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The Open diary from Royal Birkdale

Sunday July 23

Greetings from South Ayrshire in Scotland, where I arrived late this afternoon after a drive of a couple of hours from Southport.

I’m here to spend Monday with Ashleigh Buhai (Simon), who is playing in the Ladies Scottish Open at Dundonald this week.

I’m a bit knackered after a long and busy week, but it’s been a memorable one.

My Sunday kicked off with me attending the local church service at St James’s church and, due to the early hour, my presence lowered the average age considerably! I stood out like a sore thumb among the purple rinse brigade!

As the church was next to the house where Dylan has been staying this week, I popped in for a final cup of tea with him to have a chat before he heads off to the States and begins his preparation for the US PGA Championship. I also had some products or supplements I wanted to give him – an on-course blood glucose stabilising drink and a recovery protein drink my guys take after a round.

I then made my way to the course and visited the merchandise shop, where I picked up a couple of caps for my two boys and a peace offering for the wife! Having attended previous Opens, I was a little disappointed by the quality of the merchandise, compared with what I’ve seen before. And it’s not cheap, hey. A cap with the Open logo will set you back £25 (R420), while the golf shirts were around £75 (R1260). You can get pretty much anything with an Open logo on it, including ball markers, coffee cups, pitch mark repairers, wine decanters etc.

After that I grabbed some brunch and caught up with Shaun Norris before his final round. He has just loved his first major experience and was very chuffed with what he achieved, making the cut and then shooting 65 on Saturday. He was also happy to know that he can mix it with the guys out here, and I think he learned a helluva lot this week.

Once Shaun had gone, I took the opportunity to do my own workout in the gym and happened to be there when the leaders came through. Having met him previously, I had a brief chat with Jordan Spieth and actually lent him some of my bands for stretching, as he had left his back at the house. So, I’m claiming that I played some role in the Open champion winning the tournament!

Not sure if anyone heard, but there was an incident on the putting green, where Jordan was called over by someone who then proceeded to shoot a form of ‘party popper’ – one of those that shoot confetti - in his face, which, unsurprisingly, gave him a bit of a fright. As that was just before he teed off, I wouldn’t have been surprised if that maybe took him out of ‘the zone’ and perhaps unsettled him a bit.

It doesn’t make a difference now, and he’s a worthy champion. The way Jordan closed out the tournament after getting off to such a poor start is testament to what a champion he is.

This really was a week to remember.

Saturday July 22

What a day for South African golf.

I feel privileged to have witnessed at least some of Branden Grace’s historic 62 at Royal Birkdale.

I was actually at the course earlier in the day walking a few holes with Brandon Stone after meeting up with a German medical doctor I had met a couple years ago at the World Golf Fitness Summit. He contacted me and wanted to have a chat and run a couple of things past me for a study he’s conducting. So, we walked a few holes with Brandon. Fortunately, he birdied the first and, in doing so, took four fewer shots than what he took on Thursday on that hole! Unfortunately, he followed that up with consecutive bogeys, although I see he eventually signed for a 68.

I had to get back for a session in the gym with Nick, where we ran through all that we did this week and got him organised for, firstly, the week ahead at the Senior Open, and also with a programme for when he returns to the States after that.

He’s quite active on social media is old Sir Nick, so we decided to try something and did a little Periscope of the workout and I think we had 4 000 views by the time we had finished! Incredible what technology can do nowadays.

I then grabbed a quick bite of lunch and saw what Branden Grace was doing, so I quickly got out on the course and picked him up on the 13th hole, walking the last five holes with him. The atmosphere was amazing, as the knowledgeable UK golf fans picked up on what was going on, with the sense that some history could be on the cards.

What struck me was just how in the zone Branden and his caddie Zack Rasego were, in terms of flow and communication. They just seemed to be operating as one well-oiled machine, seeing every shot, preparing for it, and then executing. Even when Branden missed those birdie putts on 13 and 15, I could still see that he thought he could do it and break the record.

