links

Martin Laird, one of the six Scots in the field for next week's Open Championship, has revealed he was surprised to see St Andrews looking so green during a practice round at the weekend after playing at nearby Lundin Links beforehand and encountering the bounciest course he'd ever come across.
The US-based player, who is also in this week's Loch Lomond line-up for the £3 million Barclays Scottish Open, arrived home last Tuesday and wasted no time acquainting himself again with links golf, starting with a bounce game close to the family home in Upper Largo with his dad, Charles, and two of his friends.
"It was fun to get (back] on a links course," said Laird, who secured his second Open appearance - he missed the cut at Turnberry 12 months ago - through an International Final Qualifier at Gleneagles Country Club in Texas, where he shot a second-round 63 to claim one of the spots.
"Lundin Links was playing firm and fast - in fact, it was probably the bumpiest course I've ever seen. My chipping was shocking because I couldn't believe how short you had to land it."
Based on that experience, the 27-year-old was expecting something similar when he headed up to St Andrews on Saturday for a practice round but, due to it having been watered a lot in recent weeks, discovered the Old Course was nowhere near as bouncy. "I went there wondering if it would be the same," he added.
"It was still bouncy and firm, but it wasn't nearly as fiery as Lundin Links was. However, if it doesn't rain too much I'm sure they will have it nice and firm by the time next Thursday comes around for The Open."
By then, Laird, who became the first Scot to win on the US PGA Tour for 20 years when he triumphed in the Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospitals for Children Open in Las Vegas last October, is hoping he knows the Old Course well enough to give a good account of himself and, with that in mind, he employed the services of a local caddie in his practice round last weekend to get some good tips.
"That was only the sixth round I've played there and it is definitely a course you need to play a lot to get the lines," he said.
"I went with a caddie who's worked at St Andrews since 1976. He's caddied in three or four Opens and I took him around with my regular caddie to really give us some advice and tell us where to go and where not to go. That was a big help."
After finishing fourth in the season-opening SBS Championship in Hawaii, Laird admits his game had gone off the boil for a bit but is confident it is now starting to simmer again at the perfect time.
"I finished tenth at the Colonial a few weeks ago and my game is coming around at the right time because I have these two big events and then a great stretch when I go back to the States," he said.
"It's a dream for me to come back and play here at Loch Lomond and then St Andrews in The Open next week. To win either of those events would be as good as it gets. In fact, just to play next week at the Old Course is as good as it gets for me. As I was growing up I'm sure I probably hit a putt at one time imagining it was to win The Open at St Andrews. I remember as a kid watching The Open there in 2000 and hoping that one day I would have the chance to play there myself."
After opening with a 65 in the Barclays Scottish Open last year, Laird eventually finished in a tie for tenth and, by the sounds of things, has almost been counting the days until he'd be back at Loch Lomond. "Last year was probably the most fun I've had in a golf tournament. It was great playing in front of a home crowd and I've been looking forward to coming back since then," he admitted.
"In America, there are very few places I'll go where I'll hear people say, 'Come on Martin, make a few birdies'. Here I've got people cheering for me. In the final round last year I wasn't playing very well on the front nine but, walking up No 8, I heard a few people willing me on and saying, 'Come on Martin, keep it up'. That was nice to hear and I went on to play well on the back nine."
The Arizona-based player, who is "pleasantly surprised" at the condition of the Loch Lomond greens, added: "I'm taking a lot of confidence from how I played here last year. I love the course. It sets up great for me so I'm hoping for a good week."



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