Fergus Bisset speaks with Southport’s Matthew Baldwin and finds a confident young man hungry for success on the links.
Matthew Baldwin will tee it up in his third Major and second Open Championship this week at Hoylake. It’s fair to say the 28-year-old won’t start among the favourites. In fact, with most bookies he’s currently priced at 250-1. But after speaking with the young Englishman outside the PING truck on the practice ground, I’ve reason to believe he might just be a surprise package this week.
So what are the grounds for my newly acquired confidence in Matthew then? Well, for starters, I’ve just interviewed him and that always elevates a player’s chances in my mind. I reckon if I’d interviewed Maurice Flitcroft before his 121 in qualifying at Formby in 1976 I would have tipped him as a good outside bet.
In all seriousness though, Baldwin is having an excellent season on the European Tour. With a number of solid results, he currently sits 37th on the Race to Dubai standings. He was tied second in the Nelson Mandela Championship at the end of 2013 then tied fifth in the Joburg Open in February. More recently, he’s run into a rich vein of form. Finishing tied for third in the Irish Open, he secured his spot at Hoylake. Two weeks later he was tied fifth at the lucrative Open de France.
“Yeah it’s been a good season so far,” he says. “Consistency has been up and down but the good results have been very good and the nice thing is I’ve had a few chances to win.”
Baldwin puts emphasis on improved putting as one of the keys to his recent success.
“I’ve started working with Phil Kenyon who’s a long-time friend, and he’s helped me to read the greens a lot better and I’ve been re-assured that my stroke is in a good place and it seems to have given me an extra step-up,” he says. “The stats have confirmed it. In the French Open I was +8.5 in the putts gained category and that’s pretty significant.”
Secondly, Baldwin is on home turf. He grew up in Southport and will have great support from the local crowd this week. Friends and family will be in the galleries to give the Englishman a boost and he’s been able to travel to the course from his house. When Paul Lawrie won the Open in 1999 he drove to Carnoustie from his home in Aberdeen each day and he credited the local commute as a contributory factor in his success that week.
“Yes it’s brilliant,” he says “I’ve been travelling from home Monday and Tuesday and sleeping in my own bed, which has been fantastic.”
As a local boy, he knows the track at Hoylake well and he was brought up on the links around Liverpool – firstly at Hesketh then at Royal Birkdale.
“I’ve played here many times, and as I play practice rounds, it’s coming flooding back,” he says. “I know links golf, I know how to play the shots and hopefully if I can deliver them, I’ll have a good finish.”
The PING staff player is not overawed when it comes to golf’s biggest events – he qualified for the U.S. Open in 2012 and made the cut, he also made the cut in the Open at Lytham the same year.
“It’s where you want to be at the end of the day. I want to compete to the best of my ability in Majors, but you do have to try and treat it as another week on tour and not be overwhelmed by the experience,” he said.
Baldwin has arrived at Hoylake, flying under the radar. He’s a relatively quiet and totally unpretentious guy, a season ticket holder at Anfield and just one of the boys when away from the fairways. Despite being one of the form players on the European Tour, he’s largely avoided the media spotlight this week and will tee off on Thursday without the weight of expectation on his shoulders
He has his own expectations though, and he’s ambitious for the future.
“I want to win,” he says. “There’s nobody out there who wants to win more. But you’ve got to be patient and allow that to happen rather than try and force it.”
With local knowledge, local support, an aptitude for links golf, solid recent form and a confident approach Baldwin has the necessary components to fashion a decent result this week. What price Baldwin replicating the feats of Paul Lawrie in 1999 and winning the Open Championship on his doorstep? 250-1 apparently. At those odds, I think a cheeky pound each way might be in order.