Joe's Blog returns with a report on our Founders' adventure at The Seniors Open
Despite what some may say, dreams can come true. While some might also find it hard to believe that I do not like talking about myself, I must admit I always feel uncomfortable about writing about my own exploits on the Golf Course. That being said, I had so many messages of support last week from clients and friends, it would be remiss of me not to share my experience of competing at my first Major Championship.
Travelling to Wales with my good friend from Galway, Mr Eddie McCormack on Saturday, July 22, I could scarcely believe the adventure I was about to embark on. Both Eddie and I had entered qualifying for the Seniors Open, however after Eddie was crowned European Seniors Amateur Champion recently in Cork he was exempt from qualifying and therefore in the field proper for The Seniors Open at Royal Porthcawl. The pressure was on to join him but if I am honest, I was travelling more in hope than in expectation.
After cancelling the first practice round due to bad weather I teed it up on Sunday 23rd in preparation for qualifying the following day. Ball striking was good and the links terrain was familiar, however I did have some concerns about my putting in practice.
After an opening bogey in qualifying, a chip in birdie at the 2nd actually made me a little more nervous. Scrappy golf with bogeys on 5 and 7 focussed the mind and birdies of 8, 12, 13 and 15 saw me reach the 17th at -2 for the round. After two nervous bogeys to finish I spent the longest 4 hours of my life waiting for the rest of the field to finish. I cannot put into words the sense of relief and excitement when my place in the field for The Seniors Open at Royal Porthcawl was confirmed at 7pm on Monday evening.
I would like to say a big thanks for John Urquhart and Robin Goodey whom I played with at Southerndown. Both gentlemen were a pleasure to play with and very encouraging throughout the round. Of course a big thanks to all the members at Southerndown who gave up the course for three days and welcomed us all with open arms. Most of all a huge thanks to my caddie Finlay Mullens who did such a good job I asked him to caddie for me at Royal Porthcawl. Finlay gave up an opportunity to compete in the Welsh Amateur Championship to assist in the championship proper.
The Seniors Open Presented by Rolex
After my fellow adopted son of Galway, Eddie McCormack, accommodated with a room at his families rented house on Monday night, off I went to pick up my wife Vera from Cardiff airport on Tuesday morning. Filled with excitement we arrived at Royal Porthcawl and collected our player credentials giving full access to the players lounge and all the practice facilities. I must admit it felt like Christmas morning. We went to the players lounge where we had a nice bit of lunch before receiving an allocation of 3 dozen Pro Vs and 5 Players Gloves.
Hitting balls on the range beside the legends of the game was surreal and getting the opportunity to chat with the stars (all of whom were very gracious with their time), was without doubt one of the highlights of the week. After hitting balls at lunchtime on Tuesday, I hit for the course with David Copsey of England, Harold Wallace from Ohio and John Balfanz. All three gentlemen are seasoned pros and they were very encouraging and supportive throughout the practice round. With a 20 mph South West wind the course was showing considerable teeth on Tuesday, and while I hit the ball well it was obvious the need to manage the course was critical to success. After golf, Vera and I headed to a lovely quiet log cabin just outside the village of Cow Bridge which we managed to rent as our base for the week.
On Wednesday, I practiced with Keiichiro Fukabori and Hiroyuki Fujita of Japan and KJ Choi of South Korea. All three golfing legends and without any shadow of a doubt this was the highlight of my week. They could not have been any nicer and were very complimentary and chatty during practice. The opportunity to play with such greats of the game was a dream come true for a life long amateur. This day will live long in the memory.
After completing practice on Wednesday, the nerves really began to hit. I couldn't eat for the rest of the evening and sleep was very broken that night. On Thursday morning it was nice to see some family members before I tee'd off at 11am with Wes Short Jnr from the United States and Gustavo Acosta from Argentina. As with everyone I met during the week, the guys could not have been nicer.
Unfortunately my golf in the Championship proved to be somewhat of any anti-climax. It could have been so much better if I had listened to my faithful caddie whereby I wrongly overruled him on several club selections. After starting with a double bogey, I battled well to be +1 through 10 holes of round one, despite missing several good birdie opportunities. Then mistakes at 11 and 12 preceded a 3-putt par on the par-five 13, which felt like a blow to the solar plexus. Failure to listen to my caddy caused bogeys at 14,15 and a double at 16. Ultimately I finished with +7 78 for round 1 despite hitting the ball really well all day. A combination of poor club choices and nervy putting was my undoing.
The weather conditions on day 2 were similar to day 1. 20-25 mph South Westerly winds meant Porthcawl once again showed its teeth. After bogeys and 1 and 4 and another three-putt bogey on 5 the challenge then was really not to embarrass myself. I struck the ball terribly in round two and played far worse than round 1 but somehow finished with 77 which was one shot better than the previous day. A total of +13 finished 8 shots outside the cut. Maybe this might sound delusional, but my assessment of my performance and the competition is that if I performed to the best of my ability, I most certainly could have made the cut. The goal now is to return for another crack at qualifying next year.
I must say a big thanks to all at Royal Porthcawl. The course was simply magnificent. As someone who has had the privilege of playing nearly all the great links in the UK and Ireland, I have no hesitation in saying the course comfortably rubs shoulders with all the great links on these shores. The first hole this week wreaked havoc on the field, however this usually plays as the 18th. A beautiful finishing hole for a superb golf course. The second hole (usually the first) is also a beautiful hole, and while it has three big gaping fairway bunkers it is relatively short. The next two holes running along the coast with the prevailing wind off the left are very challenging before the course meanders its way through some spectacular links land. Hole 14 to 17 (usually 13-16) are superb too and all played exceptionally difficult on the prevailing wind.
A huge thanks goes out to Carmel Treacy of the European Tour and all her team who made us feel like superstars this week. They were so accommodating and helpful all week. While this may possibly be a once in a lifetime experience for a golf fanatic, who knows, maybe we will get the opportunity to relive all these dreams just one more time. Thanks to everybody who made this such a special week for Vera and me.
I must thank my colleagues, Colm Crowley, Cian Booth and Millena Thiesen who look after all clients so well while I am away attending events and competing at these great championships. Next up is the Irish Seniors Strokeplay at Powerscourt before heading to the Czech Republic for the European Seniors Team Championship (assuming I will be selected).
Finally, as alluded to earlier, I would like to say a big thanks to all our wonderful clients and friends who sent me so many messages of congratulations and good luck the week of the Seniors Open. I was overwhelmed by the level of support I received. By allowing Lyons Links to build your trips for you, you are not just supporting a small boutique business, but also allowing the founder to fulfil his dreams. I cannot thank you all enough.
Until the next time, down the middle