Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Did Tom qualify?

As I mentioned in my last blog entry about Bruntsfield Links, I'd agreed to caddy for Tom Coyne on 22 June in a Regional Qualifier for the 2015 Open Championship.  With 7 places in the final qualifying round up for grabs and well over 100 professionals and top amateurs from all over the world playing at Bruntsfield, competition would be tough.  Tom's preparation was to play around 110 courses over the previous 56 days, travelling the length and breadth of Scotland and a few rounds south of the border.  We'd arranged to meet for an evening practice round over Bruntsfield Links on Saturday 20 June, but Tom got fog-bound at Benbecula Airport after playing some of the Western Isles courses, so that plan had to be abandoned.  He did get the chance to walk the course on the 21st, but his first  ever shot at Bruntsfield would be "for real" and with the closing chapters of his planned new book on the line, the stakes were pretty high.  I'd not really thought of it that way, but as Tom said, this was a once only shot at The Open and understandably, he didn't want " A Course Called Scotland" to close with an embarrassing anti-climax.

Last time we'd met, at the Glen GC early in his epic journey around Scotland, Tom looked pretty fit, but I had to have a second take when this lean, sun-tanned guy sauntered into view in time for some warm up shots before his allotted 1134 tee time.  He'd apparently lost 22 pounds in his 36 holes a day marathon (Tom - there's another dieting book there) and he thought his cholesterol count was still OK despite 50+ full Scottish breakfasts over the past 8 weeks!  

With so much as stake, Tom looked pretty calm when the PA announcement "and from the USA, Tom Coyne" called him to the tee.  A slightly dodgy opening drive into the right rough, a good 7 iron and a couple of putts later, and Tom was on his way.  Being last off in his threesome, Tom could watch what the 2 Pros in our group were playing, which I thought might be helpful.  Mark and Callum had both taken long irons at the 387 Yard 2nd, but Tom preferred his Driver, the idea being to go for the left side of the fairway, setting up a short pitch to the flag.  10 minutes later, a trip into the woods far right of the fairway and a treble bogey was a real set back.  With a couple of Par 5s coming next, we'd hoped to regain ground, but it wasn't to be.  Bogeys rather than birdies were very unwelcome and Tom was not settling into the round.  We needed something good to happen, and quickly.  However, an outward 43 (7 over par) put Tom right out of contention.  The aim for the back 9 was respectability and Tom did himself proud, with a far steadier performance.  Easy pars on 10 and 11 and an unlucky bogey on 12 helped steady the ship and we were soon onto the 13th tee.  I'd found the 13th to be the most difficult hole at Bruntsfield in my earlier round there, so it was great to see Tom hit a fabulous drive and a 6 iron to within 6 feet of this 455 Yard hole, slightly uphill, wind behind.  The 13th green is close to the 3rd green and although Tom might not have recognised him, the unmistakable figure of Andy Oldcorn was watching from the 3rd as Tom holed his short putt for an impressive birdie.

Tom's game really steadied from then on and as his confidence grew, he began to relax and really enjoy the experience.  However, a dodgy drive on the formidable 17th led to a disappointing double bogey and with only the 347 Yard 18th to come, Tom's race was run. He was due to fly back home next day regardless of his score, but it was clear there would be no early return for final qualifying.  We'd a long wait to play the last.  After almost 110 rounds in the past couple of months, countless miles, shots and aching muscles, there was only one hole left.  Understandably, Tom was determined to par the final hole of an epic trip that had seen him tackle the greatest and most humble courses in Scotland, experiencing the worst and best golfing weather that Scotland has to offer.  Tom's Driver had not been his best club that day, so we agreed that 3 Wood might be be more sensible.  Thankfully, Tom hit a great drive setting up a 9 iron second shot, slightly uphill, to possibly the most undulating green on the course, right in front of the clubhouse windows and a few dozen spectators (but that's a few dozen more than usually watch Tom playing).  Tom hit one of his classiest shots of the day and I advised him to take his time walking onto the green and enjoy the moment.  OK, he knew that he'd not qualify, but this was the end of a long, long journey.  I'd an inkling of how he felt, having passed a few personal milestones on my own journey around Scottish courses and I was really hoping he'd hole the 20 foot uphill putt for a remarkable closing birdie.  He missed by a mere foot and holed out for a truly great par, given the circumstances. 

Tom had done the back 9 in 2 over par and returned an 80, 9 over par in total.  He wasn't remotely last, but it would have been understandable if he'd been pretty downcast after such a long build up to this Open qualifying round, with so much riding on it.  Mark and Callum were pretty stoic after their own scores had not been good enough to make the cut for final qualifying, but Tom's big smile coming off the 18th said it all.  He'd completed his epic journey by fulfilling a lifetime ambition to play in The Open and achieved a highly creditable score in the circumstances. His new book could have a positive ending and I was glad to have helped, albeit only marginally, in his final effort.  The gold-plated US Dollar coin I gave him as a new ball marker before the round didn't bring him much luck, but I hope that improves in due course! Tom is a fine golfer and an even better human being.  Although I've had many enjoyable times caddying over the past 5 years or so, that round will live long in my own memory as one of the most enjoyable, so thank you Tom, it was a privilege.  We'd had a side bet on the US Open, with £5 on whether Justin Rose or Brandt Snedeker would finish highest.  My debt duly paid (no luck, Justin), I'll be trying hard to get my money back if and when Tom gets over here again, with time to play another new Scottish course.  After all, he's played less than a sixth of the courses we have here and he's missed some great (and more humble) tests.

"A Course Called Scotland" will doubtless cover his trip from start to finish and I'm really looking forward to reading it.  If it's anywhere near as good as "A Course Called Ireland" it will be an absolute joy.

Update - the new book is being published on 3 July 2018.  I read a near final draft in early 2018 and although I'm no book critic, if this isn't golf book of the year internationally, I'll be very surprised.  Bruntsfield Links features prominently as do some lesser known tracks, alongside the wit and wisdom of a master story teller.


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