Regional Open qualifying: The hope and despair
Open qualifying pressure does funny things to people. This isn’t Royal Birkdale, by any stretch. But the starter is reading names out, the tee markers all have the Claret Jug on them and there’s a big clock that could have been shipped in straight from Lancashire.
Who wouldn’t feel their knees wobble? Billingham’s Michael Ure, the last person to tee off, slaps his drive no more than six inches off the ground. To say it travels 100 yards would be generous.
Then he leaves his second right where he found it in the left rough and wrenches a third only 50 yards further down the track.
It’s the first hole. He has 250 yards still to go and he’s hitting his fourth. Game over. He takes seven on his way to an 84.
Coulson’s first tee shot is a lovely strike. He’s got 140 yards in and he flights a wedge right at the target.
It looks great in the air, and coming down too, but Alwoodley’s got a bit of fire in her belly.
The ball lands on the green but takes a massive bounce, propelling straight into a vicious-looking gorse bush close to the back pin position. Double bogey time.
But Coulson’s made of stern stuff. He gets one back by stiffing a 7-iron on the 4th and hits a low stinger into the par-5 8th that brings up another easy birdie.
He’s flying now. From 225-yards on the 9th, the amateur hits a classy 4-iron draw straight at the flag.
It looks like it’s going in but slips past the hole at the last gasp and leaks half a dozen feet by.
The putt brushes the edge and Coulson’s momentum is suddenly halted like an old motor sacrificed in a crash test.
Behind, Turner looks like a dictionary definition of discomfort. He’s walking with a noticeable limp – the scar tissue of quite a lot of metal holding his lower body together.
His practice swing isn’t so much an effort to visualise the shot but a way of loosening the muscles.
He already looks like the bones are aching.
That said, his swing is compact and efficient. It doesn’t have the violence of his playing partners – he’s way behind off every tee – but he’s steady enough until a disastrous spell midway through the front nine (bogey, bogey, double-bogey) puts him on the back foot.
O’Neill, meanwhile, is his own picture of frustration. He’s built like Adam Scott, and has the good looks to match his tour ambitions. He is classy from tee to green.
The putts, though, aren’t doing what they’re being told. A birdie chance slips to the right on the 7th and he’s made to pay for one of his few poor iron shots on the next as he finds a fairway bunker on the way to a bogey.
O’Neill lets out an anguished shout. It’s not going to plan.
Coulson’s Open qualifying ambitions are also unravelling. Back-to-back bogeys on 12 and 13 hurt and a birdie putt that looks destined for the centre of the hole veers to the right inches out on 16.
The smile is a wry one.
He produces another excellent short iron at the penultimate hole and drains the six-footer but his day is summed up eloquently on Alwoodley’s excellent final hole.
It’s a slight tug off the tee, bunker-bound, and it pitches right in the top of the trap and, unbelievably, stays there.
With one foot in and one out, Coulson manufactures a superb escape – only to see his ball skip through the fairway and into the deep stuff.
Another six. It bookends his scorecard neatly for those who like that sort of thing but 74 – despite some very good golf – just won’t cut it.
His playing partners, Richard Law and Ben Hutchinson, have been holing bombs all day. They’ll both get in to the final stage with 67s.
“The putting wasn’t great. It was a bit of a struggle on the greens and some were a bit faster than others,” he reflects. “I was hitting quite a few good putts but they just weren’t going in and that summed my day up, really.
“Especially around here, if you are in the wrong spot, you are struggling.”