Kent Bulle powers his way into the mix at Royal Birkdale

Kent Bulle still in the hunt at the British Open Getty Images

Kent Bulle powers his way into the mix at Royal Birkdale

PGA Tour

Kent Bulle powers his way into the mix at Royal Birkdale

SOUTHPORT, England – Kent Bulle joined his cousin on a golf excursion to Scotland a few years ago to fulfill a dream harbored by so many American golfers: They played a few courses that make up the British Open rota.

“It was a bucket-list trip,” said the 28-year-old Bulle, who now competes full-time in golf’s minor-leagues, on the Web.com Tour. He laughed. “I didn’t know I’d be playing here.” 

“Here” would be the 146th British Open at Royal Birkdale, where Bulle stepped off the fifth green on Friday afternoon, peered up, and saw his name on a bright yellow leaderboard right below Spieth, Kuchar and Koepka. He’d make four bogeys on his way in and shot 2-over 72 in difficult conditions, but at level-par 140 through 36 holes, he is in very good stead for the weekend. 

He’s hoping that it’s a big one.

Surely in a rich history that dates to 1860, The Open, played in England and Scotland, has been a stage for many lads from Glasgow. Bulle, a stocky man with a neatly trimmed beard, fits right in. He, too, is a bloke from Glasgow; Glasgow, Ky, that is.

The Glasgow he knows has about 15,000 residents, and he can’t remember if there are 11 or 13 stoplights, as the little burg just keeps adding them. He grew up on one side of town, and played his golf at Glasgow Country Club, some 10-12 minutes away “depending on traffic.” He resides in Nashville now because it makes travel easier, but still can scoot home to Glasgow, have lunch with his grandparents and still get home by dinner.

Bulle – “pronounced like the animal,” he explains – hasn’t had the greatest season on the Web.com, where his best finish in 13 starts is a tie for 13th, fittingly, at an event in the Bahamas where the winds blew past 50 mph. He’s a long hitter and he enjoys courses where par means something, which instantly means he has an affinity for Birkdale. Friday, pars were golden.

Bulle ranks 96th in earnings on the Web.com, and in flying to England he surrendered ground to his counterparts who are competing in Elkhorn, Neb., this week. But Bulle, who got into the Open field by winning the 2016 Argentine Open (he successfully defended his 2015 title in a three-man playoff), wanted to do things right. So instead of groggily stepping off a plane in England on Tuesday of Open week and not getting his feet beneath him for a few days, he traveled early and played some golf across the sea in Ireland, sampling the links of Ballybunion to get links-ready.

In his bucket-list trip to Scotland, he and his cousin huddled outside the starter’s shack at St. Andrews’ Old Course at 3 a.m. in the rain and cold just in hopes of landing a tee time. He got one, and played the Old Course on a day when winds reached 50 mph, a tad higher than any gusts he experienced on Friday. That morning, a thought crossed his mind about links golf in Scotland and England: This could get goofy.

“But I love it,” he said. “This is the kind of golf where you have to shape shots. The thing about around the greens, you can hit anything from a putter to a driver, putt it, or chip it, whatever you want to do. It’s so much fun to be able to shape shots instead of just being almost bored hitting stock shots all day.”

There was nothing “stock” about Friday’s round, a day at Birkdale that sent many of the world’s best players careening to scores well over par. Bulle hung in there. He said a key to his good play was that he’s been able to convert those 5- and 6-foot par putts that can keep momentum on a player’s side.

He made it to the U.S. Open last summer at Oakmont, but practiced and played too much leading in, was wiped out, and missed the cut, shooting 10 over. He did learn from the experience. There was a sentiment inside him that he was pleased just to have made it there, and the tournament itself was kind of icing. This week, he brought a different mindset. 

He paced himself leading into the week, and still had some highlight moments. He played practice holes on two days with fellow Kentuckian Justin Thomas, who he’s known for years, and also prepared alongside Ryder Cuppers Jimmy Walker and Brandt Snedeker. During one practice round, Snedeker, who withdrew this week with a sternum injury, dropped out after nine – and in stepped World No. 1 Dustin Johnson.

“I got up there (in distance) with him a couple times,” Bulle said rather proudly. “We had some wind going on. From what I hear, he (Johnson) has another gear that goes another 30 (yards) from what I saw. But it was just fun to watch those guys.”

One day soon, Bulle wants to be one of “those guys” competing for millions of dollars each week on the PGA Tour. If he plays well enough this weekend, he could gather significant FedEx Cup points toward earning his way into the Web.com Tour Finals, where PGA Tour cards are doled out. So he’ll make sure to enjoy the experience – he has his mom, fiancée, her parents and other friends along with him, as well as a former Middle Tennessee State teammate, Chas Narramore, on his bag – the golf he has ahead of him has plenty of meaning.

“I think everybody in our position is looking for that chance,” Bulle said. “If you hang around long enough, you all get that one chance. It’s a matter of you take that chance and you play well, or you don’t.

“This may be my chance.” 

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