British Open: why is the old field special? Mike Tiriko knows

The old course never gets old Mike Tirico.

Over 25 years of coverage Open Championshipan NBC golf columnist noticed that his admiration for this place is only growing.

“The whole house of golf, if you don’t play, might seem a little silly to Pollyanna,” he said. “But if you play and you have the game in your soul, I think you feel it.”

This is the fifth Open that Tirico has held on Old Course, the first four while he was on ABC/ESPN.

Here, he says, are 18 great aspects of the 18 holes:

Don’t block me

Former British Open champion Mark Calcavecchika of the United States hits the first hole at the Old Course in St. Andrews.

Former British Open champion Mark Calcavecchika of the United States shoots on the first hole during the Champions Round on Monday at the Old Course in St. Andrews.

(Peter Morrison/Associated Press)

No trembling like the first hole in golf. You play with new friends, you play in front of people. This is facilitated by the historical setting here, where the rules of golf have come from this building for many years, R&A, and spread around the world.

The good news is that the first hole of the Old Course is the widest fairway on planet Earth. It’s over 100 yards across, so you can do just about anything and you’ll be fine. But even on Thursday, Ian Poulter nearly knocked him out of bounds on the left. This place even makes the top players feel emotional and a little nervous about being hit lightly.

Feel the burn

This is such a cool language. Connections that in many ways connect the sea with the city. The penalty area that crosses the first hole is called the Svilcan Burn. It is two yards wide and filled with water. It takes two steps to cover it.

Here Tiger Woods on Thursday, which is poised for what will likely be his last Open here, and all the emotion. He hits out of the divot on first. If anyone is going to hit him far behind the hole, deep in the green, it’s the Tiger. And he puts him in this two yard wide water hazard, and it starts the downfall of the day that he worked. [toward] months. He is just playing with your mind.

Boom with a view

Tiger Woods plays from the 12th tee during the first round of the UK Open on Thursday at the Old Course in St Andrews.

Tiger Woods plays from the 12th tee during the first round of the UK Open on Thursday at the Old Course in St Andrews.

(Gerald Herbert/Associated Press)

The 12th tee is one of the coolest spots for a golfer. First, it’s the view. You have completed the loop and are starting your journey back to the city. If you’re not here during the Open and you have an Old Course caddy, a St Andrews caddy, they point to, “See that spire? See that stack over there?” as aiming points for these blind tees. They just don’t have it anywhere.

When you play golf at home, you head back to the beautiful clubhouse; you’re heading for something that looks like it’s there because of golf. Here you feel like it’s there because it’s the city where golf was born.

O marks the place

The 17th is known as the Road Pit. Avraham Unser was here playing on Sunday and I met them around No. 1. 15. Neither he nor his caddies had ever played Road Hole before, so the blind run through the corner of the hotel was new to them. When we got there, they asked: “Where are we heading here?” I told them that, historically, guys have been aiming for the O in the Course at the Old Course Hotel, and that if you make a small draw, you’ll be on the fairway. So they looked at the book, did it, and ended up on the fairway.

Abe asked me if I would be his caddy for the rest of the week. I said, “Everybody knows that, who’s been here before.” But when you’re playing at home, “Aim for the tree” or “Aim for the bunker” are common instructions from the caddy. It’s never “Aim for the letter on that railroad shed.” But that’s what you’re doing here.

big step down

Zack Johnson playing from the bunker on the 17th hole during a practice round at the Old Course in St. Andrews.

Zack Johnson playing from the bunker on the 17th hole during a practice round at the Old Course in St. Andrews.

(Alastair Grant/Associated Press)

The bunkers here have a “lined” surface, which means the solid walls are layers of turf stacked on top of each other. They also tend to be very deep. The most famous bunker on the track is the Road Hole bunker and it’s a hot tub. I went into it on a Sunday to take pictures and it’s over my head.

On the PGA tour, if a guy gets into a bunker, sometimes it’s easier to get out of the bunker than out of the rough. Here, bunkers do have a half hit penalty most of the time, if not a full hit penalty. You can be pinned against the wall and you need to quickly kick the ball out of the sand above your height to get it out of there. It’s so hard that the best players, 0.001 percent, look incredibly average.

Four intact rounds

Having won the Open in 2000, Tiger famously never hit a bunker. There were 112 bunkers at the time on the Old Course, and now there are 110, so he chose 448 instead of 448. It’s really hard to avoid them all on this golf course.

Tiger’s 15th stick was the reason he dominated the field: his brain. He thinks on the golf course, probably no worse than any player. That’s part of why he was so great. He has incredible athletic ability, but he is also very good at handling the field and the game.

Rub green

The difficulty here is that you can land a good hit and still get into the bunker. You need luck. Because the ball rolls 20-25 yards after it lands, you can hit a ledge or embankment and the ball will dive into the bunker. It seems that there are magnetic fields around the bunkers, and your ball will go through this slow, painful path.

