1995. I receive a phone call from my parents to say they are moving house, lock stock and barrel from North Yorkshire over to Ainsdale, near Southport.
They had always been avid golf fans, following both the professional and amateur games closely and traveling the country to watch events. Family holidays were generally planned 2 years in advance to attend The Open. Accommodation was secured long before any properties were advertised, composite season tickets would be purchased on the day they went on sale and received with a personal letter from the Secretary of the R&A. Whenever possible they would stay for 2 weeks, arriving a few days before ‘final qualifying’ where you could walk on the fairways alongside some of the great professionals of the game who were trying to secure one of the last places available in the tournament. Invariably they would also reflect on how nice it must be to live near an ‘Open’ venue.
One particularly wet and soggy weekend away in Southport led them to browse the estate agent windows on Lord Street. Of course they knew The Open was to be played at Royal Birkdale, near Southport 3 years later. My father had just retired and the conversations of living near an Open venue obviously leapt into their minds as not only was a property spotted, it was viewed and purchased that weekend.
Fast forward to July 1998. The Open at Royal Birkdale is just a few days away. They invited me and a mate to go and stay with them as they finally got to enjoy the pleasure of living near to the course. Out of the blue, a mate who I’d last seen about 10 years ago contacted me to say he was going to be caddying at the qualifiers and did I know anywhere he could kip. He’d been caddying on the European Tour for a few years but the guy he had been working for had brought a mate over to carry his bag at The Open so Stuart was left without a bag for the week. He’d got fixed up to caddy for a young amateur in the final qualifying at Hillside Golf Club(I think). My parents knew of the 17 year old he would be working for as they were equally keen followers of amateur golf, in fact my mother still has the diary she got autographed by an amateur called Tiger Woods at the Walker Cup a few years before. They told Stuart he may well have landed himself with a nice job for the week as the youngster he was working for had a good track record.
36 holes of qualifying and the guy Stuart was caddying for had managed to qualify for The Open, beating the majority of the 136 other players to one of only 8 places. So Stuart would be kipping at my parents a few days longer.
The first round approached and we enjoyed listening to the nightly update from Stuart as to how his man was fairing in practice. Day one and a 2 over par round left his player reasonably placed to have a chance of actually making the cut, which would be a massive achievement. The joint leader, Tiger Woods shot a 5 under par score of 65.
Day 2 and a repeat score would have seen Stuart caddying for the final 2 days. What happened was nothing short of remarkable as 17 year old Justin Rose played a superb round of golf, shooting the low score of the day – a 66 – which saw him catapult into joint second place, alongside Tiger Woods, just one shot off the lead.
Day 3 and the wind blew, half the crowd seemed to follow the young amateur and Rose fever had definitely caught on. Whilst those in the know expected the show to end at this point as the pressure built, a well crafted 3 over par round saw Justin end the round just 3 shots off the lead, 2 ahead of Tiger!
Day 4. The final day. What a memorable one it was. I’d been lucky enough to be given some tickets for the R&A tent, which proved to be quite a surreal experience. As the tournament progressed, I sat with my mate Demetri sipping a few beers and watching on the big screen TV. We hadn’t tickets for the grandstand on the 18th so it made sense to stay there. On the table next to us was Viscount William Whitelaw, on the table in front of us, was US popstar Coolio, decked out in the finest Burberry plus fours and cap. A gangsta’s paradise?
As the final round drew to a close, Justin needed no worse than a 6 on the last to finish 7th overall, which would see him win the silver medal for top amateur, beating a Spaniard called Sergio Garcia. We saw on TV Justin Rose tee-off on 18. A bit of a pull left into the wild rough. His second was a chop out of the rough leaving him a tricky 100 yards of bunkers, and rolling green to negotiate, all under the glare of the crowd and millions watching on TV. Justin Rose approached his ball and contemplated his next shot but the BBC cut away to show Mark O’Meara putting. As we watched that footage from the club tent, the most enormous roar went up from the crowd. Everyone in the tent looked at each other, assuming it was probably the signal of a Tiger Woods birdie or some extraordinary feat. It was no usual cheer it felt like the earth moved.
It was a fair bet that whatever was shown on screen next would be the reason behind the roar.
Cut to Justin Rose pulling his lob wedge out of the bag, carried by Stuart. A couple of practice swings. The ball soars up through the air, lands nicely on the green, rolls and IN!!! Cut to Justin back in the fairway high fiving Stuart.
We hear the roar on TV, outside the crowds in the stands are still applauding as Justin walks up the green to pick his ball out of the hole. A birdie sees him finish joint 4th. A magical moment.
We eventually walk back home. Stuart arrives with Justin’s clubs and bag in tow. My father is literally gob smacked by the arrival of his clubs and proudly poses for a photo by the bag and holding the club that had just been used for a famous finish.
Organised as ever, my parents had a long standing reservation for a table at one of the popular restaurants in Southport for us all to enjoy the Sunday night together. We all walk into ‘Le Frog’ just off Lord Street, my parents, Demetri & Stuart. Who is sat at the table next to us?
Justin Rose smiles, autographs my parents season tickets and enjoys a meal with his family.
Tony is co-founder of the Sporting Memories Network
Now watch THAT shot!
1 Comment (Add your voice)
Family holidays spent watching golf and people wonder why I still tense up at the mention of booking a holiday.
– Chris Jameson, October 19 2012 at 13:26