A TOUR player normally follows a complicated and time-consuming process to decide his or her strategy for tackling a course in an important event when the choice of club to be taken off each tee is of paramount importance.
Devising their plan is likely to involve both walking and playing the course with their caddie during practice days.
The pair will write copious notes about the distance of various hazards from the tees and weather forecasts may well be consulted – to factor in possible windspeeds and directions – before they arrive at their final choices.
When Howley Hall’s Marcus Armitage tried to claim a spot in the Open Championship via Final Qualifying at St Annes Old Links earlier this month his course strategy was shaped by a forgotten passport, a traffic jam and a cancelled flight.
Well, not entirely true – another component was the bone-hard condition of St Annes’ fairways on which he had made unsuccessful attempts before to qualify for the oldest of golf’s four major tournaments.
“I had a nightmare time the week before on the Challenge Tour in Denmark,” says Armitage, who turned 31 on Sunday.
When we got there the golf course just looked totally different to how I’ve seen it before. It was brown everywhere and I just thought, ‘do you know what? I’m just going to hit driver all the way – if it’s my day, it’s my day’.Marcus Armitage
“First I left my passport at home, so I had to buy a new flight. Then coming back I got stuck in traffic and thought I was going to miss the flight. I made it in time – but then the flight was cancelled and EasyJet said the earliest they could get me home was Thursday – and qualifying was on the Tuesday.
“I had to buy another flight and the only place I could get to was Heathrow on the Monday at 7.30 at night, so I got my dad to pick me up at Heathrow and drive me back home.
“I got about four hours’ sleep and I hadn’t had a practice round, I just picked my caddie up in the morning and we drove to St Annes.
“When we got there the golf course just looked totally different to how I’ve seen it before. It was brown everywhere and I just thought, ‘do you know what? I’m just going to hit driver all the way – if it’s my day, it’s my day’.”
It was his day. He shot 65 69 to qualify in second place and will peg it up alongside the world’s best golfers at Carnoustie this week. However, his philosophical approach to his fate did not last throughout the entire 36 holes, as he recalls.
“I got the putter going in the first round and it was good,” he says, “but in the afternoon I started to think about it [qualifying for the Open] a little bit and coming down the par-5 sixth hole – which was my 15th because I teed off at the 10th – there was a leaderboard at the back of that green.
“I had hit a shot in to about 30ft with a four iron and I thought I was cruising at this point.
“But then I got there and I saw that Oscar [Lengden, of Sweden] had steamed through the field and was about eight under or something so that meant I was two shots behind the qualifying places. I turned to Ben [Chambers, his caddie] and said, ‘this is simple mate: we’ve just got to hole this putt and then birdie one of the last three and we are in the Open and, if not, then we’re probably going to be in a play-off’.
“So I holed the 30ft putt and I went nuts. I don’t know exactly what I did, but I just know there was a lot of emotion coming out.”
He parred the next two and then found a greenside bunker at the par-3 ninth, his final hole, believing he still needed a birdie.
“At that point I thought, ‘I have got to hole this bunker shot to get in the Open’. I missed it by about six inches and I tapped it in and then, walking off the green, Jack Senior said, ‘have you finished on 10?’ and when I said yes he said, ‘oh, we are both in the Open then’ because Oscar had bogeyed one of the last holes.
“It is my first time in the Open, my first major and I was just buzzing.”
Armitage was given honorary life membership of Howley Hall this year to recognise not only his achievements – that include having won on both the Challenge and EuroPro Tours – but also his character and nature, so evident during his 13-year attachment to the club when he has always made sure to give time to fellow members in particular and the game in general.
When he was just 14 he lost his mother Jean to cancer after she had waged a long battle against four different forms of the disease. Two weeks before St Annes, Margaret, mother of his swing coach Anthony Sheehy, also died of cancer, a loss he felt deeply as the Sheehy family have become a huge part of his life.
“All the credit for everything I do and the place I am in is due to Anthony,” says Armitage. “Without him I wouldn’t be where I am.
“Anthony protected me a lot with his mum. He wouldn’t give me information because I don’t think he wanted to draw anything up from my past.
“But the qualifying day felt a bit spiritual. I felt like Margaret was with me there at times, I felt like my mum was there at times too.
“Exactly how my mum passed away is how Anthony‘s mum passed away and some weird stuff happened and I just felt very calm.”
His Open adventure continues with an 11.04am start in round one and 4.05pm in round two.