Putting masterclass secures Sam a place at Royal St Georges
R&A: Wednesday June 30th
A tension-filled Open Final Qualifying once again delivered a day of high drama as 12 players turned the dream into a reality by booking their ticket to Royal St George’s yesterday.
Yorkshireman Sam Bairstow had the round of his life on his way to being the only amateur to make it through. With the top three qualifying from each of the four venues, he made it happen at St Annes Old Links where the scoring was at its lowest.
The England international finished on 12 under for his 36 holes but even then faced a nervous wait to see if he had reached his first Open Championship.
Bairstow opened with a majestic nine-under-par 63 to lead at halfway but in the afternoon, with a host of players not far way – including the likes of two-time Walker Cup player Alex Fitzpatrick (Hallamshire) – it was still a big ask for the 22-year-old to make it.
But that he did. Three birdies in his last four holes gave him the breathing space required to hold off the charge of the late-starting Somerset pro David Dixon and qualify with two shots to spare. Since then messages and congratulations have been flooding in, including from fellow qualifier Nick Poppleton – the two Yorkshiremen are coached by Nick Huby at the Pete Cowen Golf Academy – and former British Amateur champion Joe Long.
“That first round was probably the best I’ve ever played,” said the 22-year-old left hander, who is looking forward to four days of England coaching next week and a chance to fine tune his game before mixing it with the world’s best on a course he has never played before.
“I did everything right and it was my definitely my best round of putting. I think it also might have even been the first time I’ve gone bogey free in a competition round. I also had a 16-foot putt for eagle on the last and thought it was going straight in the middle. As it was on its way I said to myself ‘I’m going to get to ten under here’ but it inexplicably broke across the hole.”
Bairstow had his first go at qualifying for the iconic competition on the back of some excellent results. Most recently there was a quarter-final appearance in the British Amateur, which came after fourth place at the St Andrews Links Trophy and before that sixth at the Scottish Open.
“Playing links golf for four weeks helped a lot,” added Bairstow. “Everything is a lot firmer and you get used to chipping of that type of turf.”
However it was his putter that was the star club in the bag, especially in the morning during an extraordinary run which started on the ninth. There he holed out from 18 feet for a two and followed that up with successful birdie putts from 22, 26 and 18 feet to get to six under after 12.
Having gone out with the mindset he needed to get to double figures to give himself a chance of qualifying, he came within milimetres of reaching that mark by halfway as he also birdied 14 and both par fives to leave himself one ahead of Spanish journeyman pro Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano and two clear of Fitzpatrick.
In the afternoon he started on the tenth and reached the turn in two under to keep himself at the top but a couple of wayward drives at the first and fourth cost him shots although he was unfortunate to find long stuff in the patchy rough on both occasions.
With fellow Yorkshireman Ben Hutchinson on a charge and plenty of danger lurking from a quality field, he bounced back with three birdies in a row, starting on the sixth as once again the putter worked its magic. After birdieing the easiest hole on the course, he hit a 5 iron to 25 feet at the tough par four seventh and sank the putt before holing one from 18 feet at the next. A par at ninth completed the job as he ended up one behind Hutchinson and level with the experienced Spaniard.
Other amateurs who just missed out at the North Lancashire venue were Scottish international Stephen Roger, who made a brilliant late charge but fell three shots short. He was six under for his back nine. Fitzpatrick was unable to rediscover the fireworks of the morning and followed up his 65 with a 71 to end up four short.
The leader of the England Order of Merit Callan Barrow (Royal Lytham) also threatened to challenge but the recent Scottish Open champion could never quite get in the mix and ended five back of Bairstow and the experienced Spaniard.
In the morning the heroics of Furness member Robbie Spence had the Cumbrian golfing community buzzing. The 40-year-old registered seven birdies and an eagle in a remarkable 66 but he fell back after lunch.
At Hollinwell, Yorkshireman Ben Rhodes made a great attempt and but finished two shots behind third-placed European Tour player Richard Mansell.
The Headingley member was second at halfway, two back of Kiwi pro Daniel Hillier, but three bogeys in four holes at the end of his front nine proved critical. He responded in excellent fashion on the back nine (-3) but it wasn’t quite enough.
At West Lancashire, Welsh international Archie Davies (Carlisle GC) made a good run in the afternoon on his front nine and got to five under – Merseyside pro Daniel Croft claimed the final spot on -6 – but he played the back nine in two over to finish three shots adrift of the qualifying mark.
This year’s Open starts on July 15th at Royal St George’s where Ireland’s Shane Lowry will hope to defend the title he won two years ago at Royal Portrush. Darren Clarke was the last winner at the Kent venue in 2011.
For all the qualifying scores click here