Birkdale pro shuts up shop and plays it for real
After working late on Friday night, Gregg Pettersen was granted the morning off so he could enjoy a game of golf, just as long as he promised to be back in the shop in the afternoon.
Nothing unusual there. Except the 38-year-old’s ‘social’ Saturday round happened to be in the 146th Open Championship. Playing as a marker with the South African Shaun Norris, Pettersen reckons he shot a respectable “74 or 75”. Yet he was told not to give up his day job. Not even for the day.
Pettersen is an assistant club pro at Royal Birkdale and was nominated to step in if the cut reduced the field to an odd number of players. Originally from St Helens, Pettersen was on his way to his Southport home when the call came late on Friday that he was required. He had until 9.30am to prepare.
“It was about 9.50pm,” he said. “I had just actually just locked the shop up and was walking back to my car. It was a nice phone call to have. It was just an amazing experience. I’ve been here for 15 years as a professional, so get to play this links obviously quite regularly, but that was different.
“I’ve never played in front of that sort of crowd at all over the years. It’s just been maybe a couple of people spectating. It was a dream come true.”
It had been a long time coming for Pettersen, but should have come to reality nine years ago. In 2008, the last time the Open was held here, he was poised to play but his countryman Phil Archer opted to go out alone. So Pettersen went back to giving lessons and selling clubs and Mars bars in the shop and playing in the regional events. His biggest cheque for playing tournament golf? “About £300,” he said.
But, like every person who has ever picked up a club, he had his fantasies. Pettersen tried to make it into the Open, entering qualifying on a number of occasions but each time coming up short. Then he was summoned and what followed was “my best ever day in golf ”.
“The highlight was getting the first tee shot, although I half expected the stands to be packed on the first tee, but because Tommy [Fleetwood] and Justin [Rose] were in the group directly behind us, I assumed everybody would leave us and go with them,” Pettersen said. “But all the way around we had a lot of spectators. It was surreal.”
It helped that Norris – the world No 274 who has, of late, played so well on the Asian Tour – was performing with such distinction – recording a 65 – but do not underestimate the attraction of seeing an everyman fulfilling his destiny. “There were lots of people wishing me luck,” he said. “There were loads of people I knew but so many others shouting, “come on, Gregg, play well. good shot, make birdie’ It was what I always imagined.”
Alas, nothing lasts forever. “I’ve got to go,” Pettersen said. “They’re expecting me back in the pro shop – and it might be quite busy this afternoon.”
Cap that: Gregg Pettersen acknowledges the fans after his round as a marker