The Open 2023: Storyline and players to watch this week

Mark Schlabach, ESPN Senior Writer July 18, 2023, 9:00 a.m. ET

CloseSenior college football writer Author of seven books on college football Graduate of the University of Georgia

HOYLAKE, England — Royal Liverpool Golf Club, built in 1869 and the second oldest beach course in England, has undergone a facelift since the last Open Championship was played there in 2014.

The par has been adjusted from 72 to 71. There are now four par 3s and three par 5s. The course was also slightly extended from 7,312 yards to 7,383 yards.

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The biggest change is the addition of a new 17th hole. The par 3 136 yards replaced the par 4 458 yards. Par 3, called “Little Eye”, was played towards the Dee Estuary and Wales. Players will encounter tricky crosswinds on the tees, and those who miss the raised greens will experience difficult ups and downs.

Unsurprisingly, the new 17th hole is getting mixed reviews.

“15 old, par-3, is the exact opposite of the hole,” said Spain’s Jon Rahm. “You have a short downhill hole most likely downwind with basically all the edges angled towards the center of the green. I think that’s a good hole. You can make a birdie, and if you miss a green, bogeys are lurking.

“This time, they made a very difficult par-3 turtle. If you hit a good shot, put it on the green, you have a clear view of birdie. If you miss the green, you have a clear view of the bogey. … We all have to play the same hole. If you hit a good shot, you will likely have a birdie opportunity.

Brooks Koepka says he likes the new par 3, comparing its length to the iconic 12th hole at Augusta National Golf Club, the “Island Green” 17th hole at TPC Sawgrass and the “Postage Stamp” eighth hole at Royal Troon Golf Club in Scotland, site of next year’s Open Championship.

“I think it’s an interesting hole,” said Koepka. “Depends on the wind. If you get the crosswind there it can be really interesting. I really believe in the short par-3, make it tough, that’s exactly what it is. I’m not a big fan of the 260, 250 [yards]. It took a bit I don’t want to say the excitement, but it was a bit boring. You already know it’s a 3-iron and everyone’s hitting to the same spot, where I think all the best par-3s in the world ever drafted are 165 yards or shorter.

“There are a lot of them, and you can get away with 5 as easily as you can [birdie] he. I love it.”

Hole 17 – Small Eye.

Par 3. 136 yards.


— Open (@Open) July 17, 2023

Among other significant changes made by Martin Ebert of Mackenzie & Ebert International Golf Course Architects: The 10th hole was changed to a par-4 507 yards, making it one of the hardest holes on the course (formerly 532 yards for the par-5); the 15th hole is now par-5 620 yards (previously par-3 161 yards); and the 16th is now a par-4 461 yards (previously par-5 577 yards).

Additionally, a new fairway bunker was added to the first hole. The front of the green at the fourth hole, the shortest par-4 on the course, was raised to provide a flatter landing area, and the overall size of the green was reduced. The par-4 seventh has new green and sand areas on the fairway. The tee box at the par-5 18th was moved back 50 yards and to the right. The out-of-bounds area on 18 was extended to narrow the fairway.

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“In terms of 18, carrying out-of-bounds, I think it’s much better,” said DP World Tour player Matthew Jordan, who has been a member of Royal Liverpool for the last 20 years. “I think that makes it a proper risk-and-reward hole. If you put in a good drive you can do it. Then even bailing out on the left makes the layup a lot more difficult because it’s a bit longer now. I think definitely from my opinion, 18 in particular has been a brilliant change.”

Defending champion Cameron Smith, who won his 150th Open in St. Andrews in Scotland, said he played holes 1 through 5 and 14 through 18 at Royal Liverpool on Sunday and pointed out that the greens are not as quick or smooth as the old courses last year.

“The greens here I think are maybe a little flatter than maybe some of the other greens we played at The Open,” said Smith, “but the penalty for missing greens around here is I think maybe a little bit worse in some cases.”

A strong LIV Golf contingent

Defending champion Cameron Smith was among 16 players from LIV Golf on the course this week. Getty’s image

A potential alliance between the PGA Tour, DP World Tour and the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund has eased some of the friction between the PGA Tour and the LIV Golf League. There were 16 players from the LIV Golf League on the course this week, including previous Open champions Phil Mickelson, Louis Oosthuizen, Henrik Stenson and Smith.

The other LIV Golf players competing in The Open are Abraham Ancer, Richard Bland, Laurie Canter, Bryson DeChambeau, Talor Gooch, Branden Grace, Dustin Johnson, Koepka, Joaquin Niemann, Thomas Pieters and Patrick Reed.

The course does not include LIV Golf’s Lee Westwood, Paul Casey, Martin Kaymer, Ian Poulter, Graeme McDowell and Sergio Garcia, who have combined to compete in 117 Opens in the past.

