Armitage defied severe handicap to play in the Open

Howley Hall's Marcus Armitage surveys the line of a putt during day two of the Open Championship when he shot two-under-par 69 (Picture: Richard Sellers/PA Wire).
Howley Hall's Marcus Armitage surveys the line of a putt during day two of the Open Championship when he shot two-under-par 69 (Picture: Richard Sellers/PA Wire).
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IT WOULD seem reasonable to surmise from Marcus Armitage’s scores in his Open Championship debut – 80 69 – that the Howley Hall man was probably a bit anxious in his first round and then free-wheeled in round two when his chances of making the cut were virtually nil.

But not even Sherlock Holmes at his sharpest would have been able to deduce what actually prevented the Challenge Tour player from performing at his best on both Thursday and Friday at Carnoustie.

For just four days after qualifying for the oldest of golf’s four majors – and less than a fortnight before pegging it up in Angus – Armitage dislocated his shoulder. Indoor skydiving.

It was two hours before the shoulder could be put back in place after which, the NHS website advises, “it takes between 12 and 16 weeks to heal”.

All of which means the 31-year-old was playing under a severe handicap, one which has forced him to give this week’s Challenge Tour event in Austria a miss.

But not one which made him give serious consideration to pulling out of the 147th Open Championship once he was sure he would not be risking long-term damage.

“You’ll think I’m mad, but I qualified for the Open and then went indoor skydiving in Manchester,” laughed Armitage, who is looking to reclaim his place on the European Tour via a top-15 place in this season’s Challenge Tour order of merit.

“It was a birthday present from my fiancée Lucy. I thought, ‘I shouldn’t be doing this’, because I have always had a weak shoulder and then I thought, ‘do you know what, I am just going to do it. Don’t be full of fear, you’ve got to live your life’ – and I dislocated my shoulder for two hours.”

Only Armitage’s close circle of family and friends knew what had happened as he did not want to appear to be making excuses ahead of the Open.

He could not move his arm the day after the incident and five days later – with just a week to go to the Open – he was only capable of hitting 100-yard shots. Very tentatively.

The injury meant that he could swing only at approximately half-power, which necessitated a recalibration of the distances he could expect with each club .

It also required him to put to the back of his mind the apprehension that – on any given shot – the shoulder might pop out again.

Neither of these drawbacks prevented him from taking a bundle of positives and a host of great memories from what he firmly believes – with good cause given his title wins on both Challenge and EuroPro Tours – will be the first of many appearances in the event.

“I wasn’t really playing in pain in the Open,” he explained. “It was just a short golf swing. I only had half a backswing.

“I could hit shots, but my distance control was the problem. Let’s say I normally hit a six iron 195 yards; I was hitting it 180. So I would aim for 180, but the problem was if I flushed it and got good power into it, it would go 195 and then I would be in trouble.

“On the other hand if I didn’t feel like I could turn all the way back with my shoulder then I would end up coming up short. It was just the inconsistency.

“The first day I think I hit about five greens in regulation and the second day I hit eight greens, so I did hit more greens. But it was a bit easier conditions when we played on Friday and I had 22 putts compared to 32 putts on the first day. I think I had 12 one-putts on Friday and one I holed from off the fringe, so my putter was on fire.”

He knew that he required “a miracle” to qualify for the weekend, but when the expected happened, despite shaving 11 shots off his opening score for his two-under-par 69, he did not head straight back home to Huddersfield that night.

Instead he stayed to soak up the Open atmosphere from the perspective of both a player and spectator.

“I went to the range on Saturday to hit balls and I was sandwiched between Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, so it was good to hit some balls in between them,” he said.

“Later I walked outside the ropes on Saturday just to get a feel for it. It was good to see both sides of the ropes – but I know definitely on which side I belong.

“The aim now is to get the fitness back [he will see a specialist today for an update], and get back on the European Tour – and I would love to play the Open next year at Royal Portrush.”

Two days before the Open got underway Armitage played alongside former world No 1 Rory McIlroy and current European No 1 Tommy Fleetwood in a practice round.

McIlroy cut across to another part of the course after four holes – leaving Armitage and Fleetwood to catch up on one another’s news.

“I’ve grown up with Tommy, Lancashire boys together,” said Armitage, who was born in Salford and raised in Rossendale before moving to his father Philip’s native Yorkshire.

“It was good to have a catch-up with him, it was good to see him.”

Armitage is hoping that the specialist will today give him the go-ahead to embark on a rehabilitation course that will allow him to start using weights in an attempt to build up the shoulder to full strength.

“I want to get back to where I have a bit more power and a bit more confidence,” he said.

“It all depends on how far he thinks I have already come with my rehabilitation.

“Hopefully I can get back out onto the Challenge Tour next week in Sweden. If not I will have another week off.”