Strong Finish to a Solid Tournament - The Golf Association of Philadelphia

Jun 01, 2005

Strong Finish to a Solid Tournament

By Rick McKissock

  As Brian Gillespie, Mike Peck and Rick McKissock sit in Victoria’s Pub on the pier at Southport, we are discussing Brian’s two stroke play qualifying rounds at the 2005 Amateur Championship of Britain, where he shot a respectable 76, 75. He finished his last three holes on Tuesday with a birdie, par, and par for a total of 151, unfortunately, not low enough to qualify him for match play.

Brian’s playing partners for both rounds were Alvaro Velasco from Spain, who plans to turn pro at the end of the summer, and the defending champion, Stuart Wilson from Scotland. Playing with Wilson added a certain amount of excitement on the first tee. All of the tournament officials and players warming up appeared to have an extra eye on him. But by the time they got through the second hole, all of that was gone and it was just three guys playing golf. An English man walking the round with his young son commented to me that “This is golf at its purest. It’s fantastic!”

  All three players showed their skill on the long opening hole. Brian parred the hole with ease, Alvaro had a smooth shot from the bunker and Stuart showed why he is the defending champ, sinking a 20-25 foot putt to save par.

  The next four holes went pretty much the same, solid play but no one outstanding. On the 6th hole, what would become Brian’s struggle throughout the day, finally caught up with him when he three-putted for double bogey. For the rest of the round, he seemed to have his putter in-hand quite a bit. It only seemed that way because it was true; he used his putter 37 times on Monday.

  “Mike caddied well today. We had all the shots judged properly and executed well. Today was probably one of my best ball striking rounds in competition. I was very solid from tee to green. I hit the ball well, but missed my putts. I’m going to have to make it up tomorrow.”

  He was right as Brian hit around 10 fairways and 13-14 greens, but like errors in a baseball game, missing short putts appeared to be contagious. As the round ended, Brian had three-putted three times leading to double bogeys on Nos. 6, 8, and 18. Despite his putting, his 76 was only one shot behind the 75 of both Alvaro and Stuart, and two or three shots behind the proposed cut line.

  Monday night, Brian, Mike, and I sat in the hotel pub looking at photos and videos from the day, checking out the scores from the round, and sharing a pizza and some pints. As we looked at the photos from the round, Mike and Brian displayed their unique caddy/golfer relationship by taking small, sarcastic jabs at each other.

  On one picture Brian pronounced, “Oh, here’s the shot where you misclubbed me and it all started going wrong.” Mike fired back the age old caddie line “I don’t recall being the one swinging the club.” By this time, it had set in that we were enjoying ourselves in England and it wouldn’t have mattered if he had shot a 96. Sometimes, the best preparation for tomorrow’s round is a good night at the pub.

  Tuesday’s round at the Southport and Ainsdale Course, a couple miles south from the Royal Birkdale course started exactly as the first hole on Monday. The weather, originally predicted to be cool and rainy was even better than Monday, sunny and warm with little wind.

  On the first hole Brian shot par with ease, Alvaro was smooth out of the bunker, and Stuart hit a long putt, this time for birdie. As the round progressed, it was more of the same for Brian; he was strong from tee to green, but had 34 putts on Tuesday, for a two-day total of 71 putts.

  “The course demands that you don’t play to your strength or weakness, you play the shot that the hole demands.” These were Mike’s words after the round and this was most evident on the par-5 7th hole, where driver would put one in short-iron range, but also could put you into the heather, turning a par into a possible double bogey. Mike insisted hitting a driving iron off the tee, which proved to be the right shot. Mike’s exacts words to Brian once seeing the ball in a perfect location were, “Oh yeah, don’t ever don’t doubt me.”

  “As an American, coming overseas for the first time, it is difficult to concentrate 100 percent on golf alone. You do find yourself distracted by the course, the conditions and scenery. The last thing you want to do is find yourself at home reflecting on the tournament and forgetting to take in all the beauty of golfing in England.” These are wise words from a man who has golfed better days, but did not forget his situation here in England. Many a golfer, young and old, would give up much more than a few vacation days to travel to England and play golf in their biggest amateur event. Brian did it, did it well, and enjoyed every second.

  Even better yet, Brian’s unfortunate finish at the Amateur Championship freed up the opportunity for Mike to challenge Brian at golf’s founding course, St. Andrews of Scotland. Not a bad consolation prize, even though Brian adds, “I can’t believe I’m giving Mike three shots.” Mike may just be content with the several pints Brian owes him from practice round chip-offs.

  As for myself, it’s been a joy to be here, to watch Brian compete at a level that I can not even imagine, and to be part of a camaraderie between three Yanks having an unforgettable first time in England. Time to finish up; I’ve got more of Britain to see.

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