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My Seniors Open Dream

My Seniors Open Dream – By Neil Turley, Head Pro, Monte Rei

People that know me will know of my love of the game and my desire to compete. I have been very fortunate to have competed at the highest level but never quite made my dream of playing in an Open championship.

My closest chance was in 1997 at Royal Troon, I finished 4 under par at Western Gales Golf Club for the two qualifying rounds but then lost out in a nine man playoff.

Now at 51, and with the support of Monte Rei, Darren and the members, my chance to try to relive my dream via The Seniors Open came!

First though I had to get through the qualifying stages. I had been allocated to play at Hindhead Golf Club in Surrey, a beautiful heathland course ranked amongst the very best in Britain. It’s not a long course but was set up with tight fairways and firm, fast greens. 

I played two practice rounds and was ready to go with my son caddying for me. It started well, nerves controlled and a great drive down the 1st and a nice par. This set the tone for the day and 17 holes later, 3 birdies and 4 bogeys I stood on the 18th tee one over for the round. The 18th hole at Hindhead is a strong finishing hole, but I hit a great drive splitting the middle of the fairway only to find the ball was in a divot, but I stayed really positive and struck a great 7 iron just past the flag.

There was a small scoreboard next to the 18th green but we couldn’t really work out where we stood so I tried to convert another birdie chance to get me back to level par, a little adrenaline left me with a five footer for par - which I managed to hole.

We left the green and then into the scoring office, with all scores checked the recorder said “congratulations you are  currently in 3rd place”. I was shocked, but very happy. Finally the last groups were on their way in, we had done it - 4th place and The Seniors Open Championship here we come!

Tuesday morning I arrived at the legendary Sunningdale Golf Club, 8:30 sharp for my (thankfully) negative test result and I have my Senior Open Players pass. My son has gone back home for work so a really good friend of mine, Michael, was on the bag for the week. We are both really excited about the whole process and can’t wait for it to start.

Tuesday afternoon was practice, and as I walk to the 1st tee we see the current US Seniors Open champion tee off, Jim Furyk with his legendary caddie Mike ‘Fluff’ Cowan.

The golf course was immaculate and with the grandstands had the true major feel.

My swing was feeling good and some WhatsApp coaching from Darren had my confidence high.

Wednesday was a full 18 holes practice round and a chat with fellow Midlander Paul Broadhurst, who kindly offered some words of wisdom for me to deal with the pressure of my new surroundings.

Last off on Thursday meant plenty of time for practice -  sharing the range with me was only a certain Ian Woosnam at the other end. It then started to get busy: José María Olazábal directly behind me, with Darren Clarke behind him, then Paul Lawrie joined us, followed by Miguel Ángel Jiménez and  finally Ernie Els. I was now surrounded by major winners and I was hitting it great!

It was now time and I was making my way to the 1st Tee. I was going to tee off in a major championship. The starter welcomed us to the The Seniors Open Championship and then called us to the tee. I am second   and I have to say I never saw the first player hit his tee shot as I was tying my shoes up. I felt great, nervous but excited and my swing felt good. Despite the nerves I hit a great drive and I was off!

My second shot finished just on the front of the green at the par 5 first but three putts later, a trend was set for the putter. My golf did not reflect my score, I parred the 18th for 76, 6 over par - played well but way too many putts.

Friday was a similar day. I played really nicely again, the 2nd hole hurt me and the putter did not work as required. This time another par at the 18th for 75, 5 over par. Sadly I missed the cut and the journey was over.

I will never forget standing in the middle of the 1st fairway on Friday morning after hitting another great tee shot, looking around surrounded by people and players and being in the arena I’ve always dreamed of. This was an amazing experience and I can only learn from having been there - it certainly made me want the journey to continue!.

The practice and hard work continues ready for 2022, The Seniors Open Championship at Gleneagles where I will go through the whole qualifying process again.