Ricoh Women’s British Open Preview

Features

Matt Cooper looks ahead to the fourth women’s major of the year, which this year heads to Kingsbarns for the first time, a few miles outside the home of golf.

Every August, Scotland welcomes the world for the Edinburgh International Festival and the Festival Fringe that takes place alongside it.

This August, the Kingdom of Fife welcomes the golfing world for the Ricoh Women’s British Open, a tournament that might be viewed as the Fringe to the Open Championship’s Festival.

But whereas Edinburgh’s events have combined to create one remarkable experience, golf’s two Opens remains resolutely disparate and different.

Two weeks ago at Royal Birkdale the media centre and TV compound groaned under the weight of hundreds of occupants, the crowds broke records and Jordan Spieth’s victory earned worldwide attention.

This week will be different – very different – to all of that.

It’s a pity because new venue Kingsbarns – granted good weather – will be a spectacular stage and for the first time Sky Sports will cover the tournament (in a sudden and unexpected twist it has become a rare major outing for the organisation).

What might we hope for this week?

A strong tournament narrative would help because whilst there have been many fine winners in recent years the truth is that the event has lacked a storyline which grabs attention. We need a head-to-head of spectacular golf. Or a spiky dual between characters we know (or suspect) rub each other the wrong way. Or a thrilling cavalry charge. Or even …

A genuine challenge by a youthful British player, because it’s high time we did. What a summer it would be for it to happen too. Let them be inspired by the Cricket World Cup success, Johanna Konta’s Wimbledon run and the England team’s progress in the European Championship. Let them add to it.

The action starts Thursday.

Last year

After seven straight events on the great links courses, the tournament moved inland to the Marquess Course at Woburn GC, home club of Charley Hull. It seemed like the perfect story: Britain’s golden girl playing in front of her adoring local crowds. Alas it turned out the course was her least favourite of the club’s three layouts, the set-up was shorter than she was used to (she normally played off the back tees), and the pressure of seeing her face on every wall, poster and billboard (plus being willed to victory by every well-meaning member) wore her down. Ariya Jutanugarn, by contrast, was utterly convincing in claiming the title and becoming the first Thai golfer to win a major championship.

New venue – Kingsbarns GC

Well-known to golf fans as one of the three host courses of the European Tour’s Dunhill Links Championship, it was designed by Kyle Phillips, who also created Dundonald Links, venue for last week’s AAM Scottish Open. This week’s test is on a bigger scale, utilising a dramatic stretch of coastline a few miles south of St Andrews. The land is undulating, the views wild, the greens vast. The test can be tough in high wind, but it is also a wonderfully fun golf course to play and watch golf on.

Recent RWBO’s played on links course

In 2015 Inbee Park overcame a wonderful links debut by her unknown compatriot Jin Young Ko, who had never played links golf before Tuesday of the tournament week, but in filthy conditions at Turnberry simply obeyed the instructions of her local caddie and led heading into the back nine before finishing runner-up.

Twelve months earlier Mo Martin sprang a surprise at Royal Birkdale, her accurate golf peaking when her approach to the par-5 final hole crashed into the flag and very nearly dropped for an albatross two, before she converted the eagle putt for the win.

The 2013 tournament was held on The Old Course and Stacy Lewis ground out victory on a fraught final day of 36 holes. Before that Jiyai Shin destroyed the field by nine shots in desperate weather at Royal Liverpool. The tournament is due a nice week of sun (the forecast? sunny showers).

Leading contenders

World number one So Yeon Ryu is yet to win this title, but her record playing it on links is superb: 5-17-17-3. The key is that she is utterly indefatigable. If the weather turns bad during practice? She stays out in it, prepping herself for the prospect of the same thing happening during competition days.

Suzann Pettersen has finished top five in each of the last three tournament played on links, but questions remain. She hasn’t won for two years, hasn’t won a major for four years and the shadow of her Solheim Cup non-gimme refuses to go away. In fact an amateur event saw a similar episode just last week. It will likely be brought up this week.

Defending champion Ariya Jutanugarn might be up against it. She admitted last year that she breathed a sigh of relief when she saw Woburn was tree-lined and inland. Her stroke average in the event on links is 75.67. She is one of three stars who’ve never quite sussed it by the sea. The others are Lydia Ko (T3rd at Turnberry but stroke average 73.00) and Lexi Thompson (never gone sub-70, 74.21).

Specialists

Sei Young Kim has limited experience of links golf (MC at Turnberry, T6 last week at Dundonald), yet she has a superb record in wind, albeit it usually Hawaiian or Bahamian, rather than North Sea, wind.

It’s never quite happened for Anna Nordqvist in this event, despite being a British Amateur winner and runner-up at North Berwick and Royal County Down, but she has finished top 12 in four of her last five links starts. She also played Kingsbarns as a junior (and loved it).

Home challenge

Catriona Matthew has played links golf all her life and is a past winner of the tournament, but is currently undergoing work on her swing since returning to coach Kevin Craggs. She has only one top 20 finish (T20th) since she made the top five at Woburn 12 months ago.

Charley Hull has proved herself at this level (when winning last year’s season-ending Tour Championship), but she’s no fan of links golf, whilst Mel Reid has just one top ten finish in this event. Keep an eye on Georgia Hall. She’s yet to thrive in this tournament, but she did have a little charge at Royal Birkdale three years ago and is increasingly at home among the LPGA stars.

Matt will be at Kingsbarns all week. Follow him on Twitter @MattCooperGolf


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