Want a real insight into the minds of the world's best golfers? Head to the Open practice ground

Jeremy Wilson
Miguel Ángel Jiménez practises with his cigar in his mouth ahead of the Open at Royal Portrush - PA
Miguel Ángel Jiménez practises with his cigar in his mouth ahead of the Open at Royal Portrush - PA

Miguel Ángel Jiménez pulled his trademark cigar from his mouth, and placed it into the custom-made holder that is part tee and part sculpted golf ball.

The tinted aviator sunglasses, however, stayed firmly on as the 55-year-old reigning Senior Open champion began a flamboyant warm-up routine of squats, stretches and lunges. And all with a few irons in his hand, while occasionally still reaching for the cigar.

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The Royal Portrush crowd were audibly delighted, and it must also be doing something for Jiménez, who on Thursday became only the second man after Sam Torrance to reach 700 European Tour starts. But why the extravagant warm-up routine? “To refresh what I have been doing in the morning... and people like to see - we are entertaining people,” he explained.

The chance to observe the more idiosyncratic routines of players like Jiménez is a good reason why one of the busiest stands of all at the Open is directly behind the practice ground. 

It is the small details that often most obsess the best golfers and, for a study in the importance both of meticulous routine and superstition, this is a very good place to start. 

<span><a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/pga/players/147/" data-ylk="slk:Tiger Woods">Tiger Woods</a> kept his headphones in during practice</span> <span>Credit: PA </span>
Tiger Woods kept his headphones in during practice Credit: PA

Spread over 25 narrow driving bays and two greens at Royal Portrush, the practice grounds form at first glance an informal meeting place for the world’s best golfers, caddies and coaches. Fist-bumps and hugs were the predominant means of communication throughout the four warm-up days, and Matt Wallace and record-breaking coach Pete Cowen settled their very public spat with a firm handshake here on Wednesday. 

The ambiance changed very suddenly early on Thursday morning, as the area became somehow both more congested and quieter as the first moment of truth neared. 

Coaches like Dave Alred, the former kicking mentor to Jonny Wilkinson who has transferred his skills to inspire defending champion Franceso Molinari in his practice routines, took a definite step back, and imparted a subtler influence. 

The players tend to practice for at least an hour before they tee off, and generally follow a distinct routine. A bit of stretching and loosening up before moving through the clubs, from short wedges aimed at the flags that line the vast swathe of grass in front of them right up to the driver. They then typically head for the practice greens, where they work through all aspects of their short-game, before hopping aboard a waiting buggy that whisks them the 500 metres to the first tee. Some players return after completing their rounds. Watching their respective routines is instructive. 

<span><a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/pga/players/19918/" data-ylk="slk:Bryson DeChambeau">Bryson DeChambeau</a> is very precise when he practises</span> <span>Credit: Getty Images </span>
Bryson DeChambeau is very precise when he practises Credit: Getty Images

Tiger Woods was wearing headphones during practice on Wednesday and, as is so often noted, was a picture of concentration and serenity. He spent a particularly long time honing his long irons that draw back from right to left, yet on Thursday he still promptly directed his first tee shot into the rough. It had earlier been an even more spectacularly wayward start from Rory McIlroy, who must have had 20 perfectly executed iron shots on the practice ground before a disastrous first tee shot set the tone for his nightmare day. 

Bryson DeChambeau was another whose practice ground performance was rather more auspicious than the three-over-par score that followed. He marks his balls with a line so he can follow the roll, and uses various alignment aides while honing his putting.

He has also broken down other aspects of golf in quite extraordinary detail, right down to which material of flagstick is most conducive to putting with the pin in. DeChambeau’s wedges have a physics formula stamped on them, and he has investigated in depth how breathing impacts his mental state. Rather like Woods, his practice routine was incredibly precise and focussed. 

Back to Jiménez, and it all felt rather different. There were a few friendly words for the stewards and his caddie was also puffing on a cigarette as he completed the warm-up with some leisurely looking drives. He was then out to work and, while his 35th Open will probably be all over by Friday evening, those spectators who remain camped out at the practice grounds will always be delighted to see him back.

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