'It doesn't matter if you're the milkman or a lawyer, as soon as your clubs come out, you're all just equal'
Everyone likes Matthew Southgate. When he finished fourth in Ireland two years ago to pick up €200,000, and do enough to keep his card, he could barely hit a ball on the range the following week at Wentworth for handshakes and back slaps.
The reasons were simple. Firstly he is one of really the good blokes, down to earth and honest and, secondly, only 10 months previously he had been diagnosed with testicular cancer before then earning his stripes down at Q School.
Now he is everyone’s go-to guy when it comes to a punt in the Open and he’s only played in three of them. Two years ago he was 12th at Troon, last year he posted a sixth at Birkdale.
And Mr Links is at it again, here at Carnoustie, teeing off at 6.46am and posting a 69 by lunch. His effort included eagles at both the par 5s.
Southgate will always have his fair share of support but this week he’s on home turf, sort of. The Southend-on-Sea star and his dad joined the Carnoustie Club when he was 16 after playing in a local competition called the Craw’s Nest Tassie.
He reckons to have played 50-odd rounds here and he knows nearly all the breaks as well as plenty in the town where he is staying this week. And it’s the normality of the place that he really enjoys.
“I think the whole town know me and my dad. There’s not one pub in the town that we can’t walk in and find someone with an old golf story and sit down and have a chat with. That’s lovely for all of us.
“It’s like a home away from home. I’ve played golf all around the world and I’ve never seen anywhere like Carnoustie. It doesn’t matter if you’re the milkman or a lawyer, as soon as your clubs come out, you’re all just equal and you’re all square on the 1st tee, let’s play golf,” he said.
“They deserve a huge amount of credit for that, the lads up here, because they’ve kept the true etiquette and the true spirit of the game, that raw sort of talent wins and good scores win, and they don’t bitch and moan to each other. They just go head to head and play, and in the end shake hands in the right way. A lot of golf clubs around the world have lost that. Not here. I don’t think they ever will here.”
And then this. Plenty of his peers get a bit shifty if you go near them, heaven forbid if the courtesy car isn’t ready. Southgate remains a whole world away from all that nonsense.
“When I first arrived, I was a little disappointed. I think I built it up too much in my mind from the age of 10. I always have this sort of vision in my head the little old Scottish fellow would meet me at the front door and call you “Mr. Southgate” and you would feel all excited and stuff. It wasn’t. It was a young American girl sort of flashy, “Let me show you around.”
“And I thought, I don’t really need showing round. I’ve been a member since I was 16. It kind of threw me a little bit. Once I went in the clubhouse and met a couple of members, I settled down.”
As for where to eat then you won’t be surprised to hear that he’s not after any fine dining.
“I like the Chinese here. I think it’s called The Oriental. It’s just in the middle of the High Street there. It’s all great. It’s all good up there.”