Mike Smith's Open Diary
FROM surreal to unreal. That’s how Hillsborough’s Joe Dean described his first appearance in the Open Championship.
The former Yorkshire county play-er who was English amateur champion in 2015 made the cut on +4, thanks to a gutsy 72 in Friday’s horrendous weather.
Dean said: “It was quite surreal when we arrived on Sunday as we didn’t know where to go or what to do but my goal for the week was to play four rounds. To make the cut in that awful weather on Friday was some of the best grinding out golf I’ve ever played, so that was great,” said Dean who was nursing a sore shoulder.
“I was in the physio truck a couple of times a day. I think it’s just down to the sheer amount of golf I have been playing."
Dean’s long-time girlfriend and county standard player Emily Lyle caddied for him, and there was more than a chuckle when her accreditation for the week arrived.
When she applied and was asked her surname by the R&A, she told the official “Lyle, L-Y-L-E, as in Sandy Lyle. So when the name badge came back it read ‘EMILY LYLE, Guest of Sandy Lyle’!
“She enjoyed the week except for having to carry that big Tour bag, but never met Sandy”, Dean told Yorkshire Golfer.
But she did get the chance to see Rory McIlroy up close and personal when her boyfriend played a practice round with the 2014 winner alongside fellow Tykes Matt Fitzpatrick and Nick McCarthy.
The following day he teamed up with Paul Waring, who like Dean is coached by The Oaks’s PGA Master Professional Graham Walker, before they were joined by Danny Willett for the back nine. On Wednesday he again joined Waring before being joined by Alex Noren who went on to finish sixth. “Of all of them I have to say Paul Waring was the most impressive but he went on to miss the cut,” said Dean, 23. “I felt a little intimidated at first but after a few holes and a bit of chatting I started to realise that they aren’t the untouchables you see competing on TV every week, but just normal people out there doing a job.”
With a couple of exceptions, Dean felt his game compared well to some of the world’s best players.
“I struggled off the tee all week but I would say that my short game was right up there. But the biggest difference was 150 yards in where they are unreal and that was my main take away from the week in that I have to get better from that distance.”
He’s hoping the exposure he got at Royal Birkdale will open a few doors including invites to the Challenge Tour, but it was an unforgettable week. “Overall it was just awesome,” he said.
If the Matt Fitz...
THREE-TIME European Tour winner Matt Fitzpatrick, tied 44th with scores of 69 73 68 73. He wasn’t a happy bunny though, as he com- mented on Twitter after his final round: “Rubbish today ... just a bad day at the office. Thank you @TheOpen for an amazing week as always!”
FAIRWAY TRAVEL’S Mark Dixon had every- thing crossed on Friday afternoon when the heav- ens opened and the wind started to rage.
The Sowerby Bridge-based travel company operate a Players’ travel desk at all European Tour events and are contracted by the R&A to offer the same service at the Open.
He said: “At one point I thought they were going to call it off as we heard reports of balls blowing off the greens. If the cut day had gone to Saturday it would have been a major disaster for us in trying to get flights for the players to wher- ever they needed to go.
“It’s fair to say that I was a very worried man around 4 pm on Friday but it all worked out in the end and the week pretty much went to plan.”
Dixon and his colleague Paul Armsden manned their desk in the Players’ Lounge from Monday afternoon until late on Sunday, and one task was to help players who were unhappy with the rental homes. “Henrik Stenson arrived on the Monday and only stayed one night in his rented house before moving out, and we helped a few find new places,” added Dixon who is a 9 handicapper at Fulford Golf Club.
Stenson’s new place was burgled when he was out in the opening round and thieves took every- thing including all of his clothes, suitcase and watches belonging to his wife. Dixon added: “A plane had been chartered for Sunday night to take players to the Canadian Open and there were around 70 including caddies on that, so we didn’t have a lot of changing of flights to do, but we did
get a few of them home early on Virgin from Manchester to Orlando including Brian Harmon and Charles Howell III.
Dixon confirmed that champion Jordan Speith flew back to his Dallas home in style by taking a private jet at a cost of around $100,000. He invited Zak Johnson, Rickie Fowler, Justin Thomas and Jason Dufner to join him and ‘dropped’ them off at West Palm Beach en route home.
WILLETT'S WOES LINGER
FORMER Masters champion Danny Willett admits there is no light at the end of the tunnel despite playing all four rounds of The Open at Royal Birkdale.
The 29-year-old Sheffield man has a back injury which has severely hampered his form. He carded a final-round 71 to finish nine over par, but even though he managed to play a full tournament for only the second time since the WGC-Mexico Championship on March 5, there were few positives for Willett.
“It is still painful. You obviously know what you can do and what you can achieve when you are fully fit and swinging well.
“And when you are not fully fit and swinging well, you can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. When the swing is a bit dodgy the back starts to hurt and you make compensations: it’s just a bit of a vicious cycle.”
Asked how far he thought he was from regaining some form, he added: “Many miles, a long way away. Golf shots are a long way away. Mental is a long way away. Scoring is a long way away.
“I’m going to work with Pete (Cowen, his coach) and see if we can get a few things ironed out before Akron and the US PGA.”
Willett played his final round with Pontefract-born Royal Birkdale assistant professional Nick Jennings out with him acting as marker. The former Fulford assistant who grew up playing at The Oaks said: “I can’t believe I have played in the Open. It was incredible. I have to admit it was a bit daunting but Danny was great and I actually played OK. Normally I’m here teaching, club fitting and working in the shop so it was very different and an unbelievable experience.”
LAST YEAR, Sky Sports’ first-ever live cover- age of The Open won them a BAFTA for Best Sports Production. At its heart was the innovative Open Zone – a technology-packed area where presenters and players give behind-the-scenes insights, personal anecdotes and masterclasses.
This year the versatile Zen Green Stage – made in Sheffield by Zen Green Technology – was the playing surface and key focal point of the Sky Sports Open Zone.
Players including defending champion Henrik Stenson used the adjustable ‘Zen Green’ to demonstrate breaking putts and also full-swing shots from a variety of lies which replicated the actual challenges at Royal Birkdale.
TIME OF NICK'S LIFE
MOORTOWN’S Nick McCarthy described his Open debut as one of the best weeks of his life.
“I absolutely loved it,” he said. “I was disap-pointed to miss the cut though. I played well in the first round and 74 probably didn’t do justice."
But it was a great learning experience for McCarthy, 29, who plies his trade on the PGA EuroPro Tour, after practice rounds played with Rory McIlroy, Matt Fitzpatrick, former champion Paul Lawrie plus Ernie Els and Tony Finau.
“I only played five holes with Ernie and Tony but they were awesome. Ernie’s just like you expect him to be, he’s so laid back nothing phases him. And Finau was so cool. I have never seen anybody hit the ball so far.
“The most important thing I took away from the week was seeing how the best players never let a bad shot affect their next shot. They just dismiss the bad ones and move on. That was a valuable lesson for me.
“Also playing a course like Royal Birkdale where you have to be so precise should make the courses on the EuroPro seems a little easier. I took a lot of confidence from my long game.”
McCarthy lies 12th in the tour’s Race to Amendoeira and thinks he needs a win plus a good finish to haul himself into the top 5 who qualify for the Challenge Tour next year.
Dad David, who was some player in his own right, proudly carried Nick’s bag – despite not being allowed his customary trolley!