How the World's best are preparing for links golf

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As the World’s best female golfers descend on Kingsbarns for the Ricoh Women’s British Open and a test of golf they aren’t often accustomed to, the question of preparation for links golf naturally arises.

Admittedly, there has been a lot of rain over the past few days, meaning softer playing conditions at Kingsbarns that may prevent it from playing as tough a links course as it could be. 

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But although the fairways and greens may be bigger, so are the undulations in comparison to a regular LPGA or LET event. Numerous are the blind tee-shots, pot hole bunkers and with unpredictable conditions that can range from warm and calm to penalising winds and horizontal rain, low scoring is still by no means a guarantee.

So how do those players in the World’s top 10 prepare their strategy for four days of a major on a course like Kingsbarns? Some played the Scottish Open the week before at Dundonald Links, while others decided to take the week off, but most have spent the early part of this week on the course practicing those tricky shots around the green.

And greens aren't the only thing to contend with. The fairways are wide but you've still got to land it in the right place, so whether it’s still hitting a lot of drivers like Lexi Thompson, or not even putting one in your bag like defending Champion Ariya Jutanugarn, it’s clear there is a huge disparity in strategy when it comes to teeing up on a links golf course.

One thing that is agreed by all players though, is the necessity to be able to hit low shots in to the greens.

So Yeon Ryu:

Best Open Result: T3, 2015 (Turnberry)
Best Open Result on links: T3, 2015 (Turnberry)

The World No.1 has a great record at the Ricoh British Women’s Open, finishing in the top five in three of her five appearances and never having finished worse than T17.

Ryu, who won the ANA Inspiration earlier this year and finished T23 at the Scottish Open last week, works with Jordan Spieth's coach Cameron McCormick - and she believes that working on her ball flight with him will be a key for her this week.

So-Yeon-Ryu

“I always enjoy the links style golf course, and I always enjoy the really big greens because you still can see so many different shots. We played the ladies Scottish Open last week, and I had great preparation for this tournament. According to last week, judging by last week, I think my ball has a nice trajectory for side wind right now. I think before my ball was going quite high.”

“I think I can now trust myself that my ball flight is good enough and strong enough. It’s not going to affect the side wind much. That helped me to manage this golf course really, really well. Right now I feel more comfortable hitting low shots and hit different chip shots. It’s going to be fun to play”

“This golf course is pretty soft right now but I think it’s still tough even with the tough conditions, so I’m not predicting super low scores”

“The fairways are really wide and greens are really big, so I have a feeling it’s going to be a matter of where we’re going to land the ball and all about the short game, as well”

Lexi Thompson

Best Open Result: T8, 2017
Best Open Result on Links Course: T17, 2015 (Turnberry) & 2012 (Hoylake) 

Lexi Thompson enters the fourth major of the year with an envious record that includes a victory less than a month after the disappointing rules controversy at the ANA Inspiration that cost her a second major title.

Putting that firmly behind her, Lexi has seven top 10s and a victory in 14 starts, and comes in with a lot of confidence thanks to recently securing her highest ever ranking as World no.2.

Lexi Thompson

In five Ricoh Women’s British Open’s she’s had three top 20 finishes, with her highest being last year at Woburn where she ended the tournament tied 8th. Lexi opted not to play in the Scottish Open last week in favour of seeing her family, but she still believes experience has helped her get prepared for the challenge this week.

“Every British Open has given me experience, and I’ve learned different shots and learned how not to play certain holes and just stay away from bunkers.”

“I know I (need to) hit a lot of low shots, low running shots, and being from Florida, it’s so different because Florida, you’re like, okay, what’s the number to the pin, I’m landing it there. But it’s a challenging style of golf, which is good. There’s so many different shots you can hit in to the green or chip shots, putt. There’s a lot more thought in the shots I think, in links style golf."

“I get to hit a good amount of drivers which is nice. I’ll put the 3-iron in the bag this week, just in case it does get windy out there, and yeah, I'll hit a lot of drivers and 3-woods” 

“It’s all about picking the targets out there and committing to it, and obviously it depends on the conditions. If it gets super windy, it’s all about just trusting your lines and seeing where it goes”

Ariya Jutanugarn

Best Open Result: T1, 2016 (Woburn)
Best Open Result on Links Course: T45, 2014 (Royal Birkdale)

The defending champion joins So Yeon Ryu and Lexi Thompson as one of the stand-out pairings during the first two days of play – but comes in with a slight dip in form.

