SOME players are like rabbits caught in headlights when they step into the Open arena.
Elliot Saltman isn’t one of them, the big Scot looking every bit as
relaxed yesterday as the host of big names going through their routines on the practice range
He’s not been scared either to go out on the course with some of them. On Tuesday, his playing partners were Geoff Ogilvy, the former US Open champion, and his fellow Australian Adam Scott. Yesterday, it was Ben Curtis, the 2003 champion, and Swede Alexander Noren, a three-time European Tour winner.
Scott’s caddie these days is Steve Williams, the man who was Tiger Woods’ trusty bagman for so long. He was sufficiently impressed with Saltman’s performance that he hinted a visit to a local bookmaker might be in the offing to take the 750-1 on offer for the Scot in the betting.
“Steve Williams is a great guy,” said Saltman, who qualified along with his brother, Lloyd, at Turnberry three years ago and came through the same mad scramble for places again last month to earn his spot here. “To be paired with the world’s best caddie and some of the world’s best players is a dream come true.
“And I feel I belong here. The compliments I was getting from the two guys yesterday were unbelievable. Steve Williams says he fancies putting a bet on me, I was hitting it so well, and Adam Scott said I should do well. That raises your confidence coming into the week.
“Its nice to hear it from guys who you look up to. And caddies don’t throw their money away – they’re miserable – so I believe Steve when he says I’m playing well.”
Some recent results would also point to that being the case. Playing a mixture of events on the Challenge Tour and PGA EuroPro Tour this season after losing his card for the European Tour at the end of last season, the 30-year-old shot a ten-under-par 61 (beating the record held by Colin Montgomerie) at Fota Island in winning the Audi Cork Irish Masters.
But playing in third-tier events isn’t what Saltman, who served a three-month ban last year for wrongly replacing his ball in a Challenge Tour event in Russia, wants. He wants that place at the top table back and this week is whetting his appetite. “You can get caught up in all the hype, standing on the range looking at all the famous players, being overwhelmed by everything,” he added.
“But the experience of last year [on the main Tour] means I do feel comfortable here, I do feel I can compete with the best and there is every chance of me doing well. I know, deep down in my heart, that I deserve to be here.
“After missing my card last year and going back to the EuroPro Tour, it’s very disheartening. It puts you back to square one. But getting knocked back makes you a stronger person. It makes you appreciate what you have. I’ve let it go once – I’m not going to let it go again.”
Lytham isn’t new territory for him. As an amateur, he played in the Lytham Trophy, which Lloyd won in 2007 – two years after he’d picked up the Silver Medal as leading amateur at St Andrews. “Unfortunately, Lloyd couldn’t be here but I’ve been speaking to him every night – he’s a bit jealous,” said Saltman, who has the third of the golfing siblings, Zack, as his caddie. “He was meant to be playing Europro this week but he couldn’t resist.”
In 2009, Elliot and Lloyd held a press conference in the Media Centre at Turnberry and attracted plenty of attention. Looking back, Elliot admits it was one of the reasons he missed the cut, as Lloyd did. “I got caught up in the moment at Turnberry,” he said. “Not only was it The Open, it was my first European Tour event. So first major, first Tour event – I got caught up in seeing it all, getting shoes, everything else.
“Now, because I’ve experienced it, I feel that I’ve retuned the game more. I don’t just want to compete but to contend. I want to be up there with the very best – and I feel I’m very capable of it. The only thing holding you back is the space between your two ears.”
Saltman was working with Bob Torrance the last time he stepped on this stage but is now with Kevin Craggs, who also coaches Catriona Matthew. “I changed coach at the start of the year. I just felt I wanted to do more on the course and, with Bob being the age he is (80), that would have been difficult.
“It was very sad because he was a grandfather figure for me. But I had to judge it from my golf side. As I progressed up the ladder, I needed to change. But I told Kevin that the stuff I’d been working on with Bob was the stuff I believe in and Kevin’s methods were pretty much exactly the same.”