As it is, he made those great putts on 14 and 16, and then there was that cracking second on 17, which flew over the flag and just caught the slope. If that had been just slightly shorter, I think it would have rolled down and nestled near the flag.

Branden was just so on it, and it was great to see the reaction of the crowd when he rolled his first putt on 18 next to the hole. The place just erupted, as they knew that they were about to see the first 62 ever recorded at a major championship. It was just nice to be there and to witness history.

Funnily enough, Nick had earlier said to me in the gym that he wouldn’t be surprised if the record of 63 fell today, as the course was there for the taking.

Even more funny was the fact that Branden was drug tested after his round! They apparently randomly draw names out, but that seemed a bit suspicious. So, once he was done with the media, he had to go and pee in a cup.

I didn’t get a chance to chat with Branden, but did shake his hand as he came past. There was just so much going on around him, with every media outlet wanting a piece of the history-making man.

I just hope he can do something similar on Sunday, as I think it’s going to take something like that to beat Jordan Spieth. He just looks so focused – although he always does. There are no surprises there and he knows what it takes to win a major.

Friday July 21

What a tough day, with wind and rain making it nothing less than challenging at Royal Birkdale.

I was up fairly early to meet Nick in the gym for another session. This time we focused on his core and I made sure I didn’t go easy on the three-time Open champion.

I also picked his brain about the course and the tournament, and Nick told me that with the wet and windy conditions, the cut line would push out, and so it proved.

One thing he wasn’t impressed with was some of the flashy outfits on show in the opening round, including Jason Day’s ‘ankle boots’.

He clearly isn’t a fan of the flashy gear, saying that in his day he preferred going the boring route and wearing something that was fairly plain and didn’t generate any conversation or discussion, or distract him in any way.

Once I was done with Nick, I took the opportunity to use the gym facilities myself and had a nice workout, before heading off to hook up with Dylan and take him through his warm-up. Again, he was nicely relaxed and looked good on the range, so it was ultimately disappointing that he ended up missing the cut.

I walked all 18 holes with Dylan and he really did play well, except for just a couple of holes around 12 and 13, where he had the worst of the conditions.

Around midday was the toughest, so whoever was on the course at that time had the worst of it. I think the guys who were off early or late had the better of the conditions, but that’s links golf.

Dylan’s other issue was missing five putts in the eight foot range and ultimately that was probably the difference, as he ended on eight over and missed the cut by three - that and the double on 17, which ended his chances.

By then, Dylan was pushing for a birdie, and unfortunately 17 was playing a whole lot tougher than it was on day one.

Dylan was actually caught in two big rain squalls on 12 and 13, and that’s when he dropped those two shots, before missing a short putt for birdie on 15. That’s what set him back and meant he had to push for that closing birdie to make the cut.

Dylan was disappointed and felt like he played out of his socks, while being punished on a couple of holes. He’s learnt a helluva lot, though, and will be a better player going into his next major at the US PGA.

As I’m writing this, I’m about to go and meet up with Dylan and his uncle – who caddied for him this week – at the house being rented by his management company, Octagon.

Most of the management companies do this, renting a big house and staffing it with a chef, so that their players can come and go when they want, as well as eat there, to avoid having to go to a restaurant all the time.

One of the things I found fascinating about today is that despite the awful weather, the UK golf fans were out in their droves and as chipper as ever. They really do love their golf here.

Among those UK golf fans was none other than England cricketer Jonny Bairstow, who I bumped into while walking with Dylan.

He picked up my accent and once he knew who I was, he just wanted to talk golf. Turns out he’s an absolute golf nut and loves the game, as I believe some of his England team-mates are.

I resisted the temptation to ask him about the series against the Proteas and the recent Trent Bridge result – I got the sense he was happy to talk about golf, as opposed to cricket!

Thursday, July 20

I knew day one would be tough after it rained pretty much the whole night and the wind howled.

In fact, that woke me around four in the morning and I knew then that the field had a tough day ahead. When I headed for the course around six it was still raining and blowing a gale, with my umbrella being blown over my head!

