DORNOCH, Scotland: Bobby Jones always claimed his main opponent in any round of golf wasn’t the player standing opposite him on the tee, but the card of the course. Old Man Par was always who he competed against.
He wouldn’t have felt that way had been playing in this week’s R&A Senior Amateur Championship at Royal Dornoch. Par has had no meaning at times over the last few days, especially in round three when winds were gusting between 20-30 mph.
Delightful Dornoch turned into deranged Dornoch as the wind whipped down the Dornoch Firth and made 18 holes a war of attrition. Just finishing holes in as few strokes as possible was the main target, and to hell with par for the hole.
How difficult were conditions in the third round? Just two players bettered the par of 70 in the men’s championship. Mike McCoy, the 2023 US Walker Cup captain, returned a 69 to create a nine-shot lead with 18 holes remaining. Fellow American Don Whittemore also returned a 69 and jumped from equal 37th to joint fourth place.
These scores were exceptional on a day when none of the other 61 players even managed to shoot level par. There were eight rounds in the 80s, and the average score was 76.
“It was very tough out there today,” McCoy said. “Going out downwind was just as tough as playing the back nine into the wind. These courses play just as hard downwind as into the wind.
“Then when we got into a cross wind that’s blowing 20-30mph you’re just trying not to overcook it and let the wind carry it away.”
If par was unattainable for the men, imagine what is what like for the women playing in the concurrent R&A Women’s Senior Amateur over the same course in similar conditions. The R&A is staging both tournaments over the same course for the first time, with the women’s event extended to 72 holes rather than the historic 54. Tee times are alternated so that the women face the same conditions as their male counterparts.
The last group of Caroline Berry of England, American Lara Tennant and Peru’s Anna Morales teed off at 16:35, 11 minutes before McCoy’s group.
Carnage doesn’t even begin to describe the havoc inflicted on the best senior women amateurs.
Of the 45 players who made the cut, there were three scores in the 90s and just nine rounds that began with the number seven. The average score on the par 72 layout was 82.6!
Berry had one of those sub 80 scores, a 6-over 78 to move to 14 over and take a two-shot lead over Tennant into the final round.
“Par was irrelevant because it was at least a three-club wind," Berry said. "It was extremely difficult and I’m thrilled to have played in these conditions in 78 strokes.”
Tennant won the Women’s Senior Amateur in 2019, and has triumphed in the last three US Women’s Senior Amateur Championships. She’s a seasoned campaigner, but nothing prepared her for playing Dornoch in a near gale.
“These are the most difficult conditions I’ve ever played in,” she said. “For 18 straight holes it was extremely difficult. I’ve never played in anything like this.”
Indeed, Tennant found it hard to believe she was in contention for her second title when she walked off the golf course after scoring 80.
“Absolutely no way would I have thought I’d be in contention after three rounds where I’ve shot these scores. It just shows you how difficult the conditions are, how difficult the course is.
“I wasn’t even thinking about par today. Par fours into the wind I just pretended they were par fives and tried to finish them with as few shots as possible.”
Oh, for just a wee bit of the wind that swept over the Dornoch Links for next week’s Open Championship to reign in the bombers from tearing up the Old Course.
Old Man Par? Aye, right, as we Scots say. Not when it comes to old-fashioned links golf.
#JustSaying: “On the golf course, a man may be the dogged victim of inexorable fate, be struck down by an appalling stroke of tragedy, became the hero of unbelievable melodrama, or the clown in a side-splitting comedy – any of these within a few hours, and all without having to bury a corpse or repair a tangled personality.” Bobby Jones