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Open Memories

Heard the one about the former tour player and the exploding golf balls during Open practice?

Posted Jul 13, 2009 by Rob Lee

1. The first time I qualified for The Open was pretty special. It was in 1985 and I hadn't made the starting line-up before and I thought maybe the best way in was to qualify at the event before, which on this occasion was held at The Belfry. After much chat the night before it was decided that a 69 would get me in. I came to the last needing  a four for 69 and hit a drive and a 2-iron greenside, then up-and-downed it to get one of five spots up for grabs. from there I went straight to Sandwich and opened with a 68 which put me in the top three on Day One and then played well enough to earn an exemption the following year.

2. In a practice round on the eve of The Open at Muirfield in '87 with Paul Way, Mark Roe and Neil Hansen, Mark and I decided to tee off at the same time with exploding golf balls, which made everbody laugh except Player, Palmer and Nicklaus behind us, as the exploding chalk left two white lines on the immaculate Muirfield turf. We still have a wonderful photo of the impact where all the crowd have turned their heads to follow the drives until they realise nothing has taken off.

3. During the same round, Hansen, Roe and myself decided to wear paper bags on our heads with just the eyes cut out as we were Dunlop players and they had a campaign at the time where pros who used a different ball appeared in commercials for Dunlop obscured by the bags. Hitting shots with the new headgear was very difficult and resulted in a few mistimed strikes which the public didn't seem to mind. As we got towards the end of our round, some lads on a nearby scoring gantry jumped down and swapped our headwear for their huge oversized Tam O' Shanter hats. We played the last few holes wearing the hats and the boys walked right down the middle of the fairways wearing the bags, even up the last in front of the galleries. I remember Gary Player questioning how professional we were (he had a point), but we still felt we could have a laugh and shoot good scores. We did get grilled by the R&A who asked: 'Would you want to play in The Open again?' We said we would quite like to play and promised not to repeat the incident.

4. Nothing to do with my own performance, or any larking about, it's really all about Seve for me. I have so many Seve memories, but I suppose the daddy of them all was the win at St Andrews in '84, holding off the challenge of Langer and Watson to win by two shots. The point was that you always wanted Seve to win because he gave you so much - a bit like Tiger, but there was far less certainty about the outcome. When he dropped the putt in the front lip for birdie when two would have done, the sheer joy on his face lit up the old grey town. That iconic photo of the moment is still stitched into my brain and indeed Seve's forearm in the shape of a tattoo.

5. I do remember playing the last round of the Scottish Open in 1991 and not playing well enough to qualify. In those days you had to leg it to the qualifying venues which were held on Sunday and Monday. The journey was from Gleneagles to Birkdale and hidden in a bush around the Scottish borders was a motorcycle cop who I am sure quite mistakenly suggested that we were doing a ton plus in our attempt to get there in time. We explained to him the situation about the morning tee times and the need to get to Birkdale ASAP, which seemed to get us nowhere. Then he started laughing at the tartan trousers I was wearing and his mood changed dramatically. I'm sure that any other strides would have resulted in fines, points and more importantly a missed tee time. He let us go.

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