In the Trophy Room of the Royal and Ancient clubhouse, the
qualifier from Texas lit one Marlboro after another as he leaned
against a painting of golfers playing the Old Course in 1850.
Just outside on this Sunday evening along St. Andrews Bay, John
Daly appeared to be on the verge of winning the 124th British
Open in regulation. But the impending celebration was of little
interest to Mark Brooks.
Funny how expectations change. Just one week earlier, the
34-year-old Brooks, a 12-year veteran of the PGA Tour, would
have been happy simply to be a part of the British Open. Now he
was agonizing over a 70th-hole tee shot that might have cost him
a place in golf history.
Brooks was only two strokes off the lead when he came to the
16th hole, a 382-yard par-4 called Corner of the Dyke. With a
30-mph wind blowing from right to left, Brooks ignored his
caddie's suggestion that he use a one-iron and instead pulled
out his driver. His tee shot bounded into the mouth of the
Deacon Sime bunker, and from that hole in the Scottish earth,
Brooks would make double bogey. He finished one stroke out of
the playoff between Daly and Costantino Rocca.
By the time Daly was walking up the 18th hole as Open champion,
Brooks was back at the small flat he had rented on North Street.
His two young daughters, Lyndsay and Hollie, still had no idea
how close Dad had come to hoisting the claret jug.
Brooks's championship run was unique. His qualifying experience
was not. A field of 480, including Brooks and 13 other PGA Tour
pros, went after the last 49 spots in the British Open by
competing in the Open's final qualification stage--a 36-hole test
at four courses within 15 miles of St. Andrews. Brooks flew over
a week ahead of the July 16-17 qualifying dates with his family,
played Turnberry, Prestwick, Western Gailes and Royal County
Down to get a feel for links golf, then set the course record
with a 65 at Ladybank Golf Club in the opening round of
qualifying. With a 70 in the second round, he finished one shot
back of fellow Texan Justin Leonard, who was medalist at
Ladybank with rounds of 68-66. Brooks and Leonard were two of 12
players to qualify for the Open at that site.
While other nonexempt Americans took the week off or played the
Deposit Guaranty Classic in Madison, Miss., Brooks and Leonard
considered it an obligation to fly across the Atlantic and
attempt to qualify. "If you're among the top 125 players,"
Brooks said, "you need to pack your bags and try it."
Because both grew up playing in the Texas winds, Brooks in Fort
Worth and Leonard in Dallas, links golf suits their games.
Brooks qualified for his first Open at Royal Birkdale in 1991.
Last year at Turnberry, he came within one shot of finishing in
the top 15 and getting an exemption to St. Andrews. He was
determined to return, even if the trip turned into nothing more
than a family vacation. "I love playing over here," he said
after the 65 at Ladybank. "It's actually harder for me to adjust
my game for the U.S. Tour. I get really disappointed when I go
to a new course and see nothing but water. You see our scores in
the States: When the wind blows, the scores go sky-high because
the courses aren't made to be played in heavy winds. When it
blows 30 miles an hour, there's nowhere to put it on the ground
and play shots."
The hazards in Scotland are the bunkers, and Leonard found
enough of them on the weekend at St. Andrews to shoot 77-77.
That spoiled all the good work he had accomplished in the first
two days, when rounds of 73-67 put him at four under, just two
strokes off the lead. An early tee time allowed Leonard to watch
second-round afternoon play from his room at the Scores Hotel.
It also gave him an opportunity to reflect on the time he
traveled to St. Andrews as a 14-year-old, playing the Old
Course with his father and a new set of clubs. When his drive at
the 18th stopped on the gravel of Grannie Clark's Wynd (the road
that runs across the 1st and 18th fairways), Leonard erroneously
took a drop and was admonished by his caddie. "My father and I
both hit it into the Valley of Sin," Leonard recalled. "I
chipped and he putted, and we both made par."
Such are the beauties and idiosyncrasies of links golf, but the
hardpan turf and funny bounces are two of the big reasons that
more PGA Tour pros don't consider qualifying. Only seven made it
through this year. An eighth, Don Pooley, lost a playoff at
Leven Links but received the final spot in the field when
another American, Kenny Perry, withdrew on Wednesday night. "I
know it's difficult to make it," said Gary Hallberg, who did,
then finished 68th in the Open, "but you've got to try if you
love golf and love the history of golf."
Brian Claar had the most adventuresome route into this year's
Open. With three holes remaining at Scotscraig Golf Club, Claar
figured he had no chance of qualifying. But a
birdie-birdie-birdie finish put him in a five-way playoff. After
surviving the first three holes with par putts of 15, eight and
seven feet, he added two more birdies to grab the final spot.
The American who had the hardest time in qualifying was Steve
Stricker. It was his first trip to the linksland, and his
inexperience showed. Ranked 28th on the PGA Tour money list,
Stricker shot 73 in the opening round at Leven Links. Then he
was assessed a four-stroke penalty for having 15 clubs in his
bag during the second round, which turned his 67 into a 71.
