GRANT Forrest’s joy over reaching the final of the 120th Amateur Championship at Carnoustie on his 22nd birthday was tempered by Jack McDonald agonisingly missing out in his bid to make it an all-Scottish showdown for the first time since 1909.
After Forrest had beaten Alexandre Daydou in the first of two Scotland versus France semi-finals, McDonald came to the last with his nose in front against Romain Langasque only to see his opponent win it by playing the hole a lot more sensibly than compatriot Jean van de Velde did when blowing a three-shot lead there in the 1999 Open Championship.
“People keep reminding you about what happened to Jean here, but I was trying not to think about it after hitting my drive to the right,” said the 20-year-old, who works with Victor Dubuisson’s coach, Benoit Ducoulombier, of being close to the spot from where his compatriot went for the green, found the Barry Burn and ran up a triple-bogey 7 that opened the door for Paul Lawrie to pick up the Claret Jug after a play-off.
Langasque, winner of the Southern Cross Invitational in Argentina as well as a big tournament at Fontainebleau this season, played short of the water, as McDonald did after deciding it was too risky to take on a 235-yard shot into the wind, then roared “yes” as his seven-foot par putt dropped to force extra-time.
“Oui is not good,” declared Langasque of his celebratory shout being in English rather than his native tongue after clinching victory at the 19th, where McDonald found a “pretty ugly spot” long and left of the green and was unable to convert a 14-foot par putt to extend the match.
It was the second time in four years that the 22-year-old from Kilmarnock (Barassie) had gone out in the penultimate round, having suffered a similar fate at Royal Troon in 2012. “I’ve got up and down from 68 yards [the distance he left himself for his third at the last] hundreds of times and fancied my chances but…” he reflected on the events at the 18th. “I thought it was the right way to play the hole in the situation.”
While McDonald’s exit ended hopes of a first all-Scottish final since Tantallon’s Robert Maxwell beat Cecil Hutchison of the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers at Muirfield, another yawning gap will be bridged today if Forrest succeeds Blairgowrie’s Bradley Neil to record back-to-back wins for Scottish players for the first time since 1898.
“I’m going back to the house to sleep because I’m knackered,” said the Craigielaw player when asked what he had planned for a birthday celebration, having survived by the skin of his teeth following a titanic tussle with Thornhill’s Greig Marchbank in the morning quarter-finals.
Two up with two to play, Marchbank missed from five feet at the 17th to close out the match, four feet at the last then 15 feet at the 19th before eventually succumbing at the 20th, where he found an awkward spot in a fairway bunker with his drive.
“That was definitely the best match-play game I’ve ever been involved in,” admitted a relieved Forrest after following up his win with a more straightforward passage against 18-year-old Daydou in the afternoon. “It had everything. It was good to come out on top and even if I didn’t win I’d just have been happy to be part of that match.”
Buoyed by still being in the title race, the 2012 Scottish Amateur champion birdied the first and third to quickly gain the upper hand against Daydou, the Italian Stroke-Play champion. Forrest incurred a penalty when he inadvertently stood on his ball at the sixth but escaped with a half there before missing a par putt at the 13th after the family dog, Binky, barked at an inopportune moment. “I did hear it,” he admitted, smiling, “but it didn’t put me off.” While disappointed for McDonald – the pair have come through the Scottish Golf Union ranks together – Forrest was delighted to have booked his place in the final, especially when he’d returned home within the last month at the end of his four-year stint at the University of San Diego feeling unhappy with his game.
“If someone had said I’d be in the final when I came back from the States, I’d have said ‘no way’ because I’d been really struggling for the last couple of months,” he admitted. “But I’ve kept working hard and my game has come back again this week. Maybe my loss of form was partly down to some hip trouble I had, but it has been fine this week.”
Langasque said he “likes taking risks”. It should be a cracking 36-hole final.
A Daydou (Fra) bt A Rozner (Fra) 3&2
G Forrest (Craigielaw) bt G Marchbank (Thornhill) at 20th
J McDonald (Kilmarnock (Barassie)) bt S Towndrow (Southport & Ainsdale) 6&5
R Langasque (Fra) bt R Sciot-Siegrist (Fra) two holes
Forrest bt Daydou 3&2
Langasque bt McDonald at 19th