Sam Locke, a 19-year-old amateur from Stonehaven, will be teeing it up in the 147th Open Championship at Carnoustie in a fornight’s time after emulating his mentor, Paul Lawrie, by coming through a final qualifier for the event at the Angus venue.
Nineteen years after Lawrie passed the same test at Downfield before going on to get his hands on the Claret Jug, Locke produced a polished performance at The Renaissance Club in East Lothian to come out on top among 72 hopefuls.
Helped by holing out from a greenside bunker for an eagle-2 at the fifth – his 14th – on the second circuit, the current Scottish Amateur champion finished on seven-under after rounds of 69 and 66 in testing bouncy conditions on the Tom Doak-designed course.
He ended up a shot ahead of compatriot Grant Forrest (67-69) as the 25-year-old Challenge Tour player secured his second Open Championship appearance, with the third spot up for grabs being claimed by Thomas Curtis, a 33-year-old English professional, after scores of 68 and 69.
It is unfortunate, of course, that Lawrie will be missing out on a return to Carnoustie after being forced to shut down his season due to persistent back and foot injuries and both Craig, his eldest son, and Sean, his nephew, came up short in their bids to have some sort of family presence.
The two-time Ryder Cup player wasted no time in expressing his delight, though, about Locke’s success in making the line up for the event’s 147th staging after arriving back in Aberdeen following a day out watching the action in East Lothian with his wife, Marian.
Locke’s dad Andrew, a PGA professional, is based at the Paul Lawrie Golf Centre outside Aberdeen, where Locke jnr works in the coffee shop. “I was working yesterday and I’m back at work tomorrow,” he revealed. “I suppose I work for Marian rather than Paul, so I’ll need to ask her for the week off to play at Carnoustie.”
Locke missed out on being selected in Scotland’s six-man side for next week’s European Men’s Team Championship after seeing his game go off the boil in recent months. But he is now back in the form that earned him a 9&8 win over Ryan Lumsden in the final of the Scottish Amateur Championship at Prestwick last summer.
“That [missing the European event] was a disappointment – but this definitely makes up for it,” he declared. “I can’t wait to be playing in the Open. I’ve always wanted to play in that event so, to qualify for it at my first attempt, I’m obviously delighted.
“My form has not been that great recently. I’ve not been playing that bad in my recent events, but couldn’t get anything going on the greens; today was a different story, I guess.
“I was very solid tee-to-green today. And I holed a couple of putts, had a couple of things go my way – like the bunker shot going in for me. I guess you need a couple of things like that to happen, just to get you there.
“I can’t wait for Carnoustie. I played there for the first time about a month ago in an R&A event for patrons – and I shot level-par. I’d take that again!”
Forrest is also relishing his return, having reached the final of the Amateur Championship there in 2015. “I love Carnoustie, it’s one of my favourite courses,” he said. His main target this season is graduating to the European Tour off the Challenge Tour. Lying ninth in the Road to Ras Al Khaimah rankings, he’s on course to achieve that and can strengthen his position in a fortnight’s time.
“The Challenge Tour is what I’m concentrating on, and it’s what my focus is for the rest of the season,” he added. “Carnoustie is a bonus, but, in a new addition this season, 10 per cent of the points [prize-money] in the Open count on the Challenge Tour as well, so that’s good to know.”
Until now, Curtis’s biggest achievement had been winning a par-3 tournament for $20,000 while on his honeymoon in Bermuda in 2015. “This definitely beats that and it is pretty exciting to be playing in an Open Championship at Carnoustie,” he said.
Two-time US Open champion Retief Goosen qualified at Prince’s in Kent, where Lumsden agonisingly missed out as a stirring 68 in the second round left him a spot outside of the qualifying zone.