Nigel with golf legend Bernhard Langer
Nigel Sweet says his first Senior Open Championship was the best experience of his professional career so far.
Due to injury he only picked up a club again five weeks before the pre-qualifying event at Hillside on the Monday of the championship week, and turned up at the Southport course which had hosted the Betfred British Masters a few weeks earlier with minimal expectations.
“I developed polymyalgia in my shoulder and wasn’t able to play or practise for 6 months.
“I couldn’t even get my arms above my shoulders during that time, but I started taking steroids and they eventually worked so I didn’t go there with much hope.”
And Nigel had to endure a seven-and-a-half hour wait in the clubhouse to see if he had qualified after three putting the last green from 15ft.
“I thought I had blown it and because I was first out at 7am I had to hang on until everybody had finished but luckily, I scraped through.
“I was gutted to finish so badly as I played really well and only missed two greens all the way round, but three putted three times.”
That marked the start of a golfing adventure he will never forget which included playing a practice round Bernhard Langer who went on to win the championship for a record fourth time.
“What a gentleman and what an experience. I saw there was a spare place on the sheet so I put my name down alongside his.
“He chatted to me all the way round and my daughter Ellie and her boyfriend Sam had planned to walk the first few holes but went the whole way around because they were enjoying themselves so much.
“I birdied the last and I figured that if I could get through a round with somebody like Bernhard Langer then I might not feel so nervous on the first tee. “
He started out his first round with a brilliant iron shot to 12ft on the opening par 3 hole and left the putt in the jaws, but then struggled to cope with the wind and length of the front nine.
“Because of the injury I have lost 20 yards from the tee and those first eight holes were pretty much all into the wind and I hit driver four wood to both the second and third which are both par fours. Because I haven’t been playing much, I also wasn’t fit enough but in truth the course was just too long for me and the front nine played ridiculously long.
“In fact, I think they made a mistake putting the tees so far back. Seniors golf doesn’t get a lot of publicity or coverage on Sky and viewers don’t want to see guys struggling to make par or bogeys when they are used the watching the PGA Tour and European Tour players make birdie after birdie.”
Despite easily missing the 36-hole cut he gained plenty from the experience.
“Gary Player gave me a really warm handshake as I went into the clubhouse and I also met Tom Watson,” he added.
“Being around players like that who are icons of the game I have watched all my life was a bit surreal really.
“To be with Watson during what he announced would be his last Open was a bit special. I had a decent amount of success as an amateur but this was definitely the highlight of my career as a professional.
“The experience has given me a real thirst for next year. And Sunningdale might just suit my game a bit better than the back pots at Royal Lytham.”