Storms send timely reminder of Birkdale's lurking danger

Much has been made of how weather conditions and the draw may impact the fight for The Open, but the real battle is a mental one.

Jordan Spieth   -  Getty Images

It was never going to last.

Even in summertime, two consecutive days of glorious sunshine in north-west England is in itself a wondrous thing.

The crowds gathered to enjoy the opening couple of practice days ahead of the 146th Open Championship at Royal Birkdale lapped it up, and so too did the players.

But Wednesday's dawn brought with it a sense of change; change for the worse. A storm was brewing.

By 4pm local time, the clouds had gathered and soon forced spectators into a hasty retreat as giant screens dotted around the course warned of electrical storms approaching.

What had for two solid days been a sun-kissed links course was now a no-go zone as rain hammered down upon the verdant fairways. The Birkdale beast had awoken.

For all the difficulties the Southport track can pose in its own right, it is the capricious will of Mother Nature that transforms it from beauty to beast.

It isn't so much the rain – though thunder and lightening are of course a whole different matter – but the wind is the game-changing element that takes a tough 18 holes and turns up the dial somewhere close to unplayable.

And the wind can come in fits and starts. Like an unwanted overnight guest, it may linger in the morning, but swiftly disappear, even if not soon enough for those forced to share its insufferable company.

This arbitrary imposition can doubtlessly hold huge sway in who triumphs this week, with those fortunate enough to be drawn to play in favourable conditions certainly at an advantage to those who are not.

Jordan Spieth went so far as to say that it can "cut half the field... and it's almost impossible to win in that circumstance at an Open Championship".

So that's Spieth, a two-time major winner and former world number one, ruling himself out of a maiden triumph at golf's oldest major if the draw falls unkindly for him.

It has to be said that's not a view shared by all of his rivals, most notably 2014 Claret Jug winner Rory McIlroy, and 2015 US PGA champion Jason Day.

For McIlroy, the very essence of golf is to conquer the battle within one's own mind – to discount one's chances on the basis of a draw would be to hold up the white flag. It is fruitless folly.

Day agrees.

"The more you dwell on it [the draw] I think the more it makes it worse," said the Australian on the eve of the tournament.

"It's like anything, if you think you're driving it bad and you keep thinking about it, it just gets worse and worse and worse.

"It sounds really silly but you can't go, 'oh, it is another major gone, because I've got unlucky with the weather'."

The likes of McIlroy, Spieth and world number one Dustin Johnson have all spoken about the narrow gap in quality between the leading players.

For the Northern Irishman, there is one key ingredient that can separate them, and it has nothing to do with the weather nor the draw.

He sets his sights high for inspiration.

"The two best players ever, Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus, they were both so strong mentally, so that tells you [that] maybe the separation factor is the mental side of the game."

Winning at Birkdale takes skill and perhaps a slice of luck, but when it comes down to it, it's really all in the mind.