<
>

ICYMI at The Open: Henrik Stenson's sky-high ambitions

Defending Open champion Henrik Stenson has big plans for the Claret Jug should he ever manage to get his hands back on the famous old trophy. Richard Sellers/PA Images via Getty Images

SOUTHPORT, England -- Henrik Stenson's remarkable victory at last year's Open Championship will never be forgotten, but the man himself has even bigger plans should he manage to pick up the Claret Jug again in the future.

After a year of globe-trotting with the Claret Jug, Henrik Stenson had to give the iconic trophy back to the R&A this week at Royal Birkdale. He hopes to get another go with it. "I've made an official promise that if I ever win the Claret Jug again, I'm going skydiving with it,'' Stenson said. "And I don't know which is going to be harder, winning the Claret Jug again or skydiving afterwards because that thought scares me a little bit. Won't stop me from trying to win it, though.''

Bob Harig, ESPN Senior Writer

Rahm puts trial by TV out of his mind -- with help from Eminem

Jon Rahm's recent win at the Irish Open caused quite a stir. The Spaniard escaped any punishment for incorrectly replacing a ball on the green thanks to the European Tour's new "trial by TV" guidance. Now the incident refuses to go away.

It did, however, take 20 questions at Rahm's news conference at Royal Birkdale on Tuesday before someone plucked up the courage to revisit old ground.

"Surprised it took that long for it to come up," he remarked. "There's no comment. In the moment it was just unintentionally done. I was trying to move my marker for Daniel Im to putt, and I put it back as close as I thought it was when I finished.

"To my judgment, I put it back exactly where it was. And if I moved it or anything, it was completely unintentional. So that's all I had. That's everything I had to tell them [the European Tour rules officials]. And that's everything I have to say right now."

Rahm did elaborate on his taste for rap music, however, citing Not Afraid and 'Til I Collapse as two pre-round motivational songs of choice.

"They're very motivational. Most of them are [about] not giving up and fighting your way through. And in my case it gets me to the mental state that I need to be to play golf.

"I go putt first, for the first ten minutes I have it on just because I kind of relaxes me, I get a little bit in the zone, I don't think too much [about] the golf game. And then I hit some putts and get the ball rolling." -- Steven Saunders


Cosying up to the fourth green

Beside the fourth green at Royal Birkdale is the small and cosy clubhouse of the Birkdale Artisans, a group of golfers who maintain an old tradition of paying reduced green fees in exchange for helping to maintain the course.

While they are rare these days, Artisan clubs have a strong heritage, and the Birkdale club includes plumbers, joiners and a postman. They work with the greenkeeping staff, rake bunkers and repair divots. This week, they also have the best seat in the house for the first par-3 on the course -- the 199-yard 4th.

The little bar in the clubhouse has received many a famous guest. Phil Mickelson, Colin Montgomerie and Nick Price have all had a drink there, whilst Tom Watson's signed photo welcomes everyone who enters. -- Matt Cooper


Roger that, Justin

Justin Rose is not having to look far for inspiration this week. At this very venue in 1998, Rose memorably chipped in from the rough at the last to finish as the leading amateur at 17-year-old -- a moment that has since been recreated in Lego.

While Rose would love to emulate that moment this time around, however, it's rare for him to find inspiration in fellow golfers. Instead he looks further afield -- towards Wimbledon, where he watched Roger Federer win his record-shattering eighth singles title from the Royal Box on Centre Court last Sunday.

"Roger is the sporting athlete I look up to and can try and model," Rose said in his pre-Open news conference. "Everything he does is pretty much spot-on, the way he handles himself, the grace with which he plays the sport, I think, is incredible. Mentally how he doesn't give much away I think is a style that's well suited to golf, too. And that's one of the reasons I really wanted to go to Wimbledon. I watched his semifinal and obviously the final.

"Yes, I'm watching the tennis, but I'm watching him more than anything, and seeing what I can pick up. There are a few tricks here and there that you can apply to golf. I've always found it a bit easier to learn from other sportsmen than I have from golfers.

"You're trying to beat your competition here, whereas I can be completely impressed and awed by him because I never have to face him. It's a much easier environment to learn, I think, when you don't have to compete against that person." -- Steven Saunders


Walking in Tiger's shadow

He's nowhere near Royal Birkdale -- as far as we're aware -- but the shadow of Tiger Woods continues to loom over all those who follow in his footsteps.

Much has been made of the fact that the past seven majors have gone to seven different players, all of whom were first-time winners. How ever you look at it, the name "Tiger" is never far away.

"It's kind of like the Tiger effect, I guess you could say, growing up watching them [the majors]", said Brooks Koepka, U.S. Open champion and the latest of the seven first-time victors.

"There's so many good players now. The younger generation, you look at how many good players there are. You look at how it was at Erin Hills. Everyone up there hadn't won a major up there pretty much. Rickie [Fowler], Justin [Thomas], Hideki [Matsuyama], they haven't won majors, and I think everyone in this room knows they're going to win one. It's only a question of when, not if."

Asked how realistic it was to expect a member of the younger generation to step up and become The Man, Jordan Spieth joked: "I wouldn't get your hopes up!"

And yet Spieth was -- and perhaps still is -- seen as the man most likely to emerge victorious at Royal Birkdale. He won the Masters and the U.S. Open in 2015, and came within a whisker of making it three in a row at The Open. Zach Johnson's win at St. Andrew's that year was the last major to go to someone who had one of the big four in his career trophy cabinet already.

Being that close to winning three consecutive majors gave Spieth an even greater insight into why it may never happen again. "What Tiger's done, I just -- having experienced a year [2015] like he continued to do for years, it just takes a lot out of you. It's very tough to do. And you have to have a lot of things go right right at the right times.

"I doubt you'll see a dominance like that maybe ever again in the game." -- Steven Saunders