Birk­dale pro shuts up shop and plays it for real

The Sunday Telegraph - Sport - - Sport - By James Cor­ri­gan

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

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