ST. ANDREWS, Scotland – Tyrrell Hatton stood next to the Royal & Ancient Clubhouse on Tuesday afternoon, looked out toward the massive combined fairways of the 18th and first holes at the Old Course and smiled.
A generous gallery lined each fairway, heads peeked from open windows above the Tom Morris Golf Shop and inside the Rusacks Hotel, and men in navy blazers sipped tea from the deck above the Old Course Shop. Bagpipes could be heard in the distance. Adam Scott and Alvaro Quiros walked by. Mike Weir was signing autographs. Graeme McDowell walked by.
This . . . was cool.
At 18, Hatton, an amateur from Wycombe, England, a town just northeast of London, is the youngest competitor by a month at the 150th anniversary Open Championship. He plays the part well with his scruffy beard, wide-eyed enthusiasm and go-for-broke style.
So when he saw an opening Monday next to fellow Englishman Lee Westwood’s name on the Tuesday practice round pairing sheet, he didn’t hesitate to sign his alongside. Who knows when the chance to have a casual knock with a player he grew up following would come around again?
“I met him on the first tee today,” Hatton said. “It was quite daunting, actually. Watching golf week in and week out on TV and seeing him, and all off a sudden I’m right in front of him. I was like, ‘Oh, my God.’
“I was happy to hit my tee ball forward, to be fair.”
Hatton had never tried to qualify for the Open until this year. His game wasn’t really up to it. Hatton, who finished school as a 16-year-old in order to concentrate on golf, said he had fallen to as low as No. 2,900 on the R&A’s World Amateur Golf Rankings. But something clicked last year. He won the Canadian Junior International Championship and was a member of England’s under-18 squad. He posted sixth-place finishes this summer at elite British amateur events the Brabazon Trophy and Lytham Trophy, and has risen to No. 145 in the World Amateur Rankings and No. 79 in the Golfweek/amateurgolf.com Amateur Player Rankings.
Hatton entered regional qualifying three weeks ago and advanced out of a six-for-four playoff, then tied for medalist honors at the final stage to get into the Open field. He arrived at St. Andrews on Saturday night and played the Old Course for the first time on Sunday. A consistent 40-mph wind greeted him, then stuck around for all 18 holes. His mother and father are here. A good buddy from his club is on the bag this week. His girlfriend gets in tonight and has promised to bring her camera to take lots of pictures.
“The whole experience is amazing, really,” Hatton said.
Pro plans, not college, are in Hatton’s future. He entertained the thought of playing golf at an American university, but didn’t want to be too far away from home. As for this week, he says he’s confident he can make the cut if he putts well.
“My game this year tee-to-green has been spot on,” he said.
Hatton can’t wait for Thursday afternoon, when he’ll go off in the second-to-last group alongside Glen Day and South African Josh Cunliffe, fulfilling a life-long dream to play in the Open Championship. However, one last memory awaits.
“I still haven’t walked across the Swilcan Bridge,” Hatton said. “I’m saving it for Thursday. It will be a little bit more special.”