The Open Championship Spotter’s Guide or Who is That Guy Again?
—by Jay Flemma, Golf News Net—
Back in the day, Dan Jenkins, King of All Golf Writers, was asked about a Masters leaderboard full of golfers he found obscure, milquetoast, or otherwise inconvenient.
“Whose chances do you like?” one of the other writers queried of him.
Jenkins took a long drawl off his capri cigarette, (“These cure emphysema,” he claimed amusingly), and then intoned in his Texas drawl.
“I don’t like mine.”
The more things change the more they stay the same: Jenkins’s editors apparently never forgave him for the unpardonable sins of George Archer and Charles Coody winning the Masters, now you guys get on my case about Martin Kaymer, Lucas Glover, and Michael Campbell.
Michael Campbell you’re actually right about. He was a fluke.
But this week has been particularly perplexing as a galaxy of international stars from every continent except Antarctica have risen to the top of the leaderboard, so much so that “Who are these guys?” has been a common refrain in emails and texts I’ve received in the last 48 hours.
Happily, your consternation over this perplexing leaderboard full of puzzling strangers is easily rectified. You’ve come to the right place at the right time. Year in and year out there is no better tournament to acquaint yourself with players from around the globe than the Open Championship, the most exotic of all golf tournaments. And after all Golf News Net’s motto is “What you need to know about golf,” so don’t worry if you can’t keep Adrian Otaegui straight from Antoine Rozman. We’ve got you covered.
Even if your idea of learning about new cultures is visiting the mall food court, we got you covered.
SEPP STRAKA, AUSTRIA
Straka birdied six of the last seven holes on Friday to post 31 on the back and 67 for the round and two-day total of 4-under for the tournament. A 70 on Sunday has him entering the final round T-4th seven shots behind leader Brian Harman of the USA.
The first Austrian to earn a PGA Tour card, Straka began last year well outside the game’s leading 200 but by May had climbed all the way into the top 50, mostly on the heels of his one-stroke victory over Shane Lowry at February’s Honda Classic. They both trailed Daniel Berger by five at the start of the final round, but the Vienna-born Straka shot a closing 66 to edge out the 2019 Open champion.
A member of the PGA Tour since 2019, Straka has had a fistful of top-10 finishes, including one at the 2022 Players Championship, and he represented Austria at the Tokyo Olympic Games, finishing T-10th, a shot back of the six-man playoff for the bronze medal.
Strraka is strong and long, but with a sorcerer’s touch around the greens. He leads the field in birdies this week with 17 and ranks fourth this week in greens in regulation with 73%. He’s also had a hot putter, ranking seventh in the field with a whopping3.45 strokes gained putting statistic. Straka is expected to stay competitive for the rest of the tournament.
MIN WOO LEE, AUSTRALIA
South Korean-born, Lee is the brother of LPGA star Minjee Lee, winner of two women’s majors including the 2022 U.S. Women’s Open. When Min Woo Lee won the 2016 U.S. Junior Amateur, they became the first brother/sister pair to win the USGA’s junior championships, Minjee Lee having won the U.S. Girls’ Junior in 2012. In winning the Junior Boys Lee followed in the footsteps of four Open Championship winners – Tiger Woods, Jordan Spieth, David Duval and Johnny Miller.
Lee qualified in real style for the 2021 Open at Royal St George’s by winning the Scottish Open the week before. Lee went into the event ranked 240th in the world and produced a closing 64 containing six successive birdies on the front nine and then beat Matthew Fitzpatrick and Thomas Detry with another birdie at the first extra hole. He was already a winner on the DP World Tour after capturing the 2020 ISPS Handa Vic Open in his home country, beating New Zealander Ryan Fox by two.
Surprisingly long for a slim and average build man, his short game has been the story this week, converting over 75% of his sand saves and scrambling opportunities. He’s a lock for a top-15 finish, and looks to be a presence on media championship leaderboards going forward. Clearly as savvy with social media as Collin Morikawa, he’s become popular with fans on both sides of the pond.
ANTOINE ROZNER – FRANCE
A sterling 67 in soggy conditions has 30-year old Parisian Antoine Rozner, playing in his first Open Championship, sitting pretty at 4-under and in a premiere Sunday paring with Australia’s Jason Day. Of all the newcomers, perhaps Rozner has the strongest pedigree with DP World Tour wins at the 2020 Golf in Dubai Championship, the 2021 Qatar Masters, (making birdie at the 72nd hole to win), and the 2023 AfrAsia Bank Mauritius Classic. He also defeated number 2 seed Bryson DeChambeau in the 2022 WGC – Match Play during Bryson’s bulked up “Incredible Hulk Era.”
Rozner also opened the tournament with a 67, but then ballooned to 74 on Friday. He ranks fifth in strokes gained overall. None of his individual stats are notable, but the collective whole has been greater than the sum of thew parts. Which means he’s been playing tough in the clutch so as to keep aggressive while other percolate down the leaderboard in the wet, rainy weather. A tough customer, Rozner should have a high finish and an automatic bid to return at Troon.
