Thursday, July 01, 2010

Chad Conine is a sportswriter from Texas who spent the summer in Scotland and the town of St. Andrews. He chronicled his golf adventures before this year's British Open, held at the Old Course July 15-18.KINGSBARNS, Scotland — The game of golf will at times turn on a player without warning. Anyone who's ever spent a Sunday afternoon watching the final round of a major knows that. Anyone who's ever even attempted to break 100 knows that.On Tuesday, it turned on James Byrne, a senior-to-be at Arizona State and a native of Banchory, Scotland. Byrne narrowly missed a berth in The Open Championship when he lost in the final match of the British Amateur to Jin Jeong of South Korea less than two weeks ago at Muirfield. Then Byrne seemed to have a pretty good shot of earning that elusive entry when he shot 8-under-par 64 through the first 18 holes of the 36-hole Local Final Qualifying tournament on Tuesday at Kingsbarns Golf Links.There were four Local Final Qualifying sites within a half hour's drive of St. Andrews on Tuesday — The Fairmont, Kingsbarns, Scotscraig and Ladybank. At each venue, 72 golfers played for 3 Open qualifying spots. Not top 3 and ties, the top 3 to be decided, if needed, by potentially heartbreaking playoffs.And since I've already mentioned that golf can turn on a player, there's probably not much mystery about where this is going. I arrived at Kingsbarns in time to catch Byrne from the start of his second round, which began on the 10th tee. By the time I left the course three hours later — I had plans back in St. Andrews — Byrne was hanging in there through 11 holes of his second round of the day, but his chances of teeing it up in The Open in a couple of weeks at The Old Course seemed far more tenuous.Dressed in a hot pink golf shirt with white trousers and a white belt, Byrne seemed confident and unconcerned as he bogeyed the par-4 10th hole at Kingsbarns to start his second round. There were a lot of holes to play and, theoretically, a lot of birdies to be made. In the morning round, Byrne eagled 12 and birdied 14 and 16. So there really wasn't any reason for him to panic as he set out on the back nine.Then he went on a streak of tapping in for easy pars on the 11th, 12th, 13th, 14th, 15th and 16th. Obviously, there are two ways to look at such a run. On one hand, he was making pars, which is a pretty good habit for a golfer who has established a 3-stroke lead through 18 holes of a 36-hole tournament. On the other hand, well as we say in West Texas, you gotta make hay while the sun is shining."It was like target golf in the morning and I could have shot 61 as I missed three putts inside eight feet," Byrne told The Scotsman newspaper. "I had five eagle putts from close range and missed one from ten feet at the 16th to go to 10-under before bogeying the 17th."So Byrne's day went from just missing eagle putts to tapping in for pars and then to facing knee-knockers for pars. He bogeyed 17 and 18 during the second round to finish his first nine holes at 3-over. I headed back to St. Andrews having seen Byrne straighten out with easy pars on the par-4 No.1 and par-3 No. 2, but his roller-coaster round was about to get crazy. Birdies at the par-5 third hole and the par-4 fourth put him back in good shape. However a gut-wrenching 7 at the 424-yard par-4 fifth hole put his Open chances back in serious peril.At the end of the day, after four golfers including Byrne carded 4-under to tie for second, the Sun Devil golfer finished third in a four-for-two-spots playoff.But Byrne wasn't alone in his disappointment. Actually, three Scotsmen were among a total of 11 golfers who tied for qualifying spots at the Local Final Qualifying venues. At Scotscraig, Lloyd Saltman tied for second with two others, and Callum Macaulay tied with three others for third place at Ladybank. The chances of at least one of those guys making it through seemed like a lock, but sadly none of the three Scotsmen had successful playoffs and, even worse, they watched five Englishmen scurry through in their places.Obviously, not everyone went home wondering "what if" on Tuesday. Paul Streeter of Lincoln, England, earned an Open Championship tee time by winning the qualifier at Scotscraig at 5-under.“I went to look at the Old Course yesterday and it brought a lump to my throat,” Streeter said in an article published on The Open Championship's official Web site. “It will be a dream to play there.”As for Byrne, his dad told me he just missed qualifying for The Open in Local Final Qualifying a year ago. It's got be tough to be so close so many times. But here's betting we haven't heard the last from Byrne. He's currently No. 17 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking and still has a year left at Arizona State. Maybe 2011 is his year.

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