Reflections from the 150th Open on the Old Course at St. Andrews

Record scoring shouldn't detract from another magical major at the Home of Golf.
Cameron Smith of Australia tees off on the 18th hole during Day Four of The 150th Open on the Old Course at St. Andrews.

There were times when the Old Course at St. Andrews looked over-matched during the 150th Open.

Baked out fairways and pristine weather led to colossal drives and what sometimes felt like a pitch-and-putt fest. But golf fans who can look past the record scoring can appreciate the enduring allure of the Old Course. Cam Smith's 36-hole and 72-hole totals were records for an Open at St. Andrews, but the numbers don't tell the whole story.

St. Andrews gave us another Open for the ages. The crowds and buzz that lit up St. Andrews can't be matched by any other major venue except perhaps Augusta National. Even though the 18th hole is tame by major championship standards, the backdrop of the historic town and the R&A clubhouse is simply stunning in TV and in person.

The Old Course is a tie that binds the modern game to its roots. Every legend has had his moment crossing the Swilcan bridge and walking up the final fairway. What other place could inspire tears from the normally stoic Tiger Woods?

Ultimately, a major championship venue needs a fairy-tale leaderboard to justify its participation in golf's most inspiring moments. The 2022 Open delivered again in that regard. You had all the makings of a Hollywood movie from the Sunday leaderboard: a beloved fan favorite (Rory McIlroy), a surprising young upstart (Cameron Young), a mullet-wearing foil (Smith) and even a few so-called villains (LIV golfers Dustin Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau finished among the top 8).

There was drama from start to finish in the final round. Smith erased a four-shot lead with a superb display from his short game, making five straight birdies to open the back nine. He two-putted around the fearsome Road Hole bunker on no. 17 and added another two-putt birdie from off the green on 18 to seal his first major. "I've played the best golf of my life all week," Smith said.

Perhaps the biggest disappointment of the week was the lack of highlights - and lowlights - of leaders hitting shots from some of the course's most famous bunkers. Rarely are the famous Hell bunker, Principal's Nose and others really in play anymore for the best players in the world. The only way the R&A can defend the Old Course is to set pins behind slopes, a tactic that didn't sit well with everybody, even if it was necessary.

“I’ll be honest, I’m not really a fan,” of the setup, U.S. Open Champion Matthew Fitzpatrick told Golf Digest after the third round. “It’s difficult to … I just feel like sometimes I’ve heard it on commentary all week, you can hit good shots and get bad bounces and you can hit bad shots and get good bounces. And like I say, I felt like for the first seven holes I didn’t really miss a shot and I’m walking off seventh green plus one. It’s tough to take. It’s tough to stay patient."

Golf fans have to stay patient, too, waiting for the R&A' announcement about the next Open at St. Andrews. The good news is the AIG Women's Open returns in 2024. The women's game might fit the Old Course better, considering that finesse, not power, is what translates to success. Men or women, any major in St. Andrews is a treasure.

Watching the Open is one of summer's great joys for golf fans. The GolfPass staff wasn't fortunate enough to be in St. Andrews to witness the action unfold live, although we had, arguably, the next best thing. Instead of the Home Of Golf, Tim Gavrich was watching from the Home of American Golf: Pinehurst. Meanwhile, Jason Scott Deegan was in Dublin, Ireland, watching from The Snug bar in the Portmarnock Hotel & Golf Links. The entire watering hole was drinking Guinness and rooting hard for McIlroy, who is a co-founder of GolfPass. The crowd let out big groans whenever another birdie putt would slide by. It would have been the ultimate good fortune for me to be in Ireland with McIlroy lifting the claret jug for his fifth career major. Sadly, the golf gods had other plans.

"Look, I got beaten by a better player this week," McIlroy said. "20-under par for four rounds of golf around here is really, really impressive playing, especially to go out and shoot 64 today to get it done. Yeah, I'll rue a few missed sort of putts that slid by. But it's been a good week overall. I can't be too despondent because of how this year's went and this year's going. I'm playing some of the best golf I've played in a long time. So it's just a matter of keep knocking on the door, and eventually one will open."

Jason Scott Deegan has reviewed and photographed more than 1,000 courses and written about golf destinations in 20 countries for some of the industry's biggest publications. His work has been honored by the Golf Writer's Association of America and the Michigan Press Association. Follow him on Instagram at @jasondeegangolfpass and Twitter at @WorldGolfer.
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Reflections from the 150th Open on the Old Course at St. Andrews