As I arrived at the course, I heard a big cheer go up for Mark O’Meara, who was first off, and who won here in 1998. Unfortunately, after his tee shot, I didn’t hear a peep, and no wonder, as I later discovered that he had hit it out of bounds, on his way to an opening eight!

I went through and found Dylan in the physio truck and we did our usual warm-up, running through the activation sequence and doing some stretching and mobility work. That also involved me using my bands and medicine ball to get him fired up, doing some explosive jumps and hops.

We then grabbed a quick bite to eat in the players’ lounge before heading to the range, although it was freezing there. On two occasions, Dylan had to stop hitting balls and put on those hand-warming mittens that Nike provides its players with. It was pretty wet, windy and basically brutal.

Dylan, though, was relaxed, and after some time on the putting green he headed for the first tee. I walked the first three holes with him, before coming back and meeting Nick Faldo in the gym, where we did another good session. It was a lot more mobility and rotation-orientated and I had the knight in quite a sweat!

He then went off to prepare for his commentary session with his American colleagues and I went back out on the course to join Dylan.

Dylan actually played nicely and just a couple of soft bogeys meant he ended over par, with a 73. That included a double on the 16th where he ended up in a bunker off the tee, which you just can’t do on this course, which is so well bunkered.

Besides that, he had a nice back nine and was generally pretty happy with the way he played, particularly as he teed off at 8:25am in the worst of the conditions. It was definitely easier to play in the afternoon.

As a matter of interest, when I walk with Dylan I have to walk outside the ropes. Only the players, caddies and scorers walk inside, along with one dedicated ‘bunker raker’.

Interestingly, these are usually professionals from clubs in the UK who have to get themselves on a list.

It’s a volunteer, first come first served thing, and if you get in, you get to walk behind the players and rake their bunkers for them! So, the caddies don’t have to rake the bunkers this week, and I think that helps with the speed of play.

Once Dylan was done, we grabbed some lunch and then did a warm-down on the range, before some time on the putting green and a strength training session in the gym. That was my day with Dylan.

I then hooked up with a mate of mine who had caught the train up from London. It was his first major and he was blown away by the experience, so it was nice walking some holes with him and fielding his questions.

Generally, there was an amazing atmosphere and great crowds, despite the weather.

The course itself was quite soft, due to all the rain, so balls were stopping nicely on the greens and that obviously helped and encouraged the good scoring.

So, while the course didn’t play like a links on the ground, it certainly did in the air, with the wind playing a big role. If you were slightly off with your game, you were in line to take big numbers. If you hit the ball nicely, though, there was a score on offer.

Lastly, I had a nice conversation with Jason Day in the players’ lounge towards the end of the day. He remembered me from last year when I met him through Haydn Porteous during the practice round, and I was impressed with his memory and how approachable he was.

Wednesday, July 19

Another special day in Open Championship week after a rather interesting evening on Tuesday.

If you read the previous diary entry, you would have known that I was heading to the 60th birthday bash of Sir Nick Faldo, one of my newer clients. It was a cocktail party at the house he is renting this week and it was pretty much wall-to-wall big golf names.

All of Nick’s NBC colleagues – the guys he broadcasts with – were there, along with a couple of more ‘senior’ golfers, like Paul McGinley, Phil Mickelson, Stuart Cink and Tom Lehman. But there were plenty of younger guys as well and I ended up spending a lot of my time chatting to former world number one and Open champion David Duval.

There’s a lot more to the guy who used to hide behind those shades and he was great company. He doesn’t play much these days and kind of disappeared from the scene after dominating around the time he won the Open in 2001. But he told me that he still plays and can shoot a low score at his home course, which happens to be Cherry Hills, a championship course. I eventually snuck away after all the speeches.

After the night out, I enjoyed a bit of a lie-in and then joined Dylan for a session in the gym. On this occasion we did a full workout and some explosive strength and power work. After that it was a short stint on the range, before some short game stuff.

We wanted to keep things light, as he’s had a couple of long days and I want him fresh for the weekend. So, the idea was to do just enough to stay sharp.

