Drive it great; wedge it great; putt it great. That was the advice Byron Nelson gave to a young Tom Watson back in the day – a relatively simple summation of what it takes to win at the highest level but a lesson worth remembering. You can’t get greedy with anything longer than a wedge approach; you have to make the putts you’re supposed to make (along with a couple of pleasant surprises) and, perhaps most importantly, you have to start each hole with a tee shot that sets you up for success.
Some in the modern game have forgotten that first part. The bomb-and-gouge crowd believe you can hit it anywhere as long it’s far enough to muscle the next one onto the green.
That might work some places. The links courses of Scotland are not among them.
Azahara Muñoz, the third-round leader of the Aberdeen Standard Investments Ladies Scottish Open, knows this better than most. While it is easy to point to the putts Muñoz has made in her 7-under par effort so far at The Renaissance Club in North Berwick, the pinpoint-accurate driver has been the most important club in the bag.
“I think the main key in these type of courses is to not get in trouble and I haven't at all,” Muñoz said after a 2-under 69 on Saturday put her one shot clear of Stacy Lewis and two ahead of Jennifer Song going into the final round of the event. “The worst I've been in is the first cut of rough, which is not even that bad. Everybody always says putting is the main (thing), but you have to start by being on the fairway first. Everything goes after that.
“So even though I've made some really nice putts – my putting has been working really nicely – my driver, again (has been the key). I've never been in trouble, only once yesterday in thicker rough, but I still managed to be okay.”
The other key to Muñoz’s lead is her discipline and willingness to take her medicine when the inevitable bad break comes her way. Case in point was the first bogey she made on Saturday on the front nine.
“I got really unlucky on No. 5,” she said. “I hit a perfect drive, but I was in a divot. So, I chunked it from there and then the ball plugged in the (greenside) bunker.”
Like most links courses, the bunkers at The Renaissance Club look like dry wells – tiny, deep and straight-faced, with riveted walls that would require a climbing axe and crampons to get up. Muñoz’s ball on the fifth was close enough to that straight wall that she had no shot at the green.
“I actually made an amazing bogey,” she said. “I wanted to go for the pin but my caddie was just saying, let's just not get greedy because it was plugged against the lip and the lip was pretty high. So I hit the shot from the bunker backward and then made a really, really nice up-and-down.
“It was actually really hard (to hit that bunker shot backward). My caddie had to talk me into doing it. Because I was thinking, well, if I go backwards, I still have a 45-yard shot for my fourth. I just didn't want to do that.
“But he said, and he had a good point, the ball was probably not going to come out. You never know, but I don't think it would have come out and it probably would have come out again and be plugged again, and then I would have had to (hit it backward) for my fourth shot.
“So, I'm very proud of myself for doing that. I took my medicine and made a really nice bogey, which the only thing you don't want to do is a really big number. A bogey, you can always make a birdie, but when you make a double or something, then that really hurts.”
She made another bogey from the bunker on the ninth hole when she didn’t trust the line of her par putt, but she offset those by birdieing both par fives on the front nine. Two birdies on the back gave Muñoz the one-shot cushion after Lewis had a birdie putt on 18 hang on the lip.
Drive it great – check
Putt it great – so far so good
Wedge it great – that requires the kind of discipline that Muñoz displayed on the fifth, even if it meant hitting a shot backward.
“I'm enjoying being out there so much,” the 32-year-old Spaniard said. “I think this break was really good for me. I came back and I just want to play golf. I just want to enjoy myself. I'm going to do my best, so at the end of the day, wherever that puts me, it puts me.
“In the past, I think I always got a little upset if things didn't work out. But now I always give my hundred percent. As long as I do that, that's all I can do.”