Despite Jutanugarn’s win at the Manulife LPGA Classic at the beginning of June, she has since missed two cuts, withdrawn, and had a best result of T44 at the Scottish Open last week in her last four starts.

Ariya Jutangarn

The World No.3 put that down to having picked up a shoulder injury that she is still suffering with, and she admits that due to having only played links golf a handful of times it will be quite a test to defend this week.

“I think it’s going to be a really tough one, especially if it’s windy and (with) some greens, we really need to be aggressive. I think if I just make sure to keep the ball in the fairway and hit all the greens and make I two-putt, so it should be good.”

“I think this one is my third time (playing links golf), and it’s really hard for me to totally defend on what I did before.”

“I have to do a lot of things I never do before, so I have to make sure to keep the ball low and had to aim like 50 yards right or 40 yards left, it’s really tough for me. Even when I hit good shots, it might not end up in a good place, so I have to let it go and just go hit next shot and do my best” 

“I’m not going to use driver, especially when it’s windy. I feel it’s pretty hard to control. I think this week I’m going to use more 3-wood and 2-iron”

Brooke Henderson:

Best Open Result: T50, 2016 (Woburn)
Best Open Result on Links Course: T61, 2015 (Turnberry)

The 19-year-old World No.9 is already a major champion – but even though she has just two Ricoh Women’s British Open’s under her belt and didn’t play last week, she is still confident with the work she’s put in to prepare for this week.

Brooke Henderson

“I’ve had a few goes at links golf and it is very different from what I normally play, but I feel like I just continue to get a little bit better at it and understand how to play it a little bit better.” 

“You know, hitting different shots than I normally do, keeping the ball lower to the ground, feeling a little more stable with putting. Sometimes when the wind blows, I feel a little bit off balance, so I just kind of tried to prepare myself for that this week. I’ll work through a strategy tonight and tomorrow”

“I’ve tried to work on my short game a little bit to prepare for the rolling greens and maybe not quite as fast as some of the greens we play in the US but definitely the style of greens and low shots in the fairway, I’ve always tried to work on my knockdowns and hopefully those will come out this week”

“In the past I haven’t necessarily played that well on links-style golf courses, but I feel that I’ve kind of worked hard leading into it on different shots that I might need to hit and kind of prepared that way. I feel if I can hit solid tee shots and get myself in good positions, then I’ll make it a little bit easier to shoot even or maybe even under par.”

Lydia Ko

Best Open Result: T3, 2015 (Turnberry)
Best Open Result on Links Course: T3, 2015 (Turnberry) 

Ko recently missed the cut at the Scottish Open and has slipped to World No.5 in the Rolex Rankings, but ecouraging statistics prove she has had success on Links courses before. The former World No.1 has never missed a cut at the Ricoh Women’s British Open, with her best result coming at Turnberry two years ago.

However, Ko has recently struggled to retain the momentum she had when she won four of her seven career victories last year, and hasn’t won an event on the LPGA tour since July 2016. 

Lydia Ko

Regardless, she’s still managed to be inside the top 10 in seven of the 16 events she has played this year, and Ko insists that consistency and learning from last week is more of a focus than World ranking. 

"Last week, I think on the first day, I hit like 13 fairways out of 14, yet I shot 2-over. I think that shows what links golf is all about, and at the same time, you need to play smart and putt well, as well. I've had weeks where I've hit the ball great and struggled with the putter. Sometimes I've been on with the putter but not so good with the long game."

"For me it's more important to get the confidence a bit better and be more consistent. I think that's the bigger picture rather than thinking about the ranking."

"This isn't your typical links where you can run it up. There is a lot of bunkering. I don't think I've played this close to the water before during a major championship. But you know, it's beautiful."

"You know, like technique-wise, there are a few shots that normally we may not hit throughout the year that we have to hit in some of these situations. Like going to the pot bunkers or hitting out of the long fescue rough or keeping the ball under control in the wind. There are a few aspects that it wouldn't really be common in other tournaments."

"But when it's so windy like that and when it's that tough, you just have to be really calm and think, hey, par is a good score. If you're in a little bit of trouble, bogey is not that bad because it's so easy to make big numbers when you go in the long rough or when you hit it out of position."