The Open: Could US ‘frat house’ hold key to Claret Jug?
Sometimes it’s about who you know, and an invite to the elite Carnoustie “frat house” could be the key to unlocking the Open.
Halfway leaders Zach Johnson and Kevin Kisner are two of the fraternity sharing lodgings in Scotland this week, alongside defending champion Jordan Spieth, major winners Justin Thomas, Jimmy Walker and Jason Dufner, and fellow American Rickie Fowler.
In the three years the frat house has been running, the winner has twice come from within.
Johnson took the Claret Jug back for the boys at St. Andrews in 2015 and Spieth took his turn at Royal Birkdale last year.
Whatever elixir they are drinking from the historic vessel seems to be working.
The seven occupants own eight major titles between them, with only Kisner and Fowler yet to get off the mark. Their individual PGA Tour career earnings begin at the $15 million of two-time champion Kisner.
Something’s clearly rubbed off on Kisner, who was handed the golden ticket for the first time this year, as he pushed the lead to eight under before a double bogey at the last to rejoin Johnson on six under Friday.
Spieth and Fowler both made late runs as the shadows lengthened to get in at three under for the weekend.
Back at the house, down time involves soccer kickabouts in the garden, meals prepared by the British chef they brought over from the United States, and then movies.
Despite all gunning for the Claret Jug, no topic of conversation is apparently of limits.
“Golf will probably be the tune,” adds the 34-year-old Kisner, who is married with two kids.
“Everybody will tell their horror stories and good stories, and we’ll laugh and eat a big old meal and sit around and watch something stupid on Netflix. We watched the Russian doping one the other night — ‘Icarus.’ That was pretty good.”
Kisner insists the illustrious company is “not intimidating at all” and says “everyone is really just chill.”
“I learned that everybody’s going through the same stuff and trying to shoot the lowest score possible, and everybody puts their pants on the same way I do…probably left leg first,” he says in his slow South Carolina drawl.
“So they just won a few more times than I have and probably got a couple more zeros in their bank account.”
Spieth is the youngest at 24 with Johnson the elder statesman at 42.
Johnson says it’s akin to the college movie “Old School,” or at least “Old School-ish.”
“I wasn’t in a fraternity in college but it kinds of feels like I’m going back to my alma mater and I’m the old guy stepping into the current frat house,” said Johnson, who also won the Masters in 2007.
The soccer games can get competitive, with everyone keen to show their athleticism — all except Dufner, who plays in goal, says Kisner.
Johnson has a “sneaky leg,” he says, while Spieth is useful “until he sends it over the goal four houses over and we’ve got to go knock on the neighbors doors for the soccer ball.”
The core of the group, childhood friends Spieth and Thomas, alongside another close PGA Tour pal Smylie Kaufman and occasionally Fowler, have also taken to vacationing together in Cabo San Lucas.
It’s a far cry from the rivalries of yesteryear. Imagine Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson going on vacation together in their heyday, or Nick Faldo and Greg Norman sharing a house at Augusta.
It also puts to bed the notion that US Ryder Cup players aren’t as united as a team as their European counterparts.
Thomas, Spieth and Fowler are locks to make the US side in Paris in September.
Private jet bill
“It is a very unique group of us,” says 25-year-old world No.2 Thomas, who won his breakthrough major at last year’s US PGA.
“Obviously we want to beat each other’s brains in. I never want to lose to any of my friends, especially my best friends. As weird as it is, it’s sometimes harder losing to your close friends than it is to someone you don’t even know.
“Then again, last year when I missed the cut I was pulling for Jordan to win. You want to see your friend win if you can’t.”
Sharing beverages out of the Claret Jug has become a perk of the housemates over the last three years, but one practice that has become lore is that the winner has to pay for a private jet for the crew to fly home.
“I’d be happy to fork that over,” admits Johnson.
These not so young Americans are the talk of the town.