Arguably more important was the practicing of shots he doesn’t usually use, but which you need in links golf. So, for example, using the three-wood out of some of the wispy fescue grass.

This type of grass tends to grab the leading edge of the wedges, so something like a three-wood is a good option with its flat surface, but you have to practice it, as the ball can come off quite hot!

I then grabbed some lunch before saying cheers to Dylan and heading back to the gym to join up with Nick. We had a good session and were there at a similar time to Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth.

Earlier, there was a nice moment on the putting green, with Jordan and Dylan having a good chat. They were at the University of Texas together and there were some nice words from Jordan regarding how Dylan belongs out here.

Anyway, back in the gym, Nick had a good session and it’s quite impressive how he’s kept himself in shape over these years.

I even caught Dustin catching a sneaky peek at what Nick was doing, which I guess is a bit of a compliment.

Speaking of Dustin, I was interested in what he was doing, as he’s a really impressive athlete, but it wasn’t anything out of the ordinary, besides some standard lifting etc.

Although, any bit of that was followed up by some extensive stretching or a mobility exercise, which is obviously key for him with his big levers.

After a cup of tea at Nick’s house after the gym session, it was home for an early night, as Dylan is off early on Thursday at 08h25 with Englishman David Horsey and Korean Younghan Song.

Dylan is one of nine South Africans in the field, including former champions Ernie Els and Louis Oosthuizen.

Obviously, Branden Grace is always one to watch, but this week I quite like Brandon Stone’s chances.

He hits it a long way and is quite accurate with his irons.

Then there’s the story of Shaun Norris playing in his first Open – he’s just chuffed to be here and is soaking it all up. That might be the way to go, to ensure you’re relaxed.

Wishing them all well this week.

Tuesday, July 18

I can only describe today as something out of the ordinary and really special, getting to spend time on the golf course – never mind the fact that it’s Royal Birkdale – with one of the legends of the game, and as of a couple of months ago, one of my newest clients!

I met Sir Nick Faldo during the SA Open in January and we did some work together at Serengeti, before continuing the working relationship over the following months, and here we are now at the Open.

I’ve found the former world number one and six-time major champion very approachable and easy to work with, and because of my own sense of humour, really enjoy his rather British take on the things that amuse him.

Today, the Tuesday before this year’s Open, is Sir Nick’s 60th birthday, and before a cocktail party at the house he’s renting this week, he was due to play an exhibition match with Henrik Stenson, taking on the South African pair of Ernie Els and Louis Oosthuizen.

Unfortunately, Ernie woke up with a stiff back and Louis also had to pull out, so Nick was left with Henrik, the defending champion, who played the front nine with him.

Earlier I had met up with Nick and took him through a warm-up with some mobility stuff and getting him ‘activated’ before he went to hit balls.

Obviously, working with a 60-year-old is a little different to working with the likes of George Coetzee and Dylan Frittelli, so the focus is very much on flexibility and mobility, and managing the effects of some old injuries.

What’s nice for me is that Nick is really positive about the shape he’s in, to the extent that he’s re-visiting some old swing thoughts from 15 years ago. That’s how good he feels right now.

One of the highlights of the day for me – being a bit of a golf nut – was seeing Nick chatting on the range with his old caddie, Fanny Sunesson, and former coach David Leadbetter – very much the ‘A Team’ back together again many years after all the success they had together.

As Nick headed for the first tee, I popped back to the gym and hooked up with Dylan, putting him through a relatively tough strength session and ‘loading’ the body, which is something we do on the Tuesday before a tournament.

Dylan then headed for some practice, so I jumped back on the course and joined up with Nick and Henrik on the eighth, and basically walked the back nine with Nick, as Henrik headed off after nine.

Nick was joined by Justin Rose on the 10th tee and it was a real privilege watching the two play the last nine holes, particularly as Nick has been a bit of a mentor to Justin.

Also, Nick has won three Claret Jugs, so he knows a little about links golf! In fact, he was quite chuffed that today was a little more hot, dry and windy, with hard and fast conditions, as that is true links golf. He’s hoping the rain expected this week doesn’t soften the course too much.

