Stonehaven’s Sam Locke kept his nerve in final qualifying this week to win a place at The Open Championship in Royal Portrush in a fortnight’s time.
He prevailed in a battle with two fellow-Scots, Euan Walker and Paul O’Hara, for the third and final spot in the 36-hole shoot-out at Fairmont St Andrews.
Since finding himself in the spotlight 12 months ago after winning the amateur Silver Medal and playing all four rounds in The Open at Carnoustie, Sam has struggled to find his feet in the paid ranks.
Being back on this stage, though, was exactly what the 20-year-old was looking for. “I had been playing some nice stuff coming into it, but just not quite putting it together into a full tournament,” he said. “I knew it wasn’t far away and I just needed something to get me going and, thankfully, today was that day.”
After an opening 69 on Tuesday, Paul Lawrie’s prodigy feared his bid was about to come unstuck as he pulled his first tee shot in the afternoon at the tenth into heavy rough and hit a provisional. “As soon as I hit the shot, I thought that was a lost ball and I was lucky to find it,” said Locke.
Making a par-4 was massive for momentum. “I laid up and had about 120 yards in for my third shot and made an up and down, which was lovely, before making an eagle at the next after hitting a 7-iron to about six feet. It shows what momentum can do in this game,” he added.
Barassie man Euan Walker missed out again after already being pipped for exempt spots up for grabs in both the Amateur Championship and European Amateur Championship over the past two weeks.
Helped by a brilliant up and down over a wall to salvage a par at the ninth – his closing hole on a composite course made up of holes from both the Kittocks and Torrance courses – that final spot went to Locke as he repeated his feat from 12 months earlier at The Renaissance Club.
Reminded that Paul Lawrie came through final qualifying at Downfield as he went on to become Open champion 20 years ago at Carnoustie, Sam admitted with a smile: “Well, wouldn’t that be a story.”
Fifer Connor Syme is also heading to Royal Portrush as he and Sam joined three of their compatriots, Paul Lawrie, Russell Knox and Bob MacIntyre, in the field.
Brandon Wu, a 22-year-old American amateur, could be a strong contender on the Antrim coast for the Silver Medal, won last year at Carnoustie by Sam when he was still in the non-paid ranks, on the strength of a polished performance that earned him an impressive victory in the 36-hole shoot-out at Fairmont St Andrews.
In breezy conditions, he followed a brilliant 64 in the morning on the Fife coast with a 67 to finish three shots clear of the field on nine under par.
It was a day, though, when both Syme and Locke also had ample reason to feel proud of their respective performances in securing the other two spots up for grabs in the 148th edition of the game’s oldest major as it returns to Royal Portrush for the first time since 1951.
Connor shot two 67s to finish as Wu’s closest challenger.
Sam and Connor will be involved in more qualifying action this weekend as they bid for places in the Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open next week.
It will be another 36-hole test at Longniddry in East Lothian as Sam bids for one of the four spots up for grabs at The Renaissance Club.