Double delight for Craig Lee as amateurs shine in Open qualifying

Craig Lee progressed in the Open qualifier at Panmure. Picture: Getty
Craig Lee progressed in the Open qualifier at Panmure. Picture: Getty
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“Maybe a little life in this old dog yet,” said Craig Lee with a chuckle as he reflected on a successful day, having passed the regional qualifying test for the 148th Open Championship as it was also confirmed that he had secured a captain’s pick for the PGA Cup.

On a day when a number of Scottish amateurs shone as they bid to follow in the footsteps of Sam Locke, last year’s Silver Medal winner at Carnoustie, it was mission accomplished by Lee at 
Panmure.

In testing conditions that led to no player in the field breaking par, a solid one-over-par 71 secured one of ten spots up for grabs as the former European Tour card holder continued an encouraging comeback after taking some time out from the game last year.

This effort, after all, came on the back of him finishing third behind fellow 
Scot Alastair Forsyth in last week’s PGA Professional Championship at Hunstanton in Norfolk, a performance that has earned Lee a sole captain’s pick for the PGA Cup in Texas in September.

The Stirling man narrowly
missed out on automatic selection along with Forsyth and Paul O’Hara, but Cameron Clark has jumped at the chance to have the experienced campaigner in his side as Great Britain & Ireland bid for a hat-trick of wins over the Americans in the biennial match.

“One of my goals this year was to make the PGA Cup team and I fell just shy with my own score at Hunstanton during the Titleist & FootJoy PGA Professional Championship,” said Lee. “But I’m delighted that I’ve been given the opportunity to play for Great Britain & Ireland in America and I’m really looking 
forward to it.

“To be given the wild card is a privilege and an honour. I’ve been over in America once when I played in Arizona, so I’ve got a good track record and I’m looking forward to going back out to the States.”

It’s a trip to Fairmont St Andrews next Tuesday first, though, for Open final qualifying and Lee is looking forward to that task, even though only three spots will be up for grabs in the main event as it is held at Royal Portrush for the first time since 1951.

“It was almost the toughest conditions we could have played golf in today,” he added. “I was very aggressive off the tee today but I had a good day with the driver and that made life a little easier but only a little. The main goal was obviously to get to next stage, so job done.”

Forres amateur Jeff Wright shared top spot at the Angus venue with Alva professional Lawrence Allan and Swede Anton Hansson as they all carded 70s, with another amateur, Tantallon’s Richard Gill, finishing alongside both Lee and former South African Amateur champion Daniel Young in joint fourth.

Paul McKechnie, who came through qualifying to play in the 2014 event at Royal Liverpool, also progressed, as did fellow pros Peter Whiteford and Conor O’Neil, who lived to fight another day despite taking two double-bogeys in the last three holes, as well as Murrayfield amateur Alastair Thurlow.

Adding to a successful day for amateur hopefuls, Liberton’s Kieran Cantley led seven players to progress at Goswick, near Berwick-upon-Tweed, with a seven-under-par 65, beating Dunbar-attached Neil Fenwick by a shot in a Scottish 1-2 at the Northumberland venue.

“I would definitely say that I feel inspired by what Sam achieved in last year’s Open,” admitted 21-year-old Cantley of Locke’s amateur dramatics at Carnoustie. “I have played with him a lot and you definitely think to yourself, ‘if he can do something like that, then so can I’.”

At other venues, Ryan Lumsden passed the test at Burhill in Surrey as he bids to repeat his success in qualifying for last year’s US Open at Shinnecock Hills while two other Scots, Nicholas Peoples and Craig Sutherland, made it through at Fairhaven and 
Wildernesse respectively.