This will be the last time golf fans see players from both circuits competing in the same tournament this season. This is also the last chance for LIV Golf League players to earn Official World Golf Ranking points, barring the announcement by the OWGR governing board that players can earn points in LIV Golf League events.

A slew of LIV Golf players, including Reed, Niemann, Gooch and Ancer, need to finish in the top 10 this week for a guaranteed spot in the 2024 Open Championship. Reed’s five-year exemption from winning the 2018 Masters ended this year, and Niemann has an exemption for qualifying for the 2022 Tour Championship. Ancer was ranked in the world’s top 50 at the end of May (now ranked 68), and Gooch qualified by finishing in the top 30 in FedEx Cup points last year.

Of course, a lot could change if the LIV Golf League and PGA Tour come together before next year’s Open Championship.


The Fitzpatrick brothers are one of two pairs of siblings on the pitch, joined by Denmark’s Nicolai and Rasmus Højgaard. Getty’s image

There were two sets of brothers on the court this week: Matt Fitzpatrick and his younger brother Alex, as well as Danish twins Nicolai and Rasmus Højgaard. Alex Fitzpatrick, who plays at Wake Forest, entered the Open via the final qualifier. Nicolai Højgaard was among the last three qualifiers finishing sixth at last week’s Scottish Open.

The last brothers to compete in the same Open Championship were Francesco and Edoardo Molinari in St. Louis. Andrews in 2015.

This is believed to be the first time two sets of sisters have competed in the same Open Championship since 1985, when Spain’s Manuel and Seve Ballesteros and Japan’s Naomichi and Tateo Ozaki competed at the St. Petersburg Royal.


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Matt Fitzpatrick, the 2022 US Open champion, said he had given his brother a lot of advice.

“He came in last week to play 18, which I think really helps, look at the golf course, no stress, no rush; and then I just told him to take it easy the next few days, nine holes every day,” Matt said. “I remember talking to my trainer, Mike [Walker]about what to do at my first Open in 2013, and that’s what he emphasized, don’t tire yourself out.

“And the other one also no media, so he can concentrate, concentrate on myself and away from you guys.”

More than anything, Matt said he was looking forward to sharing this week with his brother. This would be Alex’s first start in the majors. “This is my little brother,” Matt said. “I almost want to call Francesco and Edoardo and ask them, ‘What’s it like? What’s the dynamic like between you guys? Is it weird?’ People ask, ‘What would you do if you were in the last group on Sunday? I said, ‘Well, that would be my worst nightmare, to be honest.'”

weather forecast

The forecast for the Round 1 Open calls for cloudy skies with a small chance of light rain. Getty’s image

Players have been greeted by cooler temperatures and sparingly of rain at Royal Liverpool Golf Club so far this week. It streamed down the course on Tuesday morning. According to this week’s weather forecast from the Met Office, the forecast for the rest of the week will be roughly the same.

Thursday’s forecast for the opening round calls for cloudy skies with a small chance of light rain. Temperatures are expected to range from 55 to 61 degrees. Winds from west to northwest will be 12 to 16 mph, with gusts of 20 to 25 mph.

The forecast for the weekend, for now, is a little dicier: “Most likely continuation of mostly dry and moderately windy conditions with little rain; winds mainly from the west sector. Reduced confidence over the weekend with the potential for longer showers through Saturday. Feeling mild with below average temperatures during the day, potential to recover slightly over the weekend.”

Hometown hero

Matthew Jordan, who grew up on the Wirral Peninsula, will hit the tournament opener on Thursday. Getty’s image

The tee times for the first two rounds won’t be released until Tuesday morning, but R&A (Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews) has announced that Jordan will take the tournament’s opening shot on Thursday. Jordan, 27, grew up here on the Wirral Peninsula. He was 10 years old when Tiger Woods won the 2006 Open Championship at Royal Liverpool; Jordan was 18 years old when Rory McIlroy lifted the Claret Jug there in 2014.

“[Woods] walking through the clubhouse in ’14 on Sunday, trying to register, and I just froze,” Jordan said. “And then again, in ’06, he was on the green, and I don’t think I moved for 20 minutes. He’s my hero, and to be able to watch him live and see him do what he does, especially around your house, is amazing.”

Jordan qualified for the Open by carding rounds 65 and 69 to finish second in the final qualifier in West Lancashire, England, on July 4.

Matthew Jordan became a member at Royal Liverpool when he was 7 years old.

Twenty years later, he would hit the opening tee shot at The 151st Open.

— Open (@Open) July 17, 2023

“I just want to play golf the way I know I can, like I do in practice, like I would if I’m here preparing for another event,” Jordan said. “And if I feel like I can do that, then I know that I can do well here. For me, not letting chance dictate what I actually do. It’s just me playing golf.”

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