IT is at this time of the year when the thoughts of the increasingly hattered golf writers turn to some of the more pressing concerns of the season.
Can we, for instance, hastily master the fiddly nuances of the darning process to ensure our socks stand up to the rigours of two weeks on the road?
As the campaign hurtles towards its peak with the Scottish Open and the Open, and we are all working cheek by wibbling jowl on a daily basis for the next fortnight, the close-quarters combat with fellow scribblers almost feels as if we are involved in some kind of long-term relationship. And, as most folk will testify, that can have its rewards as well as its drawbacks. On one hand, there is the companionship, security and unwavering affection and respect. On the other, the eye-watering monotony of seeing the same saggy old vision shuffling and hirpling around 24/7.
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The sights on show at Royal Aberdeen this week will be far from humdrum, of course. The Scottish Open, sponsored by Aberdeen Asset Management, has attracted the strongest field in Europe this year and simply highlights the fact that its slot in the schedule immediately before the Open, as well as its enticing invitation to hone the links game, is still a highly alluring combination. The Scottish Open, though, is a significant event in its own right and should not merely be tagged as a wee limber-up for the main event at Hoylake next week.
Meanwhile, the Ricoh Women's British Open, with a rejuvenated Michelle Wie leading the line at Royal Birkdale, stands as a fine showpiece too, but two sizeable golfing events going head-to-head and scrapping for coverage in a week where there is also a build-up to a World Cup final is always going to leave one with a bloody nose.
Here on home turf, there is plenty to look forward to. Personally, this correspondent is intrigued by the prospect of the ever-enthusiastic Phil Mickelson, perhaps enamoured by the charms of the Granite City, greeting the media at his pre-tournament press conference with the phrase 'foo's yer doos?'
He may not master the local dialect but, having finally grasped the various subtleties of the links game last year with his triumphant double whammy in the Scottish Open and the Open, Mickelson is back in Caledonia as part of a stellar cast list that features 10 major champions, 22 players from the world's top 60 and nine former European No.1s. Rory McIlroy will be there; so too will Justin Rose. The robust Balgownie links will provide a quite formidable test and will pose bountiful questions of players' course management, strategic nous and shot-making abilities. In this sense, it should be a riveting spectacle of how the game should be played.
It has been 15 years since a Scot last won the Scottish Open - Colin Montgomerie did so in 1999 - and the pressure to bridge that title gap continues to weigh heavily on home shoulders. Stephen Gallacher, sixth in '08 and fourth two years later, continues to plough something of a lone furrow in the upper reaches of the global order during a season in which the rest of his countrymen on the European scene have struggled to find the consistency of form to mount a concerted assault for honours.
Since 2008, there has always been a saltire plonked in the top 10 of the final standings in the domestic flagship. Martin Laird led the way by finishing fifth a year ago at Castle Stuart but, since then, the three-time PGA Tour champion has become something of a forgotten man. Perched inside the top 50 of the world order 12 months ago, Laird now languishes down in 156th.
He has posted just two top-20 finishes since October and has missed the cut in six of his last 11 events. How he copes with his latest transition from the American approach to the quirks of links golf will be one of the many interesting sub-plots over the next few days.
Laird has no exemption for next week's Open but, like a host of his compatriots, the door of opportunity remains ajar. The top three finishers in the Scottish event, who are not already in the Hoylake line-up, will earn a tee-time as part of the Royal & Ancient's qualifying series which has been running at a variety of tour events across the globe.
For those in the upper echelons of the professional game, there are numerous ways of getting a foot in that Open door. For the lesser lights it seems to get that bit harder. The reserve places for the Open are filled by the highest ranked available player on the world rankings.
At last week's 36-hole final qualifier at Gailes Links, we watched Glasgow's Paul McKechnie hole a brave birdie putt in a play-off to set up a major debut and realise a childhood dream. McKechnie had scrambled through the regional qualifying round before that but, had he lost that play-off, he would not have even earned a place on the reserve list for all that nerve-jangling effort. It was all or nothing.
Thankfully for McKechnie, the fairytale continued. For many at his level though, the Open becomes more and more of a closed shop.