We tried to qualify for The Open – but we didn't read the small print

The Scoop

In this week's Notebook Mark Townsend gets on the bag of Tom Irwin once again as they attempt a shot at Carnoustie

Tiger Woods’ massacre of the 2000 US Open field by a mere 15 shots nearly didn’t happen.

His fog-delayed second round on Saturday morning came to a stuttering end when he hooked his tee shot into Carmel Bay. Caddie Steve Williams handed him a ball along with the advice to hit an iron and get the ball in play.

What Woods didn’t know was that this was the last ball in the bag. He had taken out three balls to hit a few putts in his hotel room and forgotten to put them back and then gave away a couple of scuffed ones to some fans in the gallery.

He got the driver in play, obliterated everyone in the field and, years later, this story came out.

Supposedly Williams had a Plan B up his sleeve to sprint to the pro shop to get some more balls and apparently you can borrow a ball from a fellow player or an ‘outside agency’ – which presumably means another person – as long as it’s the same brand and type.

Tiger Woods and Steve Williams

Fast-forward 18 years to this week’s Regional Qualifying for The Open at Alwoodley and I’m once again on the bag for friend and colleague Tom Irwin. I don’t think I need to remind you what happened last time, but in the very loosest sense I was playing the part of Stevie and Tom was Tiger.

The first mention of balls came on the putting green nine minutes before our 8.38am tee time when Tom mentioned that we might be running “a bit low on ammo”. Being the consummate pro I had already checked and reassured him, with some confidence, that we had seven and we carried on with some retinal glow drills.

On the 1st tee we both quietly tuned out as the competition’s rules and regulations were read out before being jolted back into life when a man in a blazer said you could only play the make and compression of ball that you started out with. We had a heaving ball pocket of all sorts but with no more than three of the same ball.

Ten seconds later I was dispatched to the pro shop to pick up a sleeve of brand new Titleist balls to bring our total to four. And two more waters which didn’t fit into the pencil bag.

And for quite some time everything was dreamy. A 25-footer for par at the 1st commencing a run that left him at one under thru (I love saying thru) seven holes.


If you’re not familiar with the 8th hole at Alwoodley then it measures 591 yards off the blue plates. To get it round the corner you have to finish around 300 yards from where you started and the hole then moves left. Left is out of bounds, right is thick rough.

Tom is a member here, is playing really nicely and he hits a fade with his driver.

There is a brief discussion on the tee of what line to take, there are too many people in a confined space and so this is cut much shorter than our previous chats. He hits a lovely draw which starts 30 yards left of where this particular shot would like to be.

And then he hits a provisional which is a lovely draw which starts 20 yards left of where this particular shot would like to be.

And then he shoves a second provisional way right.

While this was all going on a collection of Srixons were coming out of the bag at a rate of knots, much like a magician pulls out a multi-coloured handkerchief from his sleeve, and we departed the tee in something close to silence.

Cue bedlam.

The ball search began, like most ball searches, 30 yards too far and too near the fairway before meandering up and down the out of bounds shrubbery with the background commentary of the order the balls were hit.

“3-1-2, all with a black dot,” was all I could muster while rummaging around in the bag for another ProV1x to go back and play seven off the tee when all this was over.

But there were no more ProV1xs, just some Srixons, my water, and a peculiar silver tin that I never did get to open.

As the time ticked on I pictured the two of us walking back in with Tom maybe the only player in golfing history to NR while being in red figures.

One member of the threeball shouted over to say that he had found the third ball in the right rough which left us with one option to play on but also just one ball for the remaining 11 holes.

Alwoodley 8th hole

“ProV1x, 3? You’re in bounds mate…”

But no dot.

I basically then man-handled the kind soul who had found this ball to pocket it and double our chances of completing the round.

Tom then found the second ball, sitting out of bounds, and it seemed like there were ProV1xs coming out of every orifice of Alwoodley, but not the one we needed.

By this point it was almost 30 degrees, the single water tap was still 400 yards away, we had eaten three of the four bananas, I was getting a bit delirious and was on the verge of a panic attack, and Tom was smiling too much which was a sure sign that he was in tatters.

And then, just as the search was about to be called off, there she was, two yards off the fairway. The longest few minutes of both our lives was over.

The wheels did come off, but much, much later and I returned his bag to him with more balls than we had started.

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