Golf can be cruel. Just ask Callum Shinkwin. After missing out on a three-year exemption when he let victory in the 2017 Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open slip from his grasp at Dundonald Links, the Englishman no longer holds a European Tour card.
Having lost his playing rights at the end of last season, Shinkwin had to qualify for the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, having done likewise for last week’s Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. He made the cut in that event and has repeated the feat here.
In fact, at 10 under par after rounds of 66 and 68, he’s in the mix at the halfway stage at Emirates Golf Club, just two shots behind leaders Bryson DeChambeau of the US and Australian Lucas Herbert.
“The back nine seemed to be my friend today, as well as yesterday,” said the 25-year-old from Oxfordshire.
He has covered that stretch, admittedly the easier of the two halves on the Majlis Course, in a combined nine under par so far.
Having played imperiously in the final round at Dundonald Links, Shinkwin had one hand on the Scottish Open trophy when he came to the last hole with a one-shot lead. He hammered his drive 325 yards down the fairway, only to take four shots to get down from the side of the green before losing a play-off to Spaniard Rafa Cabrera Bello.
“The Scottish Open was one that definitely got away,” Shinkwin told The Scotsman.
“Ninety-nine per cent of people have said that I should have laid up with my approach at the last. However, everyone in my team said that I had done nothing wrong. I just got unlucky. To have no shot so close to the green is unlikely to happen, really.”
Helped by the cheque for close to £600,000 that he picked up as consolation, Shinkwin finished 40th in the Race to Dubai that season. Last year was a struggle, though. He slipped to 119th on the money list – his best finish was joint ninth in the Italian Open – before failing to get his playing rights back at the Qualifying School in Spain.
Had losing out on the Ayrshire coast perhaps left a mental scar? “Not really,” he insisted. “I just never pushed on. But I’m back playing well again and my aim is to get back to where I was two years ago.”
Also heading into the weekend in touch with the leaders is Ernie Els, the only player to have won this event three times. The 49-year-old carded an eagle and seven birdies in a 65 – his best score on the Majlis Course at Emirates Golf Club since a similar effort in 2008 – to sit just one off the pace.
“I like this place, having had some really great times here,” said the big South African after playing in a “golden oldies” group with Colin Montgomerie and Jose Maria Olazabal for the first two days. “I’m swinging well, my body feels well. I’m going on the memory bank, I guess. Playing with Colin and José was also fun. We’ve done a lot in the game and we had a good couple of chats.”
World No 5 DeChambeau signed for an eagle and seven birdies in a second successive 66 to join Herbert after he’d set the clubhouse target with a nine-under-par 63.
Herbert, a 23-year-old from Melbourne, recorded five top-tens as a rookie on the European Tour last season and has wasted no time in showing he’s determined to kick on this year. He started eagle-birdie-birdie before rolling in 40-footer for birdie at the last.
Two-time winner Stephen Gallacher (72) is four-under, a shot ahead of both Marc Warren (71) and Richie Ramsay (72), but there were early exits for Montgomerie, David Drysdale and Scott Jamieson.