2018 British Open: Fearless Sean Crocker fights for status in major debut

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2018 British Open: Fearless Sean Crocker fights for status in major debut

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2018 British Open: Fearless Sean Crocker fights for status in major debut

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – When Sean Crocker was in elementary school, he once stood up to a bully who had stolen another classmate’s football. The bully, nearly twice Crocker’s size, quickly switched targets.

Gary Crocker had always told his son to avoid fighting, so rather than standing up to the bully, Sean took off running. The bully, also faster, caught him.

“He got Sean on the ground, pinned him and started throttling him by his neck,” Gary Crocker said. “So Sean finally just retaliated.”

A few punches later and the young Crocker left the bully with a broken and bloodied nose.

“Even as a little boy he was tough as nails,” Gary said. “He wasn’t afraid of anything, and still isn’t.”

The 21-year-old Crocker, who is making his major debut this week at the 147th British Open, is showcasing that fearlessness at Carnoustie. The toughest course on the Open rota has thrown some shots at the former USC standout. And Crocker has fought back to the tune of a 71-71-69 showing through 54 holes.

At 2 under, Crocker is T-28 on the leaderboard and just three shots out of the top 10.

Of course, Crocker is chasing more than just a good finish this week. He turned pro last summer after three seasons with the Trojans. Initially, he held out for a spot on the U.S. Walker Cup team, but when he wasn’t selected he immediately turned his focus to Europe.

In the past year, Crocker, who was born in Zimbabwe but moved to Los Angeles at age 4, has competed on the European and Challenge tours without any status. He’s traveled from country to country – Australia to Qatar, India to Singapore, where he earned his Open ticket – taking any sponsor exemptions he could get. To say it hasn’t gotten lonely at times would be a lie.

But through it all, Crocker has gotten even tougher.

“I don’t think the guys out there that I played college golf with know how easy they have it playing on the Web.com or PGA (tours),” Crocker said.

Sean Crocker’s adventures on the European tours have taken him to places like Qatar, shown above. (Tom Dulat/Getty Images)

In eight European Tour starts, Crocker has two top-10s and 157,740 euros in earnings, which puts him 142nd on the money list. If he can get into the top 110 by season’s end, he’ll lock up his card for next season.

A top-10 finish on Sunday would more than double his current money total and vault him inside that number.

“He knows what’s on the line,” Gary Crocker said. “This is everything.”

But first, Crocker has to take care of business on Sunday. Last year, Crocker watched Austin Connelly, one of his contemporaries in junior golf, tie for 18th at Royal Birkdale. He’s confident he can do the same – if not better – at Carnoustie.

“There’s nothing he doesn’t think he can do,” said Justin Silverstein, Crocker’s assistant coach at USC for his last two seasons. “When he saw someone else do something well, he immediately thought that he could and should be doing the same thing.”

When Gary Crocker congratulated his son on making the cut Friday evening, Sean turned to him and said, “Well, that’s what I’m supposed to be doing.”

Said Gary: “He believes he belongs here.”

Crocker closely toes the fine line between confidence and cockiness, and is sometimes too aggressive for his own good on the golf course. But that’s his style, and he embraces it.

During his practice rounds this week at Carnoustie, Crocker kept the driver in the bag for most of the holes. But as the championship has gone on, Crocker has grabbed the big stick more and more.

With the 386-yard, par-4 11th hole playing downwind on Saturday, Crocker, sitting at 3 under for the championship, decided to go for the green. The result was a booming drive that found the front part of the putting surface and led to a two-putt birdie that got Crocker to 4 under.

He gave a couple of shots back coming in, but he also held on with three straight impressive up-and-down pars to cap his round. None was better than at the par-4 finishing hole, where Crocker was forced to lay up well short of Barry Burn after finding a fairway bunker with his tee shot, but then wedged on and made a 10-footer to break 70.

“I take the shot at all times,” Crocker said. “Sometimes it hurts me. It’s been hurting me the last couple of weeks because I haven’t been hitting the ball that well, but it doesn’t change how I look at myself or my game. … I can believe I’m going to hit it and just pull it off one out of 10 when I need it. Great. If not, get up and down and walk off.”

Gutsy. Kind of like when Crocker was 19 and decided to save up some money for a tattoo. If there was one thing Gary Crocker disapproved of more than fighting, it was tattoos.

A tatted-up Crocker (far left) with former USC teammates Rico Hoey, Jonah Texeira and Justin Suh.

Sean did it anyways, but figured he’d at least get his dad’s initials along with the word “Resilient” inked on his right side. On the other side, the initials of his mom, Shelly, accompanied by the word “Caring.”

Eventually, Gary found out. But he didn’t get mad. Instead, he helped Sean get his next one: a map of Africa with a lion roaring inside of it that takes up most of Sean’s right pectoral. Underneath, in Shona, reads: “Shumba kumba mukati,” or in English, “a lion roars within.”

Fitting for a person who goes by the nickname “Young Simba.” (He also has a tattoo with that moniker.)

Crocker is a long way from becoming King of the Jungle in pro golf. But he certainly won’t be afraid to try.

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