At 6.19 tomorrow morning Barry Lane will strike the opening tee shot of the 141st Open Championship. Lane’s involvement in this event shows the great diversity within golf and the unpredictable nature of the game. Lane is 52-years-old and now plays mainly on the senior circuit. But he entered local final qualifying at St Anne’s Old Links and, with a chip-in eagle on the final hole, earned his spot at Lytham. At St Anne’s Old Links, Lane finished ahead of numerous talented youngsters like Chris Wood, James Heath and Reinier Saxton. Experience is so important in this game and particularly so on the links.
Lane played in his first Open Championship back in 1987 and his best finish was a 13th place in 1993. This will be his 682nd European Tour event and it will put him only 24 starts short of Sam Torrance’s record.
There aren’t many, if any, sports in which a professional who began his career 36 years ago is still able to qualify to compete in that sport’s premier event. It’s a great achievement by Lane and here’s hoping he makes the cut and finishes well.
The leading qualifier from St Anne’s Old Links was Paul Broadhurst. He’s no spring chicken himself at 46. The Englishman made his Open debut at Royal Lytham in 1988. He finished as low amateur that year, sporting an impressive mullet/moustache combo.
I followed Lane for a few holes this morning and he looked to be striking the ball nicely, his touch around the greens was pretty tidy too. He’s an old-school golf pro: he smokes on the way round, he doesn’t wear shiny polo shirts, he gets to his ball and hits it – there’s generally no mucking about. It’s nice to watch.
I saw a couple of other veterans playing together – Vijay Singh and Sandy Lyle. The Scot was one of the few players I’ve seen practising real links-style shots. He was hitting punch and runs to the green of the par-5 11th from about 140 yards out. He wasn’t doing it very effectively I have to say and he’s gone back to that action when he pauses at the top of the backswing.
But, I guess it must be working reasonably well because he very nearly made the cut in the Scottish Open last week. He was four-under with four to play but finished with three bogeys and a par to miss out. Decent playing from the 54-year-old though.
Lyle is also using the biggest putter I’ve ever seen. The head on it looks like a dustpan. I’m not exaggerating when I say I it must be 10 inches by 10 inches… I’m not sure how he’s going to get on with it if the wind gets up.
Then, of course, there’s Tom Watson. He’s the master when it comes to defying age – so nearly winning in 2009 at the age of 59 and finishing tied 22nd at St George’s in 2011. I fear the 62-year-old might struggle this week though with the course playing so long. I hope I’m wrong. It would be fantastic to see him make his 24th Open cut.
I’m not overly confident of the chances of 2003 champion Ben Curtis. I spotted someone playing a long bunker shot up the 8th from a deep looking trap some 130 yards or so short of the green. He made an excellent job of it, narrowly clearing the lip and flying it onto the putting surface.
Then another of the players threw a ball in to have a go from the same spot, before he hit I was close enough to recognise him as Ben Curtis. He had a go, but fired it straight into the bunker face and the ball only narrowly got out of the sand. It was a little disappointing. Not, however, as disappointing as when I realised that the chap who’d hit the excellent shot before Curtis wasn’t a fellow competitor, but his caddy.