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Appleby Vs. Fisher

Can a low scoring pro round enhance a course's reputation?

Posted Aug 02, 2010 by Dermot Gilleece

ross fisher

Over the 7,127 yards of the Old White Course in West Virginia last Sunday, Stuart Appleby shot a final round of 59 to win The Greeenbrier Classic with a 22-under-par aggregate of 266.  Meanwhile, over the 7,171 yards of the Killeen Course at Killarney, Ross Fisher won the Irish Open with the same aggregate of 266, except that on a par-71 layout, he was 18 under.

Now, you may observe, isn't that a happy coincidence.  Indeed it should be.  Golf aficionados on this side of the pond should be delighted that one of Europe's leading young players can match the scoring exploits of a successful campaigner on America's PGA Tour.

However, there was near consternation in certain quarters at Killarney last Friday when it appeared that Fisher was about to card a second-round 59 which would have made him the first to do so on the European Tour.  As it happened, his challenge was very similar to that of Appleby.  Standing on the 16th tee, both players needed to birdie two of the last three holes to achieve this remarkable distinction.

In Appleby's case, he birdied the long 17th and then went on to sink a superb putt of 10ft 10ins to birdie the short 18th.  Similarly, you felt Fisher had to birdie the long 16th to have a chance.  In the event, he didn't.  So, three finishing pars gave him a 61 which ultimately steered him towards the title.

When a European Tour event comes to a members club, as in Killarney's case, the general clubhouse chat early in tournament week is about "What do you think the pros will do to the course?"  This is code for: "Will they chew it up?  Will they diminish its reputation at home and abroad as little more than a decent hen-run?"

This is the sort of talk we were hearing at Killarney last week, not least for the fact that the Irish Open was being staged in the aftermath of the Nordic Scandinavian Masters on a Stockholm course measuring more than 8,000 yards off the back tees.  So concerned were locals about Killeen's reputation that they overlooked the 60 which Darren Clarke shot around The K Club in 1999 when it was being groomed as Ireland's Ryder Cup venue for 2006.  Nor was there any acknowledgement of the aggregate record of 19-under-par for the Irish Open, set by Bernhard Langer at no less a venue than Portmarnock, which is widely regarded as one of the world's great links courses.

David Probyn, tournament director with the European Tour, took a more pragmatic view.  "If you accept that Ross Fisher's 61 on Friday was exceptional, I believe the course has stood up very well, particularly when you consider the rough was effectively burnt away in May and June," he said.

"Though the wind got up to over 30mph on Saturday  afternoon, we had an Irish Open without a breath of wind for the first two rounds; the rough is virtually non existent, so guys have had perfect golfing conditions.  Yet barring one exception round, we've had scoring you would normally see on 7,400-yard courses."

He went on: "What I really love about this place is that while there are lots of birdie holes out there, you've got to work the golf ball a bit more than guys are usually called upon to do.  And if it had been drier and with winds of 10 to 15 mph, it would have been an ever sterner test."

And if the Irish Open were to return to Killarney next year, what would be top of Probyn's wish-list for the course?  "I would hope we could develop more of a challenge if you happened to miss the fairway," he replied.  "And accepting that some of the holes are shorter than you would typically see, it would be great to get the greens firmer.  Weather conditions throughout Europe make this an ongoing challenge, but I'm always wanting firmer greens. 

"If a player happens to be wayward and loses control out of the rough, he's facing a serious test hitting to firm greens.  Otherwise the Killeen Course is fine as far as I'm concerned."

In truth, Killarney's members should be regretting Fisher's failure to shoot the magical 59 last Friday.  Think of what Appleby's achievement is going to do for the popularity of The Greenbrier's Old White Course over the coming years.

- Dermot Gilleece

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