Stricker had played reasonably well in the Scottish Open the
week before, finishing 20th against a strong international
field. But at Leven, a quirky, 6,400-yard layout along the Firth
of Forth, he at first appeared lost. With little knowledge of
the course, he would pull out a three-wood on long par-4s only
to find that his drive had chased along the fairway into a
hidden pot bunker. He would watch approach shots bound over the
green and into hollows. "Aye, I think the links is sort of new
to him," said James White, a beer-bellied local pro. "He was
using the sand wedge rather than playing the bump and run, which
you do in Scotland quite a lot, especially around here."
After his opening round Stricker sat in the pub at the Leven
Golfing Society clubhouse with a glazed look on his face. He had
been out of sorts from the start. Because there is no driving
range at Leven, his warmup had consisted of playing pinball in
an arcade alongside the 1st tee. There had been no rhythm, no
feel, no focus to his golf. "I didn't know where I was going
half the time, or what kind of shots to play," he said. "It
looks wide open, but it's really tight with all the bunkers out
there. You look and you can't tell where the fairway is. I also
had a hard time with the tight lies. The club kept turning in my
American pros are also not accustomed to the many distractions
that accompany British Open qualifying. Spectators walk closely
alongside the players, close enough to look into their bags to
see what clubs they have selected. On the 12th tee Stricker was
taking practice swings when a dairy cow, behind a nearby fence,
bellowed loud enough to be heard all over the course. "Sounds
just like Wisconsin," said Stricker, a Cheesehead.
At Scotscraig, a parkland course similar to Ladybank, Jay
Delsing refused to be distracted. He sailed through the
qualifying, enchanted as much by the Scottish golf as by its
people, countryside and customs. The week before, he had
explored the streets of Dundee during the Scottish Open. "One
night I went to see Batman Forever," he said. "I ordered a Coke
and a popcorn, and the girl asks me, 'Would you like it salted
or sweetened?' Sweetened? I told her I better stick to salted."
Delsing had hired an Irish caddie named John O'Reilly in the
parking lot at the Scottish and finished 25th. With O'Reilly on
his bag at Scotscraig, he shot 66-68 to finish three strokes
behind Richard Boxall of England. But it wasn't until Delsing
hit the green at the final hole that O'Reilly offered his
congratulations. They smiled at one another like old friends. "I
think you made it now," the caddie said.
With O'Reilly at his side, Delsing opened with rounds of 72 and
75 at St. Andrews, but shot 73-77 on the weekend as the wind
blew hard across the Old Course. "There's just something about
this golf over here," Delsing said. "You can be so creative. You
don't just go, '145 [yards], eight-iron; 158 [yards],
seven-iron.' You play shots, bump the ball, run it. It's just
been a great experience. There's no wrong play over here. You
can bump and run with a four-iron or an eight-iron. If it
doesn't blow, you can play more of the golf that we're used to.
In the States, there's water, sand and little room for
It wasn't long ago that the R&A had little room for Americans
who wanted to play in its championship. It didn't matter that he
was Masters and U.S. Open champion-Arnold Palmer had to qualify
for his first Open in 1960. He finished second yet had to
qualify the following year, when he won at Birkdale. As
champion, he came back and again had to qualify, and again won.
When Palmer threatened not to return, the R&A began awarding an
exemption to the defending champion. Today, PGA Tour players can
earn exemptions through several avenues, and those without
exemptions don't have to go through first-stage qualifying.
"It's expensive and it's not the smartest thing if you're into
adding up your dollars and trying to save every one," said
Hallberg. "But you can't put a price on the experience."
The experience is what young Justin Rose of England savored in
his two rounds at Scotscraig. At 14 the precocious Rose was
trying to become the youngest Open competitor ever (15-year-old
John Ball finished sixth at Prestwick in 1878). Rose advanced
through local qualifying by shooting 67 at his home course of
North Hants, near his home in Hook. He didn't make it in the
final stage, shooting 73-70 before heading off to the Southern
Group Boys' Championship the next day.
Rose holds the English under-16 title and owns the tournament
record in the Hampshire Hog, a prestigious British boys' event
won by, among others, Michael Bonallack, Sandy Lyle and Steven
Richardson. Bonallack, the R&A secretary, was on the 1st tee to
shake the lad's hand when he teed off in final qualifying.
"Playing in the Open was my dream, and I thought it was a
realistic one," Rose said.
David Jacobsen, the 42-year-old brother of PGA Tour player Peter
Jacobsen, had no realistic chance of joining his younger sibling
at St. Andrews. He is considered just a good club golfer back
home in Portland, but advanced to final qualifying with an eagle
on the first hole of a playoff in Falkirk, Scotland. "I didn't
know a soul, but walking off the 1st tee, a guy with a great
Scottish brogue said, 'We can't have you carrying your own bag.'
He's putting his sweater on, he's got his tie on, and he says,
'I'll caddie for you.' He was just a club member. He bought me
the lager shandy at lunch. I tried to pay him and he wouldn't
let me, so I'm going to send him a gift. He's a great fan of
Peter's Tour caddie, Mike (Fluff) Cowan, was on the bag for
David at Leven Links, but that didn't seem to matter. David made
quadruple-bogey 8 at the 18th hole to shoot 78, and he spent the
Open behind the ropes as a spectator. Standing behind the R&A
clubhouse on Thursday, David Jacobsen seemed to speak for every
American who made the trip to St. Andrews and experienced what
it's like to play in the home of golf. "I'd do it again," he
said, "in a heartbeat."