Irish Olympic Team Captain Paul McGinley is looking forward to the Open at Royal Troon but is currently considering the Scottish Open at Castle Stuart as he puts pen to paper for this diary piece.
"Of all the Scottish Open venues I’ve played over the years, Castle Stuart is the best – and we’ve had some strong venues," writes the 49-year-old.
"It’s wonderfully designed with great practice facilities; a perfect tune up on a links for the Open Championship. In the week before the Open, you don’t want to have a strenuous test like Carnoustie for example. You just want to get a feel for links golf. Castle Stuart is not the most difficult course on the European Tour; it gives you a bit of leeway. It’s a gentle movement towards the test of golf that the Open will provide.
"Todd Hamilton was a surprise winner the last time the Open was played at Royal Troon in 2007. It’s so hard to pick a winner these days. Troon is a similar test in some ways to St Andrews. There are some short par fours and the back nine always plays a lot harder. You generally have to make your score on the front nine and hang on. You need the luck of the draw with tee times from 6.30am to 4pm.
“The weather can vary so much in that time you can lose or gain half a dozen shots depending on which side of the draw you are. At Augusta for the Masters, you know the weather is likely to be the same all day and the course will play a certain way. It is lot easier to predict who will play well. But it’s difficult to do so at the Open. If you are going to have a bet, you’d better wait until Friday night until you see the lie of the land and everyone is going to be playing around roughly the same time at the weekend.
"Rory McIlroy is due a major victory. He is coming off a disappointing US Open where he missed the cut. He has had a number of top 10s and that win at the Irish Open is his highlight so far this year. He will be looking to accelerate over the summer. Dustin Johnson has been ready to burst onto the big-time scene for a number of years. Now he has finally got over the line, I expect him to win more majors. We all know how talented he is. He played well in the first two rounds at St Andrews last year before fading over the weekend. If he drives the ball at the Open as well as he did to win the US Open, he has the ability to over-power the front nine and dismantle the back nine at Troon.
"You have to admire Jordan Spieth, too. He always seems to find a way to compete. He is a guy you would expect to be on the leaderboard on Sunday. Jason Day, as well, who also played well at St Andrews. We no doubt now have a Big Four. You have to put Dustin in the group with Jason, Jordan and Rory. Now that he has first major, I would be surprised in 10 years’ time if he still only has one major victory. He has the game to be part of that elite group at the top of the game.
"What happened on the back nine at the US Open with Dustin Johnson’s rules issue must never happen again.
“There were two issues. One was the strict adherence to the rules and how they are interpreted. The second was the notification of the players while they were still in competition and not giving them clarity and saying the possible infringement by Johnson would be assessed after the round. That’s not good enough. The USGA got involved on the back nine of a major on a Sunday. There was no clarity for the players, caddies, the crowd, and for the millions watching on television around the world.
“We need to look at the rules. The word of the player and the marker of his scorecard, must be trusted rather than a slow motion camera. What you want to create in golf is the same environment for someone playing in their fourball on a Sunday morning to the guys playing in a major championship.
“One of the big things is honesty among players. That is so important to move golf on in the modern world. There has to be more leeway than a camera slowed down to 100 frames a second. Even then they still couldn’t determine beyond reasonable doubt in my opinion that Dustin caused the ball to move. We didn’t see his putter touch the ball. There was too much assumption. You cannot press the pause button. The score is sacrosanct. You need to know where you stand without delay. Even the USGA has said they need to review the rules.
“I am disappointed Rory and Shane Lowry have decided not to play in the Olympics. As Ireland’s golf team captain, I was looking forward to working with them. I have put a lot of work into preparing, going down to Rio, looking at the course, and communicating with them, and at the 11th hour they have decided that the Zika virus is something they don’t want to take a chance with.
“It’s disappointing. The game of golf will be the loser that we have two of our most charismatic players who have decided not to play. It’s a shame. There was a great opportunity there to be part of the biggest sporting event in the world. Golfers at the moment seem to be the only athletes pulling out because of the Zika virus. Tennis players don’t seem to have an issue with it. So it’s not reflecting well on golf.
“It’s disappointing for Ireland, for golf and the Olympics. Rory and Shane have given me their reasons about Zika and I have to accept that. Of course with big names pulling out it doesn’t reflect well but, having said that, the Irish team still has Padraig Harrington. He will be an important personality. Not just for golf but for the whole Ireland team. We are lucky to have him. Golf will still put on a good show. We still have a lot of top players going to Rio.”
* Paul McGinley is the captain of the Ballantinesgolfclub.com, the world’s first online golf club. Free to join, the Club offers members unique online content and money-can’t-buy opportunities to play the gamethey love