Loving the Links

Saturday July 21st, 2007
Arron Oberholser shot even par on Friday.
Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland — Officially, American Arron Oberholser has played four rounds of British Open golf — two last year at Royal Liverpool and two this week at Carnoustie. Unofficially, he is already completely hooked on links golf.

Not even two bogeys at Carnoustie's par-4 18th hole, the site of Jean Van de Velde's downfall, could dampen his feelings for this tournament and this type of golf.

"Just look at the damn hole; it's basically a par 5 when the wind is like this," he said Friday after his round, laughing. "They'd have to move us up to the ladies' tees so I could reach it in two. It was a layup all the way for me."

The only thing about Carnoustie that he doesn't love is the 18th, especially the wire fence just left of the green that serves as the out-of-bounds boundary (and divides the hole from an adjacent course).

"I don't know why they have that fence there, they don't need it," he said. "It would be a shame to have a guy come to the last hole with a one-shot lead, pull his second shot just a little bit and it goes out of bounds, and you've lost the British Open. This is 18 holes of great golf but that last one is questionable."

Oberholser, a native Californian who played college golf at San Jose State and won last year's AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, will get two more rounds of links golf. He made the British Open cut, shooting an even-par 71 Friday for a 36-hole total of 144, two over par. He missed the cut last year with 73-75.

He made two birdies Thursday, on both the par-3 holes on the back nine, and two more Friday when he birdied the second and fourth as part of a terrific start. Several lipped-out putts and misreads were all that stood between him and a low score Friday.

"I putted really well on the front, but my putter left me on the back nine," he said. "The pins were tricky. There wasn't a side you could be on and get a real, definite read. That's the great thing about links golf. You've got to look at every putt six ways to even get an idea of what the putt is going to do."

Oberholser, 32, is late to the Open and now wishes he'd discovered — and qualified — for this tournament years earlier.

"Besides the Masters, this is my ultimate tournament," he said. "This and the Masters are 1 and 1-A. One of my goals as a kid was to win all four majors — just once. I was 14 or 15 and wanted all four trophies on the mantel. After last year, I thought this is the last one I'd win. Now, I think the Open may be my best chance. Links golf has grown on me. After this year, there's an even more traditional links next year at Royal Birkdale, then Turnberry and back to St. Andrews.

"Of all the majors, anyone truly has a chance to win this one. There are so many ways to hit the ball. You don't have to be the longest or the strongest or putt the best or be the best iron player. You just have to know the course and your game and play the right shot when it's required."

The typically windy conditions have not been a problem for Oberholser. He grew up playing in the San Francisco Bay area, where the ocean breezes are chilly and frequent. A few courses there feel like links in places — Pebble Beach, Spyglass HIll, Spanish Bay, the public course at Pacific Grove, a few holes at Crystal Springs — but there's nothing like a real links in California. That's one reason the Open has been a step-by-step learning process for Oberholser.

"I'm getting more confident running the ball on the ground; I'm understanding more," he said. "One difference is, when it rains in northern California, the ball stops. When it rains here, the ball doesn't stop. You can still bounce it and play it on the ground."

He is a creative shotmaker, a skill that comes in handy at places like Pebble Beach but isn't always in demand on the PGA Tour, where the bomb-and-gouge style tends to rule. That's probably why he's adjusting so quickly to real British links golf.

"Yesterday, our walking rules official saw me play a few shots he probably didn't think a Californian could play," Oberholser said. "I was putting from 50 yards off the green, bumping 7-irons and 8-irons. It was a blast. He gave me a smirk, like, 'I didn't think you knew how to do that.' It was fun. I'm gaining confidence with every round.

"Here, more than any other place, the weather plays a factor. You can be three or four shots off the lead, tee off two hours ahead of the leaders and get perfect conditions. Then the leaders tee off and get total crap."

He has never played the Old Course or the New Course or Kingsbarns or any other course in St. Andrews. He's going to have to change that, he admitted.

"Yeah, I wish I would've sucked it up when I actually had a little money on the Nationwide Tour, and the exchange rate was better, and taken a coach flight over here and tried to qualify for the Open. That would've been tough but I wish I had. I'm not going to miss any more Opens, if I can help it."

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