THE final run-up to Stuart Manley’s Open debut wasn’t exactly perfect; he’s been battling the flu since Sunday, he was up at 3am on dummy duty for his six-month-old son while his warm-up was hampered by having too many layers on. The opening hole went as predicted.
“I was very nervous on the tee. But luckily I made contact and it went forward. I stayed inbounds, so that was nice. But I made bogey,” said the 38-year-old Welshman.
But Manley, who was in the second group out and in the worst of the early weather, then began to churn out the pars and made a very unlikely birdie at the 6th. And then finished like a train, holing a bunker shot at 17 for an eagle three before knocking in a long putt for a birdie at the last. From one over to two under just like that and the early clubhouse lead.
“I thought the warm-up would have gone better but it didn’t. So I thought, OK, this is the game I’ve got. I’m just going to have to plot my way around, and it seemed to work.
“I took out a lot of the fairway bunkers and I kind of aimed at the front edge of the green every time, and just tried to making par every hole, really.”
By the end there were just 26 putts, a 68 in his first round in a major and the prospect of a better night’s sleep.
“I tried to go to bed early last night but I was maybe too excited. I have a baby, who woke at 3am but I woke at four something and I just couldn’t sleep. I had the earplugs in but it didn’t work. We were chatting at three in the morning.”
All being well there won’t be any more early starts for Manley but there is now the option of moving bedrooms to a dummy and baby-free zone.
“I have rented a big four-bedroom house and my coach is is leaving today, so his bed is available, so I might just jump in there.”
Manley is probably best known for either his starring role in the 2003 Walker Cup or a football career that nearly took off – the Welshman had trials with Manchester United, Crystal Palace and Luton – and came up against one or two famous names.
“I played against Michael Owen and Craig Bellamy a couple of times in county matches. I shouldn’t really say it, but he (Bellamy) was a bit of a horrible git. He was nasty. I was centre-half, and he was a striker, I gave him a few kicks and he wasn’t happy. He was just like that (mimics someone moaning) all the time.
“Michael, I don’t remember very much about. I’ve got the programme in the house. We were both very young.”
But there are no regrets as to which path Manley has chosen despite a career which has seen him make 13 trips to Q School – he is at Birkdale after finishing runner-up at the Joburg Open in February – and a current world ranking of 958.
“I still love the travel. I love everything about it. Obviously a lot of my friends that I started with have fallen by the wayside. They’ve had families and they’ve not loved it as much as me.
I’m lucky, my appetite for the game is still there. I want to learn and improve, and keep playing until 60 perhaps. So I think with golf the longevity is there, isn’t it?”