INSIDE: The Old Course, Hole-by-Hole; Other Courses; Where to Stay; Where to Dine; Where to Drink; The Best Off-course Plays
Returning to St. Andrews for the 2000 British Open will be like going home. Along with winning the 1991 PGA Championship, at Crooked Stick, winning my second major on the Old Course in 1995 ranks as my proudest achievement in golf. It's really something to see my name on the claret jug trophy beside all the past champions. I also think it's pretty cool that the last time the Open was held at the birthplace of golf it was won by a nontraditionalist like me.
I don't know what it is, but I just feel comfortable at St. Andrews. The fans make you feel like they really appreciate what you've accomplished. An added attraction for me is that you can get chocolate chip muffins at the Old Course; they're the good kind, just like the ones they sell in the Shell stations back home in Arkansas.
A lot of people have pointed out that St. Andrews seems to suit my game more than many of the courses on the PGA Tour, and I couldn't agree more. The wide fairways accommodate my grip-it-and-rip-it style off the tee. But there's also a more subtle aspect that's often overlooked. Except for a handful of holes, you can miss the fairways left all day long. Because of the way the nines are routed going out and coming in, most of the trouble spots — the beach, the out-of-bounds walls, the gorse and the heather — are on the right side. And when I miss a drive, I usually miss it left.
Unlike most PGA Tour courses, which consist of four par fives and four par threes, the Old Course (7,115 yards, par seventy-two) has only two par fives and two par threes. That setup would seem to favor short hitters, but during the four rounds of the 1995 Open, I drove six par-four holes — three, nine, ten, twelve, sixteen and eighteen.
I've heard that the folks at St. Andrews are "Daly-proofing" the Old Course for this year's Open by lengthening some par fours. Number fifteen, which used to measure 413 yards, will now play 456 yards. Number sixteen, which was drivable for me downwind at 382 yards, is going to be a 424-yarder. Although the added yardage will make both these holes a lot tougher, I figure long hitters like Tiger Woods, David Duval and me will still have an advantage over the rest of the field.
Another feature of the Old Course that plays to one of my strengths is the fact that there are six double greens shared by twelve of the holes. Remembering which holes share which greens is pretty easy because the numbers always add up to eighteen (the second and sixteenth, the third and fifteenth, the fourth and fourteenth, the fifth and thirteenth, the sixth and twelfth, the eighth and tenth). The double greens offer big targets: Most of them are about the size of a Canadian football field. But they can also leave you with some unbelievably long putts. Fortunately the greatest asset of my game has always been lag putting. During the second round in 1995, I was faced with three putts of more than a hundred feet and one putt that was close to two hundred feet long. I got down in two all four times.
Then, of course, there's the wind. In 1995, it blew hard the first three days, then started howling fifty miles per hour on Sunday. Costantino Rocca and I were tied at 282, only six under par, at the end of regulation, and I probably would have shot a much higher score if it hadn't been for a great tip Jack Nicklaus gave me two years earlier at Royal St. Georges. Back then, I always tried to fight the wind, hitting a cut when it was blowing right to left, hitting a draw when it was blowing left to right. Jack said, "John, just let the wind be your friend." So I quit fighting the wind and started riding it. If the wind was blowing hard from right to left, I'd just aim way right and let the wind blow the ball back to the target. Sometimes at St. Andrews I'd aim as much as thirty yards out of bounds.
Whatever happens this year, it'll be hard to top the drama of the 1995 Open. When Rocca chili-dipped his approach on eighteen and then sank a sixty-five-foot birdie putt through the Valley of Sin to tie me and force a four-hole play-off, my heart sank. But I tried to channel all my emotions into positive thoughts. It wasn't until I was marching down the fairway on eighteen with a five-shot lead that I realized I was going to be the 124th British Open champion.
If you've followed the Tour even casually, you know I've been through a lot in my personal life since 1995. But I plan to be at the top of my game at St. Andrews. Only three things worry me about returning to Scotland for the 2000 Open. One is that I hate flying; I looked into taking a cruise ship, but the trip takes a whole week, which is just too long. The other two things that concern me have to do with the trophy. When I was flying back from the Open in 1995, I got really paranoid carrying the claret jug on the plane. I was afraid something might happen to it or someone might try to steal it. Also, when I returned the trophy after a year, they made me pay to get a replica, which I think is wrong.