If only Opens were won on the front nine, says Steve Carroll as he tracked the second day progress of amateur Scott Gregory at Royal Troon
The passing train just as Scott Gregory was about to wind up into his backswing was the last thing he needed.
Standing on the tee at the 11th with the fairway nowhere to be seen and thick gorse seemingly everywhere your vision focused, it was an unwelcome distraction.
Even more so when the last time he’d played it, he had to pencil a 7 into the scorecard.
There’s a reason why Arnold Palmer once called The Railway the “most dangerous hole I have ever seen”.
Gregory can console himself with this – when Jack Nicklaus made his championship debut in 1962, the year that Palmer lifted the Claret Jug on the Ayrshire coast, he made a 10.
Things turned out okay for him, didn’t they?
Corhampton’s new British Amateur champion has enjoyed a whirlwind few weeks since lifting the premier title at Royal Porthcawl.
The win, which got him into The Open, was built on the back of talent and steely determination.
And on the 11th, he showed that again. The train flew past and Gregory reset.
The driver swished and the ball took off like a bullet, hugging the left hand side of the fairway and coming to land in stellar position.
Gregory fist pumped his caddy.
A solid iron into the green and two putts gave him a par the leaders will all crave as the Major reaches its conclusion on Sunday afternoon.
Wearing a big smile, Gregory also had his own lofty ambitions at that point.
He was thinking about making the cut.
He’d led the Open after 10 holes of the first round before disaster struck on his way to a back 9 45 and a seven over 78.
On a run
But a glorious stretch of three birdies on the 4th, 5th and 6th saw him go out in 34 as his second stanza reached the half-way point and planted the seed in his mind of making the weekend.
If golf was about front nines alone, Gregory could have been thinking about a challenge for the title after he followed up his three under 33 on the first day.
The game, unfortunately, isn’t like that.
In truth, he did little wrong as the round reached its conclusion – save for one pulled tee shot on the 15th that sent spectators and spotters ducking for cover.
It seemed inconceivable in that mass of bodies that his ball could not be found. Frantic searching revealed no luck, though, and Gregory’s lonely walk back to the tee would end with a 7.
A wise head
Playing with Sandy Lyle, the elder statesman provided a consoling shoulder. The pair talked Majors and Masters, Gregory now preparing for his own visit to the hallowed Augusta National turf next year.
“He was great to me,” he said after the round. “He’s chatted on the way round and was supportive. He’s a great guy and hit some great golf shots. He’s still got it in there. I’d like to play with him again at some point.”
Gregory recovered well, unlucky not to make a birdie on the par 5 16th when a long putt hit the back of the hole and somehow stayed out.
Another well struck putt on the 17th looked in all the way but once again refused to drop.
Gregory finished with a par, to warm applause from the busying grandstands flanking the 18th and with memories that will surely last a lifetime.
“It has been incredible, really,” he said of the experience. “At the start of the week I wanted to learn as much as I could and there are a few things I need to take away and work on.
“All in all, I am a better player than I was at the start of the week – and if you are a better player at the end than you were at the start then you are not doing too bad. I am going in the right direction.”