Suffolk duo savour Open experience

GOLF: Although Suffolk did not have a representative in the Open Championship at Muirfield, two players did at least manage to reach the final qualifying rounds.


ALTHOUGH Suffolk did not have a representative in the Open Championship at Muirfield, two players did at least manage to reach the final qualifying rounds.

Jon Markham, assistant professional at Stowmarket, and Rushmere amateur James Wright both played two rounds at North Berwick.

It was totally different from what either had ever been used to, but they tell their experience of playing in the final qualifying stages of the biggest tournament in the world.

Jon Markham

IT was quite an eye-opener for 22-year-old Stowmarket assistant Jon Markham when he played at North Berwick.

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Jon was one of 96 players at the Scottish venue playing for just six places at Muirfield and although his hopes went after a first round five over par 76, it was an experience he will never forget.

A second round 79 left him well down the field, but Jon was far from disappointed.

"I really enjoyed it," he said. "It was interesting to see just how good the other players were, even those who are not well known.

"It was very different playing with regular European Tour players, but it was a great experience."

Jon had qualified to play at North Berwick after coming second in his regional qualifier at Orsett in Essex.

A four under par 68 was an excellent round for Jon, who only turned professional last October.

He said: "I was three under after the first eight holes, but then made a double bogey at the ninth.

"I played the back nine in three under to finish second."

In his practice round at North Berwick, Jon found conditions calm, but those changed midway through the first day of the final qualifying.

"There were some good scores from players that went out in the morning, but by the time I started at 1pm, the wind had got up. What made it difficult was that on the downwind holes, the pins were on the front."

Jon's playing partners for the two rounds were Australian Steve Collins and Grant Hamilton, a European Tour player from Manchester.

"I played OK on the first day and not too badly in my second round," said Jon "but if you put the ball on the wrong part of the green, you were in trouble.

"Every little mistake was punished and it was easy to knock up a big score.

"It was a completely different course when the wind was blowing and the difficulty of the pin placings."

While Jon will never forget rubbing shoulders with some of golf's well-known names, it is now back to reality.

A few East Region events are in the pipeline and he will be hoping that his experience at North Berwick will be of benefit to him in the future.

James Wright

JAMES Wright didn't make the start he was looking for in his first round at North Berwick and any hopes that he might have harboured of playing at Muirfield were scuppered after the first six holes.

"I was eight over par by then," said the Rushmere scratch amateur player who had booked his place in the final qualifying rounds after coming through his regional qualifier at Northampton & County.

"It was important to hit the fairways as the rough was so severe," said James." Nerves got the better of me and I started by pulling my tee shots into the rough. Normally I am a straight driver. Also I wasn't putting very well."

James was paired with the Swede Jomo Sandelin and England's David Gilford, but Gilford didn't turn up.

A first round 81 meant that James had no hope of qualifying, but he enjoyed his second round and improved by four shots.

He said: "On the second day I played a lot better, but I just couldn't hole a putt although I felt more relaxed."

Rushmere member Simon Strutt was James' caddie and despite two disappointing scores on the par 71 North Berwick links, it will be an experience that lives with him for a long time.

"It was brilliant," he said. "Playing in the final qualifying rounds was a new level for me and a learning curve. I'd love to do it all again."

It was third time lucky for James as far as making the final qualifying stages. In his two previous regional qualifiers he had been beaten in a play-off for a reserve spot. This year a one under par 69 at Northampton & County was good enough to advance, but it could have been a lot better.

"The greens were fast and you had to be straight off the tee that suited my game," he said. "I was four under par after the first ten holes, but then bogeyed the par three 11th and had a double bogey at the 15th, another par three, where I found water. But I held my nerve over the last three holes to go through by a shot."

As far as North Berwick was concerned, James said: "I'm not disappointed because it was quite an achievement just to get there."

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