How the pros prepare for links golf

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It’s not often we get to see the world’s best players play the game as it was originally intended - on a links course.

This year, however, with the Irish Open’s new position on the European Tour schedule prior to the Scottish Open and Open Championship, we have been presented with what some people are referring to as the links swing.

At last week’s Scottish Open, we got the chance to speak to some of Europe’s top pros, coaches and caddies and asked them how they prepare for links golf and the challenges it poses.

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Robert Karlsson is a European Tour veteran who has tasted success on a links course, claiming victory at the 2008 Alfred Dunhill Links Championship. The Swede explained how he likes to prepare before playing links golf.

“I practice a little differently before coming to play links golf," he told bunkered.co.uk. "I’ll play a lot more shots along the ground, running chip shots and I like to see a slightly flatter ball flight. I also take the 5-wood out of my bag and replace it with a 2-iron but other than that, there isn’t much difference to a normal week.”

Karlsson also described how the modern golf ball has made his preparation differ compared to when he first started on tour.  

“The new golf balls are much harder to hit lower, but because they are so much more stable in the wind I don’t have to alter my game as much I did 20 years ago.” 

You can practice as much as you want but it’s never going to be the same as playing in a competitive environment.

- Robert Karlsson

Karlsson, who missed out on qualifying for the Open this year, stressed the importance of playing competitive links golf in the run up to the Open.

“You can practice as much as you want but it’s never going to be the same as playing in a competitive environment - that’s how you really hone your game.”

Recent history shows that teeing it up at the Scottish Open the week before golf’s oldest major is likely to help your chances when chasing the claret jug, with five of the last six Open champions having played in Scotland the week prior.

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Last year’s Open champion, Henrik Stenson, is coached by one of the most respected coaches on the European Tour, Pete Cowen (above). He spoke to bunkered.co.uk about how he prepares his players for links golf and the Open Championship.

“Because we can control the ball flight, we try to prepare for the Open the same way we would any other tournament,” he explained.

“In the golf swing there are three simple things we try to achieve: getting it started on the correct line, with the correct ball flight, and the correct spin. If you can do that, you can play any golf course - even in the worst of weather conditions.”

“What we will work on, however, is trying to hit some different shots and ball flights, such as low draws and fades, shots to keep the ball under the wind and practice more running shots into the greens.” 

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Although most of pros will not make any swing changes before teeing it up on a links course, the same cannot be said for the clubs in their bags. Liam McDougall (above), a European Tour fitter at Titleist, spoke about the requests he has been getting in the last few weeks.

“These weeks are usually our busiest of the year," he told bunkered.co.uk. "A lot of the guys, especially those not used to playing links golf, change a fair amount in their bag."

A lot of the guys, especially those not used to playing links golf, change a fair amount in their bag.

- Liam McDougall

He continued: “You tend to see a lot of 2-irons going in the bag, and a lot of them want to see a lower ball flight, so often we will be tinkering with their clubs to try and give them a more penetrating ball flight for when the wind gets up.”

As well as adjusting their set to have more options off the tee and be better suited for the wind, the firmer turf conditions of a links course also make a lot of the pros swap wedges. 

“They want less bounce with their wedges and more heel relief so they can be aggressive, open the face right up and play a variety of shots from the tight lies they’ll have around the greens,” he added.

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Martin Kaymer’s long-term caddie, Craig Connelly, said: “Links golf is completely different from the rest of the courses we play throughout the year, but it’s the conditions that will dictate how we approach playing it.

“If it’s hard and fast then we look at things completely differently, because we know the ball won’t be played in the air as much. That’s when we will really need to be aware of the tricky humps, hollows and bounces of links golf.

“Here at Dundonald this week the conditions are quite soft so it will play like most other weeks, whereas next week could be quite firm and fiery so we will both have to study the course a little harder and Martin will adjust his game to suit the conditions.” 

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