David Howell: Exciting summer of golf ahead

The European Tour is about to pick up a head of steam with big event after big event, and with so much to play for, the quality of the golf should be of the highest level.

Finally, the European skies have turned blue after a wet and chilly springtime and a fantastic summer golfing schedule is upon us. Shinnecock Hills plays host to the US Open, a return to a traditional venue that is more than welcome. I will be trying to find my way into the field via the European qualifier which is once again being held on the rather splendid courses of Walton Heath, home to this year’s British Masters supported by Sky Sports in October.

At 42 years of age, I would imagine this will be my last chance to play at Shinnecock, and that is as good a reason as any to attempt to make the starting line-up in my book. The run-up to The Open itself is a cracker this year – three
Rolex series events in a row starting off at this year’s Ryder Cup venue at Le Golf National just outside Paris. The Albatross course is a serious challenge and, hopefully, one that will attract huge TV audiences to watch the HNA Open de France to get a feel for the course before The Ryder Cup itself. From Paris we move on to Ballyliffin for the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open hosted by the Rory Foundation, at the most Northern tip of Northern Ireland, a links course of the highest repute. This will start a three-week run of links golf in fine style, with colossal crowds expected to crown the champion. The winner at Ballyliffin will certainly fancy their chances of a strong showing two weeks later at the main event on the East coast of Scotland.

 

Toughest hole in golf

Before the world’s best set foot on one of Great Britain’s toughest courses, Carnoustie, they will have another opportunity to hone their links play on another quite superb layout, the composite course at Gullane on Scotland’s Golf Coast, host of The Open Championship. A festival of links golf awaits us then, and by the end of that four-week run, much will have become clearer. Major championships will have been won, Tour cards secured for the following season and, by and large, The Ryder Cup side will have taken shape.

Personally, I’m looking forward to the summer with great excitement and with a view to forge my way into the field for The Open. I can so clearly remember playing there in 1999. With rough at knee-high level the course was an absolute brute. In fact, it’s when the layout claimed the moniker ‘Carnastie.’ Paul Lawrie, of course, won that week, but Jean van de Velde, made all the headlines for taking seven shots at the last, played out in true Gallic fashion. In fairness to Jean, if there is one hole on which you can make a triple bogey in a heartbeat it’s the 18th at Carnoustie. If there is a tougher hole in golf, then I have yet to play it.

By that stage in your round your energy reserves are dwindling, your mental fortitude is diminished and 16 and 17 have taken their toll. It’s in this sad state in which you find yourself when you take in the hole and all its problems. Into the breeze it’s a brute: a drive and a 3-wood quite often required, with water right off of the tee; a burn just short of the green, and Out of Bounds cruelly placed just to the left of the green, behind an ordinary wire fence. Quite simply, it’s a brilliantly designed, dastardly hole. Any person who navigates it with a par on his way to victory is the most deserving of champions in my book. Carnoustie is not the most picturesque golf course in Scotland. In fact, you don’t see the sea at any point, but if you like your golf tough and pure then there is no better venue. It’s certainly not the prettiest, or the most rugged, it’s just a quite superb test of golf. I hope I’ll get the chance to take it on once again in just a few weeks’ time.

New blood

As mentioned earlier The Ryder Cup is coming soon, and whilst the team is yet to take shape, the backroom line-up has been announced by Captain Thomas Bjørn: Robert Karlsson, Lee Westwood, Luke Donald, Padraig Harrington and Graeme McDowell. What a superb team to have to support our twelve strongest players in their quest to win back the Trophy. All have made huge contributions to our recent success in the biennial match, two are former world number ones, with steel in their bellies, and the other two recruits are former Major winners. Never mind their own personal stats, what I like is the fresh feel about this backroom team. It signals the beginning of a new era for European Ryder Cup teams. The old guard are moving on and making way for new blood. The team that makes it to Paris will be able to call on the valuable experience of a support team of winners, which I hope will prove to be a potent mix. I wish them all the very best, and above all, I look forward to another fascinating production of the Greatest Show in Golf