R&A chief warns Bryson DeChambeau that he WILL rein in golf’s big-hitting ‘bombers’

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They made the right decision. And they’re doing their best to fill a significant gap on the sporting calendar, deploying imagination and technology to provide a taste of Open week in unprecedented circumstances.

But those ‘what if…’ moments likely to be experienced by all golf fans over the coming days?

R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers gets it. He’s already feeling exactly the same twinges and pangs.

Yes, some sort of a secure, socially-distanced tournament could have been pieced together at Royal St George’s this week.

The fact that many of the world’s best players are back in action on the PGA Tour proves, some glaring concerns aside, that it can be done.

An Open Championship without galleries, however, would be a poor substitute for the real thing.

The greatest week of the golfing year isn’t meant to be played out behind shuttered turnstiles or even, as is now being suggested for the rearranged US Open, in front of just a few thousand fans.

Imagine going from last July’s emotionally-charged glory of Shane Lowry’s triumph at Portrush – an event Slumbers describes as being ‘one of the top five experiences of my life’ – to a virtually empty links in Kent. No thanks.

It has been 12 months since Shane Lowry was carried to an incredible victory by the thronging Irish crowds at an unforgettable Open Championship at Royal Portrush

Speaking with Sportsmail over Zoom, Slumbers said: ‘If I’m really honest, no, I couldn’t imagine what that would be like.

‘I’ve talked, in my time here, about trying to build the crowds, build the atmosphere, build something very special.

‘We’re very conscious of The Open’s history, of trying to put on one of the world’s greatest sporting championships. And crowds are such a key part of that.

‘Johnnie Cole-Hamilton, our championships director, spends so much of his time thinking about this.

‘Up the 18th at an Open is the greatest walk in golf. And that is about building the stands, the crowds, the way we manage that atmosphere.

‘So it would have been very, very difficult to have done it without crowds.

‘But we’re living in very strange times. And this is not behind us by any stretch of the imagination.

‘So I think, as sports fans, we’re all getting a bit used to no crowds in professional sport. But The Open would look very odd.

‘You only have to look at last year, with Shane Lowry at Portrush. He got going, as these guys can.

‘And then he was carried along on a tide of Irish euphoria. That wouldn’t have happened without the crowds being there. It makes a huge difference at the top end of professional sport.’

That was certainly the case 12 months ago, with fans from all over Ireland – north and south – creating a truly unique atmosphere on a spectacular Sunday, in particular.

As a side effect of The Open being postponed for the first time since the Second World War, incidentally, the Champion Golfer of 2019 now gets to hold onto one of the most coveted prizes in sport for another year.

This week was supposed to see The Open return to Royal St George's for the first time since Darren Clarke's memorable triumph in 2011, but now we have to wait another year

This week was supposed to see The Open return to Royal St George’s for the first time since Darren Clarke’s memorable triumph in 2011, but now we have to wait another year

Slumbers said: ‘I saw Shane in Sawgrass for the Players Championship and asked him: “How is my Claret Jug?”

‘He’s been tremendous. It must have been difficult for him not to be teeing it up next week.

‘But we’ve been really privileged with the champions we’ve had – and now Shane gets to hold it for two years.

‘I’ve said to a few people that Portrush was probably one of the top five experiences of my life. Certainly my sporting life.

‘The first Open I attended was 1984 with Seve Ballesteros. We were there on Saturday when Tom Watson played an extraordinary round of golf.

‘Then on the Sunday, when Seve and Tom were going at each other, that was incredible.

‘Seve is still my favourite golfer. I admire Jack Nicklaus, I think he’s the best golfer of all time. Tiger Woods is extraordinary.

‘Watson playing links golf was extraordinary. Nick Faldo is the greatest modern golfer Britain and the UK has produced.

‘But, for me, Seve was the genius. And ’84 will always be my favourite.

‘Portrush, with all the uncertainty building up to it, a real feeling of being the start of something historical, was an experience I will never forget.

‘I left Portrush at seven o’clock the next morning to go to the Senior Open. We got on the boat at Belfast and went the long way to Liverpool.

‘It was eight hours. I think I stared at the wall for six of them…’

Once the decision was made to postpone, thoughts immediately turned to next summer.

Portrush would have been a hard act to follow in normal circumstances. But, with a year’s gap sharpening the appetite, Royal St George’s promises to be pretty special – with Slumbers confidently predicting record crowds.

Still, this week won’t be easy, as he admitted: ‘I was talking about this with someone in the team earlier. We said that it was with a very heavy heart that we cancelled it.

‘I fundamentally believe we made absolutely the right decision. For the good of The Open, players and all our officials.

‘But we should be there by this point. We always have a board meeting as the last thing before The Open.

‘And it felt really weird to finish the board meeting – and not being going to pack my suitcase.

‘So it’s going to feel a bit weird. I think I will try to act normally.

Slumbers says Seve Ballesteros is his golfing hero and the Spaniard's victory at St Andrews in 1984 is his all-time favourite Open moment

Slumbers says Seve Ballesteros is his golfing hero and the Spaniard’s victory at St Andrews in 1984 is his all-time favourite Open moment

‘Next summer? The lovely thing about all the courses is that they’re genuinely different.

‘Royal St George’s is an example. It has a lot of shots where you can’t see the ball land – and a lot of the players don’t like that. But the last six holes are as good as anything in championship golf.

‘We’re hoping this public health crisis is behind us as a society – and we will have record crowds for Royal St George’s.

‘In fact, we gave everyone who bought their ticket the ability to get a refund or to roll it over.

‘The vast majority have rolled them over and will be there next year.

‘It’s a big golf course, there’s a lot going on around it. I think it will be pretty exciting.

‘I like moving it around the country. Getting a bit of a London feel to it will be different.’

That’s something to look forward to, at least. In the meantime? Well, Open devotees will be able to sample something that sounds like a magnificent combination of age-old clubhouse arguments and the latest advances in streaming technology.

The Open for the Ages will use 50 years of archive footage to create a competition between some of the game’s all-time greats.

It’s all very complicated. But the essence of the experiment is incredibly simple.

Stick Jack and Tiger, Seve and Tom, Rory McIlroy and Sir Nick together in their prime. And take a stab at figuring out who would win.

It starts on Thursday across Open media channels, with Sunday’s virtual final round being broadcast on Sky.

While no-one will pretend that it’s a proper substitute for live sport, no more than the virtual Grand National or all those Masters highlights we watched back in April, it sounds like fun.

‘With cancelling The Open, we didn’t want to forget it,’ explained Slumbers.

‘We wanted to give our fans something special to look forward to, in the absence of The Open.

‘And it was an idea that had been sort of noodling around for a while, about could we showcase the great champions at St Andrews? Cancelling it gave us a real initiative.

‘It’s going to be very innovate, very intriguing in terms of the outcome.

‘With sports fans, particularly golf fans, there is always the big debate. Wouldn’t it be great to see Jack up against Rory?

‘Well, we’re going to show it. And we’re using technology to create the idea of them playing against each other.

‘I’ve seen quite a lot of the final footage and I think people will find it compelling.

‘Does that mean I know who wins? I’m not saying anything …’

For more information on Open for the Ages, bringing together many of golf’s greatest champions to compete against each other over the Old Course in an innovative three hour broadcast production, visit www.theopen.com.

The R&A is hosting a virtual battle between the golf's greatest ever players this week

The R&A is hosting a virtual battle between the golf’s greatest ever players this week



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