Soren Kjeldsen’s specialism isn’t so much of the course and distance type. More, wind and rain. Could a golfer from Denmark revel in anything less?
Kjeldsen claimed his fourth European Tour title, and first for six years, last year at the Irish Open which was notable for appalling weather at Royal County Down. The venue is also significant here; that of links variety.
Kjeldsen’s emergence on Friday under a deluge of rain at Royal Troon was therefore worthy of little surprise. Perhaps the Dane should have been taken seriously anyway, owing to his share of seventh place at this year’s Masters. That was far from a back-door top 10 in Georgia, Kjeldsen remaining no worse than eighth at the end of each round.
“I think the biggest difference now is when I go into a major like this, I feel normal,” Kjeldsen explained. “I don’t make it more important than anything else. I know the importance of the tournament but I also know that for me to perform well, I need to get into my little world and get lost in that. And if I control what I can control, then I’m doing OK. That’s what I learned from Augusta.”
At seven under par here – rounds of 67 and 68 have ensured that – Kjeldsen is again turning heads. He provides an obvious explanation for that. “I always think about the Open like this: that you want to get all sorts of conditions,” Kjeldsen said. “You want different wind directions. You want sun, you want rain. We need all four seasons in a good Open, I think.
“These conditions are what I grew up in, as well. So I’m certainly used to playing in bad weather. You don’t stay inside when you are learning the game because you would miss too many days. So I like playing this kind of golf. I like the battling mentality that you need to play. Yes, I do thrive in this.”
Still, there is a touch of the renaissance man about Kjeldsen. That long-awaited Irish victory aside, he is now 41. His touch had, for a time, deserted him to the point where he thought his career may be entering its closing stretch.
“I was struggling for a couple of years,” Kjeldsen admitted. “My problem was mainly on the tee shots. I felt very insecure on the tee shots. I just felt really weak. Because I don’t hit it a long way, when I hit it nicely, I get it out there but I didn’t at the time so I was hitting it short and pretty crooked.
“I found it really, really hard. I had a couple of problems in my game that I struggled to solve and turning 40; you have all certainly heard that story before when people get to 40 and then it’s downhill from there. So I was fighting pretty hard but determined to get through.”
Kjeldsen has sampled the rough and tumble of the Open. If this represents his best experience, there is another side to tell, dating from the 2008 Open. “It was at Birkdale,” he recalled. “I had a really good tee time, I thought, 6.52am on Thursday morning, and it came down so hard all day and it was so windy.
“I’ll never forget walking off the 18th. There was one guy from the Danish media. You could see that he was all dry. He had just had a nice cup of coffee I could smell on his breath. I had shot 81 and thought I didn’t do too bad. It [the weather] was crazy. His first question was like: ‘What happened out there?’ That was probably a low point. I think generally I’m quite polite. I think I said: ‘Maybe you should try and walk outside the tent.’”
Another player on the bounce back is Keegan Bradley, who tied Kjeldsen’s halfway score after a 68. The 2011 US PGA winner has disappeared from frontline view in recent times, with Bradley’s cause hardly helped by the man on the anchored putting stroke that earlier contributed to him becoming a major champion.
“Everybody comes up to me and says, ‘What’s wrong with you?’ And that’s the toughest,” Bradley said. “Because I tell them, ‘I’m fine.’ I’m enjoying the challenge of getting better.
“I’ve had a lot of veteran players reach out to me, Hall of Fame type guys and they’ve all said: ‘We all went through this at some point. It was just a little dip and people freak out. It’s your job to enjoy the challenge of coming back.’”
Bradley, though, had a slight worry about an incident he was involved in during Monday’s practice day. “I actually snuck up on the leaderboard on 18 with a couple of guys and we put our names up,” the 30-year-old said.
“I’m probably going to get in trouble for that. Probably shouldn’t have said that but it was fun to see my name up there … it was just awesome.”
Bradley has just that one major victory, at Atlanta Athletic Club five years ago, to his credit, but believes he thrives in the bigger tournaments. “I feel as though when I go to a major I have a little edge on some of the guys so I love it,” said the 30-year-old American.
“I love a bigger-field tournament. I just feel like there’s guys that can handle it and guys that succeed. I feel more comfortable in the bigger atmosphere … it’s just more fun for me.”
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