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Lynch: What rain? Gritty Open champs don’t get washed away by lousy weather

HOYLAKE, England — Sunday afternoon at Royal Liverpool brought weather as persistently disagreeable as a drunk at a Saturday night bar, but only for competitors. For spectators, it was a minor annoyance. And for hardcore fans, it was a welcome 11th-hour arrival of authentic Open conditions, weather in which you’d think twice about leaving even Brandel Chamblee outdoors.

As morning mist turned to steady rain, it summoned the holy trinity of attributes that have been required on foul days at golf’s oldest major since Old Tom Morris first wrung out his tweed suit: attitude, aptitude and fortitude.

Attitude: a positive mindset before a shot is struck, a determination to push forward and not retrench.

Aptitude: learning from and adapting to varying conditions; forgetting stock shots and yardages and letting the inner artist – heck, the inner survivor – take over.

Fortitude: gut punches are coming, whether through missed putts, crappy bounces or ill-timed gusts; absorb them, move on.

Each individual trait is necessary, but useless without the other two.

If these elements were fed into Chat GPT with a request for an identikit image of someone who embodies them, it might generate a weathered face with an unmistakeable flintiness, and with a gleam in the eye. In short, you’d be looking at Tom Watson.

Watson says he didn’t truly appreciate links golf until 1981. It speaks volumes about his attitude, aptitude and fortitude that he’d already won three Claret Jugs by that time – more than the two he added after he learned to love the ground game. His resolve didn’t just show up in the British Isles. It produced one of the greatest rounds in golf history, though one often overlooked. In the rain-soaked second round of the 1979 Memorial, with a wind chill hovering at 13 degrees, 42 of 105 players didn’t break 80. One didn’t crack 90. Watson shot 69, missing only two greens and making no bogeys.

On Sunday, I reached out to Watson to ask how he approached final rounds at the Open in detestable weather. “Frankly, bad weather reduced the number of people who could win,” he said. “Some just couldn’t deal with and adjust to the bad conditions.”

That’s the essence of a hall of famer, and the greatest links golfer of the last half-century. While others looked despairingly at the sky, his eyes never left the prize.

As the final round trudged on through growing puddles at Royal Liverpool, there was a degree of correlation between a player’s disposition and his score.

“It’s kind of sadistic to play in this kind of weather.” Thomas Pieters, 80.

“It was pretty brutal. Didn’t really have the mindset of it’s going that wet for that long.” Min Woo Lee, 75.

“These are not my conditions. I’ve always struggled a little bit in the rain. I fight grip slips and water balls off the tee.” Ryan Fox, 74.

“The umbrella to the glove to the yardage book to the umbrella, it just gets tiring holding the dang thing and shuffling it around… But if that’s the worst part of the day, it’s not so bad.” Max Homa, 69.

“I like it because a lot of people are going to complain about it, so you just have to accept it and be ready for it more mentally than physically.” Adrian Meronk, 67.

Vowing to be positive, adaptable and resolute is easy until a peg goes in the turf. Delivering on the intention is quite another. I asked Shane Lowry how he readied himself for the final round at Royal Portush in 2019, which he entered with a four-stroke lead knowing that lousy weather was coming.

“I felt going out that I had to be aggressive, that if I made four birdies I wouldn’t be beaten,” he replied. “And if I got in trouble to make bogey at worst. That’s pretty much the way it is for Harman today.” Lowry went on to win by six and Harman basically mirrored his game plan at Hoylake. A smattering of bogeys, but nothing worse, and enough birdies to offset any damage.

Harman is 5-foot-7 and on this day, in these conditions, joined an illustrious list of golfers of shorter stature who proved to be all grit. Like Gary Player, Ian Woosnam and Corey Pavin. He proved anew what all of them did before, that nothing is out of reach if you have the right attitude, not even the greatest trophy in the game.



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