ADRIAN OTAEGUI – SPAIN
Like Rozner, Otaegui, (pronounced oh-TAY-ghee), has won on the DP World Tour, four times in fact: the 2017 Paul Lawrie Matchplay, the 2018 Belgian Knockout, the 2020 Scottish Championship, and the 2022 Andalucia Masters.
Mentored by Europe’s 2012 Ryder Cup captain Jose Maria Olazabal, and having played most of his junior golf at his local golf club in the seaside resort of Fuenterrabia, where Olazabal was born and raised, Otaegui won 11 titles in a glittering amateur career, including the 2010 British Boys Amateur Championship at Kilmarnock (Barassie) Golf Club in Scotland, emulating the achievement of Olazabal, who won the same tournament at the same golf course in 1983. Oaegui turned professional in July 2011 and joined the European Tour in 2014.He lost his card that year, but regained it the next.
A 77 on Saturday ended any chance of Otaegui making the Sunday telecast, and thus far his Sunday round has been lackluster. The journeyman veteran may find his window of opportunities at majors closing fast. Still, calling Dubai, United Arab Emirates home has its compansations.
For those of you wanting to order some Shubbankar Sharma for dinner at either Purnima or Bombay Sapphire will be surprised to see that as high as fourth on the Open Championship leaderboard. (That’s for all the people that order some Juist Looten with their breakfast.)
A product of the Professional Golf Tour of India, the slight man (5’10”, 165 pounds), plays far above his size. After joining the European Tour in 2018, he won the Joburg Open and Maybank Open in his rookie season.
According to the Player’s Guide, “Since turning professional in 2013 at age 16, Sharma has played most of his golf on the Asian Tour. He comes from a country of 1.3 billion people, the second most populous country in the world. Despite this statistic, there are fewer than 50 golf courses in the country, and great Indian players are rare. Arjun Atwal, who won the 2010 Wyndham Championship, Jyoti Randhawa who became the first Indian to win the Asian Tour order of merit in 2002, and both Jeev Milkha Singh and Anirban Lahiri, who both won twice on the European Tour and have seven Asian Tour wins.
Lahiri’s father had, an essential role in Sharma taking up golf as both Sharma and Lahiri’s fathers were members of the Indian army, and were stationed together. Lahiri’s father was the doctor who delivered Sharma’s younger sister Vandini and iin getting to know the family, Dr. Lahiri told Col. Sharma to take his son to the golf course. No one in Sharma’s family had ever played golf, but six-year-old Sharma took to the game quickly and became the country’s best amateur by 2013.
Sharma is on track to post the best ever finish by an Indian at the Open after completing his third round T-9th at dreqary drizzly Hoylake. His round of 70 has him at four under par, eight strokes behind Harman. Sharma downed a monster eagle putt at the fifth then reeled off 10 successive pars before his only dropped shot of the day. Jyoti Randhawa holds the record for the best result by an Indian at the Open, finishing tied for 27th at Troon in 2004.
His mother, Neena, has a Ph.D. in yoga and alternative healing, while his sister Vandini was a published fiction and non-fiction writer at 16 and covered the Masters for the Associated Press.
JOO-HYUNG “TOM” KIM
“Too slow Tom” as he’s known on Tour, is a chronic slowpoke who no one wants to be paired with. Ponderous and fiddling on every shot, he makes the infamous Kevin Na look like the Roadrunner from the Bugs Bunny cartoons. That being said, he’s clearly a rising start and increasingly working his way in contention at majors and other big events.
The 21-year old South Korean now calls Dallas home and has not only westernized, but embraced modern social media. Although only in his second year on the PGA Tour, he’s already won twice – the 2022 Wyndham Championship, (where he shot 61 on the final day and won by five shots), and the 2023 Shriners Children’s Open. He had two Korean Tour victories, two Asian Tour victories, and three SAsian Development Tour wins.
The son of professional golfer, Kim Chang-ik, who played on the Buy.com Tour before becoming a teaching professional. As a result, Kim lived in various countries, including China, Australia, the Philippines, and Thailand, for several years. His father started him in golf at the age of six, and at 11, he decided he wanted to become a pro as he wanted to become like his hero Tiger Woods. Kim once saw Tiger play in Australia and had him sign his cap.
Kim played his first major at the young age of 18 years, one month, four days, second-youngest ever PGA Championship competitor behind Ryo Ishikawa (17 years, 10 months, 4 days in 2009). That PGA Championship was Kim’s first event outside of Korea, Asia, or New Zealand. He had a terrific 2022 U.S. Open at the Country Club in Brookline, finishing T-23rd. he finished T-47th at the Open Championship the next month at St. Andrews.
Kim, snail’s pace and all, will be factor for several years to come on the Tour. He’s got length, strength, smarts, and an unflappable demeanor. He has major championship timber, and looks likely to hoist a major trophy sometime in the next few years.