Blowy Birkdale Could Be a Repeat of ’98

SOUTHPORT, England – Reading Cameron Morfit’s lighthearted take on the weather at Royal Birkdale, I’m having one of those “déjà vu all over again” moments. Only it isn’t a brain cloud. It’s my very real memory of the conditions that prevailed here during the 1998 Open Championship, won by Mark O’Meara.
Here’s what I wrote about that week’s weather in my story for SI:
“The weather in the British Isles has been on the wet and windy side this year. England’s northwest shore is so soggy that hedgerows are spilling onto pavements and articles left outdoors turn overnight into chia pets. The days leading up to the Open Championship were notable for squally rain and winds that whistled in the flag rigs above the grandstands at Royal Birkdale. The rough was so lush that Tom Lehman lost six balls in eight holes in a Monday practice round, and so tall that you could almost hide a Texan in it — specifically the defending champion from Dallas, Justin Leonard, who finished 17 over for the tournament.
“In normal conditions Royal Birkdale is something like the formal maze in a British garden. Its fairways are low and the wild dunes are high, giving players the sense that they are making their way through an artfully-contrived puzzle.  Which, of course, they are. But in last week’s rain and wind, the par-70 links played more like a par-77 lynx, clawing the players badly. The scores on Saturday, when the wind never dipped below 25 miles an hour, were the worst. Leonard shot a 12-over-par 82, Janzen shot 80, Phil Mickelson needed 85, and Nick Price, a stroke out of the lead after two rounds, signed for an 82 and retired to the clubhouse looking pale and worn.”
I quote these passages merely to give you an idea of what to expect from Birkdale ’08. And if you’re betting on the Open, be leery of any player wearing a cap with a brim.
(The rest of my reportage from the ’98 Open can be found in the SI Vault. For other climactically-impacted majors, see the collected writings of Herbert Warren Whatshisname.)