The 149th Open: Bairstow ready to fly flag for England Golf at St George’s

Sam Bairstow has admitted sharing this week’s Open experience with his friends and family will mean the world to him.

The England men’s squad player is ready to take on the biggest challenge of his career to date when he pegs it up on Thursday in the 149th Open Championship at Royal St George’s.

The Yorkshireman battled through final qualifying at St Annes Old Links to take his place in the 156-man field.

A course record 63 and a second round 69 booked his slot where he will also be joined alongside the world’s elite by England team-mate and 2020 Amateur Champion Joe Long.

For Bairstow, the chance to play in the world’s greatest golf championship is the realisation of a dream that was sparked when he attended two Opens as a kid and set his mind on becoming a top golfer.

Speaking on the England Golf podcast, Bairstow said: “It feels amazing to come through qualifying the way I did. I’m proud of what I’ve done.

“I’ve seen some stuff on social media about the stands and a video of the greenkeeper rolling the first tee at St George’s. I’m sure I’ll do some damage to it with a divot!

“It will be special walking up 18 on my first practice round even with no fans there – just to feel what it’s like and then when the fans get there it will be really good.”

Bairstow – a member at Hallowes Golf Club – was taken to the 2014 Open at Royal Liverpool by his grandma. He also attended the 2017 championship at Royal Birkdale.

Those were special moments and he hopes to share another memory with his gran this week.

When asked about his Open memories, he recalled: “Probably Rory at Hoylake – that’s the first one I properly remember.

“That was the first one I went to and I saw Tiger and Rory when he won it.

“Then Spieth winning at Birkdale….the atmosphere is always really good, it might be a bit different this year but the atmosphere is really good at The Open.

“My grandma took me to my first Open. She played golf when she was younger and she text me after qualifying to say I remember taking you to Hoylake for The Open and now you’re playing in it!

“That was special.

“She is going to try and get down to watch me – she’s not been too well, but hopefully she can make it down.”

Last week Bairstow was at the National Golf Centre at Woodhall Spa to work on his game with the England coaches and staff.

He enjoyed lessons from Graham Walker, renowned short game expert and part of Tommy Fleetwood’s coaching team.

Back in 1982 Walker (pictured below with Bairstow and Callan Barrow) played in The Open at Troon and recalled being so nervous on the first hole that he felt sure he was going to whiff the tee shot.

“Don’t remind me of it!”, joked Bairstow.

“Usually, I’m not bad. I’ll be nervous on the first tee.

“But I’m used to it playing in British Ams and even the Open qualifying with the second round first tee shot.

“I’ll try and make contact and see where it goes.”

Each competitor gets access to weekly passes for The Open and Bairstow has become the most popular man in Sheffield!

“I didn’t know I had so many friends,” he added.

“My mum and dad and my girlfriend and her family will be down and as the week goes on my friends and people from the club who have supported me will be there.

“It will be nice on the first tee to have people I don’t know and then see some familiar faces.

“It might help to calm me down a bit – hopefully.”

Bairstow has grown to love links golf in recent years having enjoyed more and more exposure to the purest form of the game.

A recent spell in Scotland has helped him sharpen his game.

“I qualified at a links course and have been in Scotland for four weeks playing links golf and I really enjoy it,” said Bairstow.

“Last year and the year before I wasn’t the biggest fan and now I accept the challenge of it. See what weather you get and deal with it.”

Bairstow accepts he will not be fancied by many to even make the cut this week – such is the difficulty of playing the Open as a young amateur.

But there are instances of English amateurs coping well with the pressure such as Justin Rose in 1998 at Birkdale, Matt Fitzpatrick at Muirfield in 2013 and Tom Lewis at St George’s in 2011.

Bairstow goes in with a positive frame of mind.

He said: “I have been speaking about this with my swing coach and Graham. If you see it as an experience it will be an experience.

“If I think about making the cut, I might be lingering about there all week.

“I’m just going to go and treat it as a normal golf tournament. If I had a normal tournament at St George’s then I’d be trying to win it so I’m just going to go and play good golf.

“The Open is my favourite major because of what it is and the history. I’ve never played Royal St George’s, it’s a good course and I’ll see for myself when I get there.

“I spoke to Graham about it and had some advice. I’ve spoken to Pete Cowen (Tour coach) a bit to hear what he thinks about it.

“When I get there, I’ll be trying to get as much advice as possible, I think.”

Bairstow – as as well as Long – are fine representatives for England Golf and the Yorkshireman acknowledges the part the national set-up has played in his development.

“It shows the work they do during weeks at Woodhall Spa, with all the top class coaching, does work,” confirmed Bairstow.

To follow the scores and stories from the 149th Open Championship check out the championship website.