Trolling stones

It didn’t hurt him on Thursday, but Rory McIlroy landed a punch that hit a rock essentially covered in green Astroturf – like Astrodome is a bad Astroturf – which they use to soften the blow. The fairway has marker stones that date back to the 1800s when they paved the course and property. They don’t come back and don’t take out the stones that I love. When you play here, history is all around you.

air traffic control

Matt Fitzpatrick plays from the 7th tee during the first round of the British Open at the Old Course in St Andrews, Scotland.

Matt Fitzpatrick plays from the seventh tee during the first round of the British Open at the Old Course in St Andrews, Scotland.

(Gerald Herbert/Associated Press)

When you tee to 7, you will often see players stop after they go 100 yards because tee shots from the 11th hole to their right go over their heads. This is a truly unique part of the course. Especially when there are amateurs, you need a helmet. You have golf balls flying all over this intersecting area. You cannot hide. You can see everyone.

Living on the edge

There are no trees or barriers between the holes as they run parallel down the middle of the course, so fans have to line up around the perimeter. You don’t get permanent cameras inside the golf course. So even in terms of television, you see it from the outside. Only these handheld cameras can show you the inside view. You would like the left side of the holes to face out and the left side to go in. But there is no forest strip, no gorse bushes, or anything else.

Left, left

The caddy will say that you hit him with a left hand. Because you can miss a lot to the left and not lose the ball and not get into trouble. You will have a long shot and you will have a different angle. If you lose him left on 3, you’ll be on the 14th fairway. It opens up in a bunch of places like this.

Number game

This place is the reason why the game of golf consists of 18 holes. There were originally 22 holes, but they felt that a few of the holes were too short, so they combined them to make one longer one. When they did, the number of holes was reduced to 18 and that became the standard.

double trouble

The double greens – two holes on the same green – were part of the original design by old Tom Morris. Therefore, when you play, you can see two flags: yellow for the first nine holes and red for the last nine. The four greens are on their own—1, 9, 17, and 18—and the seven double greens make up the other 14. The easiest way to remember which holes split the green is that they add up to 18, so 2 and 16 divide, 5 and 13 to share and so on.

Pebble Beach is known for having some of the world’s smallest golf courses. The greens on the Old Course are the largest, about six times the average on Pebble.

weather or not

Billy Horschel walks down the 16th fairway during the second round of the British Open Old Course.

Billy Horschel walks down the 16th fairway during the second round of the British Open Old Course in St Andrews, Scotland.

(Peter Morrison/Associated Press)

I can’t think of any other place you play where you want it to be wet and windy. But if you come here to play, you want at least part of your experience to be really crappy weather. It only adds to your story years later. Last time we were here, it was too windy to play the Open, which is strange because the wind is such a critical element. There is nothing to stop the wind. It comes from the sea, and because of where these routes pass, there are no obstacles. So it comes right in and just affects you.

So here sometimes the wind works for you. You can get back wind down for early holes. And when the tide goes out, the wind usually changes a bit, and you can get wind at your back for the last holes as well. But for the most part, the wind helps you early, and then you fight it on the way back – or vice versa. Due to the nature of the golf course, the wind often becomes your friend and then your enemy within the hour.

Over the years that we’ve been here, the weather has always affected players differently at different times. When you feel like if you leave, “Dude, if I’d better deal with the weather, I’d have a better chance.”

Luck in the draw

You can have a great start to the day, play earlier and have great conditions and then get crushed depending on when your start time is. Late-early this year – the guys who went late on Thursday and early on Friday – are getting the worst weather. It was windy late yesterday, it rained on Friday morning, which stopped by noon.

steps of the great

Golf enthusiasts take pictures on the Swilkan Bridge on the 18th hole in St. Andrews.

Golf enthusiasts take pictures on the Swilkan Bridge on the 18th hole in St. Andrews.

(Peter Morrison/Associated Press)

When you walk across the Swilkan Bridge at 18th Street, you know that you are probably crossing the same place that every great golfer has crossed. This does not mean that Brett Favre never played in this AFC city, although he played and stayed there forever. Every great golfer who played at St. Andrews in the post-war era has crossed this bridge. Not that it has been replaced and upgraded.

This is a stunning old stone bridge that has been here longer than we have and will be here longer than we have been here. He has a few slippery moments. Everyone takes a deposit and takes care of it, but also takes pictures.

Scene at 18

Every 18th hole at the Open is awesome because the way they build the stands is like playing on a football field. If you think of someone winning the Open, you think of him holding a claret pitcher and looking in all directions. Here you seem to enter the Colosseum, into the crucible. The club is at the back, and next to it there is a tribune. You have fans on both sides of you. You don’t get that in golf, real football feels like you’re on the 50 yard line of the stadium. Like this.

Return to place of birth

Dustin Johnson of the USA plays the 18th hole in the first round of the British Open at the Old Course.

Dustin Johnson of the USA plays the 18th hole during the first round of the British Open at the Old Course in St. Louis. Andrews, Scotland.

(Alastair Grant/Associated Press)

We don’t go to Cooperstown and we don’t play World Series games. We don’t go to Springfield and play Game 3 of the NBA Finals. But we are coming here and we will play one of the most important golf events. That’s why it’s going through more for me than other places where the game has started.