I can tell you, Nick isn’t hitting the ball badly at the moment and impressed both his coach and Justin. I think he’s hoping for a decent week before mounting a challenge at next week’s Senior Open Championship.

Once that was done I grabbed some lunch and headed for the media compound where I was due for a stint on a radio show called @The Open.

They do preview shows and take care of the on-course commentary, and they kindly invited me back to chat about golf fitness and training, as I’ve done a stint with them before.

I’m now wrapping up this column before pulling on a jacket and heading to Sir Nick’s 60th birthday bash. I bumped into Rory McIlroy at the Irish Open and he said he’ll probably show face, along with, I’m sure, plenty of big names in golf. Should be an interesting evening.

Monday, July 17

It’s great to be back at the Open Championship.

This week I’ll be working with only Dylan Frittelli, having previously had a couple of guys on my books for this week.

Unfortunately, some of my other clients didn’t qualify, but in a way it’s a good thing, as I can focus all my energy and efforts on Dylan this week, particularly as it’s his first major.

My Open week kicked off with me making my way from Dundonald Links – which was where the Scottish Open was played and is very close to Troon – down to Southport, the home of Royal Birkdale, where I’m sharing a B&B this week with another trainer and the guy who caddies for the Englishman Laurie Canter.

It’s actually someone’s house and a lot of players go this route for the week, renting houses in Southport, so that they can be close to the course.

My Monday got under way rather early, with Dylan sending a courtesy car for me, which meant I was whisked off in a fancy Mercedes and arrived at the club in good time to sort out my accreditation, which obviously sorts out your access to the course, club etc.

As you can imagine, security at the Open is tight and the type of access you have depends on who you are and what function you are performing this week.

I met Dylan in the players’ lounge and we had breakfast together, chatting about the week ahead, before heading to the gym.

For the first time, there’s actually a purpose-built gym put up next to the players’ marquee, which is an indication of how far the perception of physical training in golf has come, as we usually have to make do with whatever the local hotels offer the players staying there.

The R&A have really stepped up in this regard.

After a stretch and a brief warm-up on the range, we headed out on the course and got a few holes under the belt. We joined up with the American Billy Horschel and played the first two holes with him, before going it alone and jumping from the second to the ninth tee, so that Dylan could play the back nine.

There we bumped into Louis Oosthuizen. He looked refreshed after a month off at home in South Africa and he was hitting the ball well, which I think is ominous on a links course.

Louis is very dangerous in good nick in these conditions. He also seemed to like the Birkdale layout and condition, and was very complimentary, so he likes the course, which is looking fantastic, but I think will play tougher as the week goes on, as it firms up.

That being said, they are predicting rain towards the end of the week.

With practice rounds, you really are just trying to achieve a few things, such as getting the right line off the tee and finding the right spots on which to bounce the ball into the green, being links golf.

Speaking of links golf, as always, staying out of the bunkers will be key this week. Basically, with the practice round, you’re just trying to find the best way of playing each of the 18 holes.

We also tossed a few putting discs down in the places we feel some of the pins will be, so that Dylan could get a sense of the break etc.

After those 11 holes, Dylan and I had lunch before doing some short-game stuff, including working on chipping off tight lies – a links golf staple – using different chipping methods (bump and run, flop shot etc), and doing some pressure putting with different drills.

After that we headed back to the range, where Dylan took possession of his commemorative TaylorMade golf bag for the week. It’s something TaylorMade – and I think Callaway – do every major week for the players using their clubs. Dylan plays the TaylorMade driver, three-wood and hybrids.

The day ended with me putting Dylan through his paces in the gym and there we were joined by Adam Scott, Francesco Molinari and Jon Rahm, who were all working out.

That wrapped up a good day and a good start to the week for Dylan.

Garth Milne is a golf-specific fitness coach and expert based at Serengeti, and he will be accompanying Dylan Frittelli at the Open Championship this week. Remember to come back daily to get the latest from Royal Birkdale.

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