Don Thames, Rancho Murieta Country Club's golf pro, writes about the experience of qualifying for the British Senior Open, as he did Monday. He will post occasional stories this week. Photos are by Carole Thames.
By Don Thames, Rancho Murieta Country Club golf pro
Bridgend, Wales – Other than a few 36-hole affairs, Monday's Senior Open qualifying was the longest single day of golf in my competitive career. We started at 7:50 a.m. and left the Southerndown Golf Club in Wales at 9 p.m. In that we shot 71, we had to wait until the 1:10 pairing returned before we knew our position. After three-quarters of the scores had been posted, we were on pins and needles hoping for an opportunity to be in a playoff. In the end, the playoff materialized, with nine blokes competing for three spots.
Carole was a wreck due to our poor finish, as we squandered three shots with four to play. The last four holes were a bit treacherous, with narrow fairways lined with gorse and fern, with three of them playing into 30-mph headwinds. The matter of successful qualification was further complicated when I pulled a driver into the gorse on 15 on my way to a double bogey. The gorse, in essence, is a two-stroke penalty. This means that you have to stand up there and hit another from the tee. The other hazard is the “fern.” I believe they refer to fern in the singular due to the dense nature of this ancient vegetation.
I was much calmer in the playoff than I was after sending my ball sailing into the gorse on the 15th. Instead of thinking of the odds as 9 for 3 – nine players and three spots – I considered my chances of advancing as 3 for 1. I was first to play and smacked a “cracker” up the left side of the gorse-lined first hole. Quietly and perhaps unsportsmanlike, I was hoping some of the other lads would not fare as well. We were four followed by a group of five. All four players in the first group made par and had to wait for the group behind to finish before proceeding. One player in the second group found the gorse and was eliminated, and another made a 50-foot putt for birdie to secure a spot. Now it was seven players for two spots, and we proceeded to the 168-yard 10th hole.
Why it's called the "fern" and not the "ferns."
The hole played straightaway downwind. Again, I was first and played a firm 8 iron to 32 feet below the hole. One bloke chunked his shot while the other two found the green. I was second to putt. Carole, my faithful caddie of 31 years, told me that this was a good time to make a putt. I couldn’t have more agreed. It felt somewhat surreal as the putt was heading directly for the cup. It was way too good to be true. I thought I had come up short. Fortunately, in all truthfulness, I had not factored into the read that I was putting directly downwind. The wind, my friend, pushed the ball, with just enough speed, into the center of the cup. I dropped my putter, stunned with the realization that we will be playing in the Senior Open Championship. I looked over at Carole and she was already crying (for the third or fourth time of the day).
We walked down to the clubhouse and were treated like Captain Sully on US Airways Flight 1549. “Anything you want, Don – you're an Open qualifier.” I wish I had an IOU for every pint offered. I would never have to buy beer again. We stayed at the club until 9:30, as the sun was setting.
Great joy was then followed by the terror of driving 30 minutes to the Vale Resort, where most of the players are staying. Driving on the left side is only the first challenge. The road markings are confusing and then one must manage the dreadful and scary roundabouts. Adding additional fear is the narrow nature of the roadways. You have to pass alarmingly close to the oncoming parade of high-speed traffic. Out of this fear, I have stuck three curbs and have brushed several shrubs on the passenger side of the vehicle. The stress of driving has caused innumerable gasps from Carole and has raised my blood pressure sufficiently more than I would want on a holiday.
My only other complaint is the hamburger. They simply don’t understand how it is done. Not only is the beef itself substandard, but they come out overcooked. The patty is dark, dry and tastes more like sawdust than a good old fashioned juicy American burger.
The behavior of the people around golf provides another stark contrast between Americans and the Welsh. On Sunday, Carole and I watched the Open in the Southerndown Club House. All of the conversation was in hushed tones with very light and droll applause when Jordan Speith holed putt after putt. I felt like we were in a cathedral. The behavior is so prim and proper. One of our “other American” fellow competitors was asked to remove his cap no more than two minutes after entering the room. No golf shoes are allowed in the Club House. They must be properly changed upstairs in the locker room. The people are very friendly and seem to like Americans. Perhaps this is due to the great champions of the past like Tom Watson, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and the like who have represented our country so well. Not to mention we have helped out in two world wars, which one gent pointed out.
Today is the Rolex Pro-Am. This event is played by the exempt players and the qualifiers may get to play a practice round after 3:30 p.m. Through the help of the members pro and employees of Southerndown, I have secured a caddie for the tournament. Carole gave away the duty, as Royal Porthcawl does not allow trolleys (pull carts) for the event. As well, we need a caddie who knows the lay of the land. She will carry today to get us started.
That’s all for now, as we are set to leave for the golf course.
Don and Carole
Don Thames at the qualifying round.