Expect weather to be a factor at Carnoustie
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland -- The last thing the competitors in this week's Women's British Open want is to have their names engraved alongside Jean Van de Velde's. In 1999, the Frenchman should have taken his place among the list of champions on the Claret Jug, but he instead had his name etched on the wall of the Barry Burn after his Open chances disappeared in that hazard as he triple-bogeyed the final hole.
It was the builder who came to shore up the wall prior to the 2007 Open who was responsible for this somewhat informal memento. His simple inscription is as follows: "Jean Van de Velde 1999."
Yani Tseng, the defending champion, has seen for herself what the Barry Burn can do to a player under Open championship pressure. In 2007, when she was still an amateur and in the United Kingdom to try to qualify for that summer's British Women's Open, she came to the Carnoustie Golf Links to see what she could learn from the men.
She remembers seeing Padraig Harrington hitting into the water before defeating Sergio Garcia in the four-hole playoff but, more than that, she remembers being frozen to the core. "I was standing behind the ropes holding on to a cup of hot chocolate," she recalled.
Tseng is one of many who are itching for the gun to go Thursday.
"I was so excited when I first heard about the event coming to Carnoustie," she said. "It's a real honor. I love the course."
The Taiwanese golfer was tangling with a few trees in France last week, but that will not happen here. They culled most of them at Carnoustie prior to the 1999 Open because they were not indigenous to the links.
The women are expecting this championship to be all about the weather, just as it was for the men at Royal St. George's.
The forecast may be good now, but, as everyone knows, the elements can play up at any time on this stretch of golfing coastline.
"It's wonderfully benign at the moment," said Karen Stupples, the 2004 champion, when she arrived Monday afternoon. "But to be honest, I don't trust it. I've got plenty of warm clothes in my case."
Catriona Matthew, who won in 2009, thinks much the same as Stupples.
She had her first practice round in May over the links where she won the 1991 Scottish Women's Amateur championship. At the time, she congratulated herself on having coincided with a day stolen from summer but then she thought again.
"I told myself that by the time the [Open] came round, it could be like winter and blowing a gale," she said.
Not that she minds. She loves the fact that her upbringing at North Berwick prepared her better than most for the demands of the seaside game.
Thomas Bjorn, upon overhearing a conversation at Royal St. George's about the women playing their first Open at Carnoustie, chipped in with the mischievous suggestion that they should be made to hit from the back tee at the 18th. "That would sort them out," he chuckled.
The hole was 499 yards for the men in 2007 but, for the purposes of this week, it is an altogether more friendly 386 yards.
Paula Creamer thinks the course has been set up to perfection.
"What you see is what you get," said Creamer, who had her first reconnaissance rounds before heading to the Evian Masters. "It's not unfair by any means. You're not getting those crazy bounces over bunkers and things like that."
The only aspect of the links to have taken Creamer by surprise are the greens. They are longer and narrower than TV had led her to believe. They also are flatter than she had anticipated, with fewer breaks.
"There are times when it might be difficult to trust what you are seeing," she said.
Creamer has just come through a putting spell in which "the hole wasn't looking 4 1/4 inches." Now, thanks to endless hard work and cutting back on the analysis, much of her old confidence is back, she said.
Meanwhile, it will be interesting to see if Michelle Wie will set out Thursday with the same belly-putter she used for the first time in France.
Those who know her best thought she had been crouching somewhat awkwardly over her usual putter and that the longer model looks more comfortable.
Which brings us back to the elements. If, as they say in Carnoustie, it is "blowing a hooly," the player might well benefit from having the club anchored to her stomach.