I got to play Royal Birkdale
Having the chance to play Royal Birkdale is one of those very special situations that you don’t find yourself in all that often. When it happens, you need to try and savour every single second.
Now, this was never going to be about the challenge… well, not really. As James Whitaker said to me, forget about the score, just enjoy it. Not only was I playing Royal Birkdale, it was a pretty amazing competition we were playing in too – The Turkish Airways World Golf Cup – No pressure then!
We were actually very lucky, as it’s a corporate competition that is invite only… and we won a 4-ball in it. Yes! Oh… and the prize is AMAZING! So, let’s discuss Royal Birkdale first, then we’ll get into the golf!
Before I even arrived I was a little in awe of the place. I also watched the 2008 Open, when Padraig Harrington won by 4 shots before coming, so I had that in my mind too. Then, you get into the famous Art Deco style clubhouse and see how much history really is here. The memorabilia is just awesome… from Tiger’s scorecard in 98 to clubs from Jonny Miller and of course Arnold Palmer and his famous shot from a bush on the 16th to win in 1961.
Now… it’s important to eat before golf, so I happily tucked into the best bacon butty ever!
So, onto the golf. A full handicap, individual stableford competition, with the fantastic prize of an 8 day trip to Belek, and a place in the Grand Final. With a two tee start, our group were off from the 10th. The first shot was a nervy one. We had no real idea where we were going, the fairway looked super tight, the bunkers seemed to be everywhere, and there was trouble everywhere!
Once we were through the first couple of holes, I started to relax a little, and begin to enjoy it. Walking down the paths and fairways, you can almost feel the crowds of past championships. It’s a really strange feeling. As we got to the 14th, the second par 3 on the back 9, I was +6 with 5 points. Not that great. But, I had been hitting it really well… but had just missed a few opportunities to score better.
The 14th was playing around 160 yards to the middle of the green, which was protected by bunkers. I’d come to the realisation that the safest options, was to just try and hit the front of the greens. So, I took an 8 iron. I hit it really well and gave myself an 8’ left to right putt for birdie. I MADE IT!! Sometimes, even when you feel like you are playing well, you just need a little bit of fortune to give you confidence. The putt on the 14th did just that. As we got onto the 18th tee, I’d played the 14th to the 17th -1. I couldn’t have played them any better.
The 18th is a brilliant hole. It’s not a long par 5 at 470 yards, and the way I was playing was a certain birdie opportunity. After a solid tee shot in to the middle of the fairway, you can see the fantastic clubhouse ahead. I bottled going for it and took a stead 6 iron to lay up just short of the large green. My chip almost went in for eagle and just rolled past the hole! Still, I’d take a tap in for birdie and a score of +4 and 21 points.
On the 1st tee (we started on 10) as we looked at the scores, we realised how well I’d actually played the last 9 holes. Then, the dreaded commentator curse struck with a few ‘you could win this’ muttered! And that was it… I played the next 9 holes like a complete idiot! I didn’t score on the next two holes, couldn’t hit a fairway for love nor money, had putts lip out or defy gravity and balance at the front of the cup! I didn’t play well at all and the harder I tried, the worse it got. As we walked off the 9th, I’d scored a disastrous +16 for a rubbish 10 points, and a total of 31.
Despite the poor back 9, it was still and amazing experience. If you get the chance to play Royal Birkdale… you really should. Every shot makes you think, every hole is just fantastic, the club is friendly and welcoming and then there’s the history. It really is a special experience that you can’t help but enjoy, regardless of how you play.
As for the competition, I missed by 4 points as the winner finished with 34. I know exactly where those points were left too! So, instead of thinking about going to Turkey, it looked like I was heading back to Leeds instead! But, I got to play Royal Birkdale… and not that many people get to say that. I’ll certainly enjoy the 2017 Open Championship a little more… especially to see who can match me on the 18th!