Horror stories from Senior Open travel
Saturday, July 23, 2011
WALTON ON THE HILL, England – Qualifying for golf tournaments is as old as golf itself, so you expect players to take the leap when it’s convenient or makes sense. But to jump on a plane and fly over the pond, gambling that your game will be good enough to qualify for a major championship seems foolhardy at best. That is just what 45 Americans did.
The intrepid 45 made the trip across the pond to qualify at one of the three venues, Kingswood, Burhill New or Betchworth Park looking for one of 30 spots in the 144-man field at The Senior Open Championship at Walton Heath, south of London.
Some of the names are familiar, Mike Donald, who lost to Hale Irwin in a playoff in the 1990 U.S. Open at Medinah. Damon Green, PGA Tour caddie for Zach Johnson, Bobby Clampett, probably better known for his television work than his career as a professional golfer, and PGA Tour journeymen, Dick Mast, Joe Daily and P.H. Horgan.
Each has their own reason and story about why they make the trip. They also have their own stories about the trip itself.
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For Horgan, the trip started out normally, arriving early in the morning, adjusting to driving on the wrong side of the road after an overnight flight and eventually getting to the qualifying course, Kingswood, hours before he could tee off. Taking the advice of the assistant in the pro shot, Horgan went off to his hotel to shower and change before his practice round.
“Two hours later, after asking a butcher, a policeman, a bakery – I stopped ten times – I could not find my hotel,” Horgan said of his morning scavenger hunt. “I pulled over to the side of the road and started crying I was so lost.”
Horgan eventually made it back to Kingswood and played a practice round with an American amateur that told him of a bed and breakfast called The Wicked Orange down the street, that he was staying at. It wasn’t much – you register at the bar downstairs and fights are commonplace, but Horgan was grateful to finally find a place to stay.
“It rained three days straight,” Horgan said. “I carried my own bag with an umbrella. I got soaked. But I loved it. There’s a whole sub-culture below the (Champions Tour) and I’m kind of part of it, trying to get back on the Tour.
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While Horgan’s trials occurred when he arrived, Mast had his issues the week before when he found out he had a chance to play in an opposite field event on the PGA Tour at the Viking Classic in Mississippi.
“I was hesitant about going because I was alternate first of all,” Mast said of making the 13-hour trip from Lynchburg, Virginia to Mississippi. “My son said let’s go, dad, you need d to play, you haven’t played, I only played one event this year. So we started and they called us about halfway over and I was in.”
If Mast would have made the cut in Mississippi he would not have come to England, but with numerous rain delays early on, Mast would eventually WD from Mississippi and drive back to Lynchburg. He repacked and two hours later he was back in the car to Raleigh to catch a flight to Heathrow.
After practice rounds on Saturday and Sunday, Mast was ready for his Monday qualifying. . . he thought.
“My GPS took me a back route,” Mast said explaining how he almost didn’t qualify. “I said this doesn’t look the same as the day before. And I come to a dead end, the golf course is right there and I’m at a dead end. So now I have to go all the way around. It took me an hour, so I was late.”
Mast would start out bogey, double bogey, but would fight back to shot even par and make it into third Senior Open Championship.
“I’m really glad I came,” Mast said after making the cut. “I haven’t been playing any tournaments, but I am playing well. I need some competition. I played good at Turnberry coming over here and those are good memories. I like difficult golf courses.”
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For Damon Green, the trip was not as onerous as it was for some of the other potential qualifiers; he was already in the UK caddying for Johnson last week at Royal St. Georges.
”I hadn’t hit a ball,” Green said of his preparation for the week. “I hit some shots two weeks ago and got a lesson from Chris O’Donnell at John Deere.”
Green got to see the course on Sunday evening and then went out and shot a 66 at Betchworth Park to qualify for his second senior major; he also qualified for next week’s U.S. Senior Open at Inverness Club.
“Playing two in a row,” Green said of playing consecutive majors. “I never played in a major and I’m playing two in a row. Back-to-back. Go figure.”
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Donald was one shot better than Green in qualifying, but his costs will way exceed Green’s since Donald was paying his own freight.
“The rental car could cost me a thousand bucks,” Donald said. “I’m going to be here for 10, 11 days and that’s a thousand dollars. Hotel room’s probably going to be $1,500 to $2,000 and airfare and then you got to pay the the caddie and you know so you’re looking at a $5,000 week minimum. You got to eat. Everything’s double over here. If a cheeseburger back home is $8 dollars, it’s 12 pounds here and then you got to add up the conversion rate, so everything’s double and more, but at the end of my life I’m not going to say do I wish I had $5,000 more money or am I going to say I’m sure glad I went over there and played in that British.”
Donald first came to play in the senior when it was at Royal Aberdeen and loved the people and the experience, which is why he continues to return.
“I come because I like it,” Is Donald’s bottom line.