One week remains until The Open Championship at Carnoustie, Scotland. So what better preparation could there be than the Scottish Open at Gullane Golf Club?
That opportunity has tempted a handful of America’s biggest names over for a rare European Tour start; five US front runners from inside the world’s top 40 in Rickie Fowler, Patrick Reed, Phil Mickelson, Matt Kuchar and Charley Hoffman have made the cross-Atlantic journey a week early.
In fact, it’s often only this event that lures the American’s over just in time for The Open. Fowler (last year) and Mickelson (in 2016) have not made solely European Tour appearances since their last Scottish Open outings, Reed and Kuchar have just three European starts between them since this event last year and Hoffman will be making his first European Tour start in 10 years.
There’s some attraction too in the fact that this is the fifth Rolex Series event of the year offering weighty prize money as well as points both for the Race to Dubai and the world rankings.
The extra week spent on British soil has paid dividends in the past. When Mickelson won this back in 2013 he won The Open the following week and when Fowler ran out on top in 2015 he gave himself a chance for the Claret Jug on Sunday, but for a disappointing final round 73.
Whether the US preparations will be enough to guide them through to Open Championship glory this year, only time will tell. But with a mini-invasion taking place this week, the leading Americans are not leaving anything to chance.
Of course, the field is not just made up of said Americans (although we haven’t even mentioned Peter Uihlein, Kevin Chappell, Julian Suri, Harold Varner III and Luke List…).
In fact, the highest ranked player in the field is Britain’s own Justin Rose. The Englishman is further joined by European talismen Henrik Stenson, Tyrrell Hatton, Rafa Cabrera Bello, Ian Poulter, Matthew Fitzpatrick, Ross Fisher and Russell Knox from inside the top 50. Knox will be aiming for two wins in as many weeks after edging out Ryan Fox in a play-off to win the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open last week.
There’s a strong ‘Rest of the World’ contingent too, made up of the likes of Hideki Matsuyama, Kiradech Aphibarnrat, Louis Oosthuizen, Haotong Li and Cameron Smith.
One man who will not be there is Tommy Fleetwood, who was due to be in action this week to prepare for The Open, but has now withdrawn having decided that rest would better serve as preparation.
The full field can be found here.
The Scottish Open began in 1935, 83 years ago. But there has only been 37 outings of the tournament.
Well between 1937 and 1971 there was no Scottish Open and between 1974 and 1985 there was no Scottish Open.
Truth be told, there’s very little documented about why the event took two hiatuses. After just two appearances in 1935 and 1936, it appears a dispute with the R&A caused the event to simply fail to progress. Why there was then an 11-year break between ’74 and ’85 your guess is as good as ours. Sponsorship issues, most likely.
One thing this event can boast is the emergence of new winners year-on-year. In the 37 showdowns so far there have been 34 different winners; Ian Woosnam (1987, 1990 and 1996) and Ernie Els (2000 and 2003) are the only multiple Scottish Open winners.
The most recent of the 34 winners was Cabrera Bello who made it his first European Tour title in over five years with his victory 12 months ago. A course-record 64 on Sunday at Dundonald Links earned a play-off with Callum Shinkwin after the latter faltered to an agonising bogey on the 72nd. A birdie on the first hole of that play-off clinched the title for the Spaniard.
Cabrera Bello will be wanting more of the same this year, as will a plethora of other past winners returning: Fowler (2015), Rose (2014), Mickelson (2013), Edoardo Molinari (2010), Martin Kaymer (2009), Graeme McDowell (2008), Grégory Havret (2007), Johan Edfors (2006), Els (2000 and 2003), Lee Westwood (1998) and Thomas Bjørn (1996).
Gullane is a small village in the South East of Scotland but is home to one of the most reputable golf courses in the world, Muirfield. So that makes Gullane Golf Club number two in the local area.
But Gullane has hosted the Scottish Open once before, back in 2015 when Fowler came out one shot ahead of Kuchar and Raphaël Jacquelin (also returning this year); a good omen for all three.
The 7133-yard par 70 links is incredibly tight, unlikely to suit wayward drivers of the ball (*cough*, Mickelson, *cough*). Pot bunkers and whispy rough grass are sure to punish any shot off line; but 7133 yards is not short for a par 70 so you don’t need a bomber but you can’t afford to be a plodder.
There’s only one past outing on this track so there’s not much of a sample to base the course difficulty on. Fowler won at 12-under in 2015. That’s no roll over but nor is it a worrying test to the game’s elite.
There’s a $7,000,000 prize pot to be spread out between all those that make the cut, the exact same in Race to Dubai points and – with the best European Tour field this year – substantial world ranking points.
But for every player heading to Carnoustie for The Open the following week, it offers far more. The Scottish Open provides a chance to fine tune your links game, to get a feel for the Scottish terrain and to make any final tweaks ahead of the third major championship of the year.
The opening round of the ASI Scottish Open tees off at 07:30am BST on Thursday at Gullane Golf Club.