Meghan MacLaren: "Tough golf courses reveal the best players"

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LET star and Today's Golfer columnist Meghan MacLaren loves a golf course that tests your mental game as much as your shotmaking.

Is it just professional golfers who always find something to complain about? Or is it golfers, as a breed?

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Since Covid-19 hit the world and we all had our beautiful game taken away from us, there has definitely been more gratitude in the air. And when the courses reopened, for the first time in my life, I absolutely did not care how I played… I genuinely enjoyed every breath of the returning familiarity.

Meghan MacLaren manages a smile even on the toughest days.

I owe this game so much. We all do. And yet…

“The greens are too fast.”

“The fairways are too firm.”

“The rough is too thick.”

“The greens are too slow.”

“The fairways are too soft.”

“The rough isn’t punishing enough.”

Do we ever know what we want?

Meghan MacLaren playing at Sunnindale Heath.

I played in a mini tour event at Sunningdale Heath not long after lockdown was lifted – more mixed, open access events being one of the uplifting positives to come out of diminished schedules – alongside a men’s European Tour winner.

About five holes in, our three-ball had racked up maybe four three-putts between us, with treacherous greens and unforgiving pin positions perhaps being more to blame than our collective ineptitude.

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Said European Tour pro turned to me and jokingly commented on the abuse the tournament directors would be receiving if this event had been a European Tour event, adding that was the norm no matter where they were playing or what the conditions were like.

However hard I try, I’m pretty sure I’m as guilty of complaining as anyone else. I try not to in tournaments, as I think it exposes a weakness; a lack of acceptance of the challenge asked of you, but I sometimes find it hard. And that brings me to my point – what makes a challenge? Is golf itself hard enough without adding tricks and trials?

Meghan MacLaren tees off at Wentworth in the Rose Ladies Series finale.

At The Rose Ladies Series, it seemed as if every course tried its hardest to beat us. Some people didn’t like that. They thought the Series should showcase women’s golf more by using easier course set-ups to highlight just how good we are.

I think that point is valid, but people seem to forget that showing how good you are isn’t just about how many rounds under par you produce. Recognising the challenge a course presents, and figuring out how to answer its questions and navigate its dangers shows how good you are, too. I would argue even more so than stringing birdies together.

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The thing I realised in college is that once you get to a certain level, everyone’s best golf is remarkably similar. That isn’t to say you don’t have to be ridiculously good to compete at that level.

Being able to go low consistently, and pull off those shots in the moments when it matters most takes a huge amount of nerve and skill which few possess. Aggressive golf is brilliant golf, but only when it’s done successfully. 

When golf stretches the mental just as much as the physical, that’s when it is at its most compelling. That’s why Major Championships are the best to watch. As a fan, that’s why I’d rather watch a Sunday challenge of making a par on a bouncy, bunker-protected par 3 in a 35mph cross wind, than a bombed driver to a pristine fairway, followed by a high-spinning wedge shot to set-up a straightforward birdie. As a player, the former would make me more nervous than the latter.

Phil Mickelson showed his displeasure at the set-up at Shinnecock Hills in 2018.

Of course, Major Championships can take it too far. The US Open often sees courses straddle that line of difficulty and ridicule – Phil Mickelson at Shinnecock Hills in 2018 springs to mind, and I can only begin to imagine how tough, and draining, trying to compete on courses like that is. But I like being mentally exhausted after a tournament, if any sense can be made of that.

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I like standing on a tee, trying to decide if the benefits of taking on a fairway bunker with driver outweigh the consequences. I like plotting my way around a golf course, checking the wind against the pin positions, understanding where misses are least punishing and identifying when you simply have to pull the shot off.

Meghan MacLaren plans her strategy during the Rose Ladies Series.

There are many arguments circling about the modern game and modern equipment, and its effect on the best courses in the world. Many great courses don’t play the way they were designed to be played anymore, because distance has become so extreme. As much as I enjoy watching Rory hit his driver, golf has so much more to offer than power, and I think the whole game starts to lose if things continue to head in that direction.

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I admire what Bryson DeChambeau has done to improve his golf and his chances
of success. It’s taken more dedication and pain than 99 per cent of us would be willing
to endure. 

Tiger Woods remains one of the game's greatest strategists.

But give me Tiger dismantling Royal Melbourne at the Presidents Cup, or unflinching at Augusta as his competitors give way to inexperience, over DeChambeau pounding out a 23-under-par win at the Rocket Mortgage Classic, every day of the week. Post-lockdown gratitude or not.

Meghan MacLaren is a two-time winner on the Ladies European Tour. Follow her on Twitter (@meg_maclaren) and Instagram (@meg_maclaren). You can also read her blog at megmaclaren.com.