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Senior Open Championship

Senior Open Championship

Rubenstein: Keir Smith at Senior Open Championship Add to ...

Two weeks ago I played nine holes with Keir Smith at the National Golf Club of Canada in Woodbridge, Ont. Adam Brown, the National’s congenial director of golf, joined us. I’d played with Keir before and had been impressed with his swing and his demeanour. Now a senior professional, he plays and practices at the National. Keir joined our group on the back nine, and he hit all kinds of solid shots. He moved the ball whatever way he wanted, right to left, left to right, high, low. His swing is smooth and it’s powerful.

Keir told me then that he was leaving soon to play golf in the U.K., along with his father. His ultimate goal was to qualify for the Senior Open Championship that begins Thursday at the Royal Birkdale Golf Club in Southport, Eng. It’s known in North America as the Senior British Open Championship. I was pleased to learn that Keir qualified for the Senior Open at the Southport and Ainsdale links in the area. That’s a terrific accomplishment on its own, and Wednesday, on the eve of the RBC Canadian Open at the Glen Abbey Golf Club in Oakville, Ont., I thought I’d focus for a moment on Keir’s experience so far in England. He joins his fellow Canadians Philip Jonas, Jim Rutledge, Ken Tarling, and Rod Spittle at Royal Birkdale. Good for them all.

Here’s what Keir wrote to me in an e-mail Wednesday. His words say it best.

My Dad and I are shaking our head at the non-stop moments at Royal Birkdale...chatting with a most gracious Colin Montgomerie, shuttling down to the range with Tom Kite, hitting balls quietly in front of a couple hundred people when Mr. {Tom} Watson comes and sets up right behind me (name plates on the range of course).

I mean wow, for a back shop kid from Beach Grove Golf Club in Tsawwassen B.C. who wanted to try and be as good as Jim Rutledge, Richard Zokol, Rick Gibson, Dave Barr to signing autographs for kids who will dream the same dreams as I did, this is very, very gratifying and so inspiring.

I think back to Dunc Sutherland, the old Scottish pro who always checked my notoriously strong grip at "The Grove", I think of Sid Dahl, the Head Pro at the club, a prince of a man who always supported me and believed in my game, far more than I did...I think of Adam Brown and Laurie Buckland (the wonderfully generous and warm-hearted pro at Wooden Sticks Golf Club in Uxbridge, Ont. who passed away in January) whose lessons of kindness and caring of others has helped balance my life.

I could go on and on and this experience just validates all the hours I have spent at clubs almost every single day since I turned 12 and was finally able to apply for junior membership!

The trip started with a three-day mini-tour event in Bristol on the senior golf circuit, which is a 48, and over tour that tries to provide a competitive option around the European Senior Tour. I won the biggest event on their schedule in January in Portugal leading up to the EST tour school. I was happy to play in Bristol as I gained valuable experience. The weather has been so hot and dry that I was hitting 6-irons 220 yards and finding gorse and fescue that could and should have been avoided with a better game plan, so after 73, 73, 72 and a small cheque I went to my qualifying site with a disciplined game plan and an attitude of not just trying to qualify but trying to win the qualifier.

I did not want to go through the playoff situation I did in Flint, Michigan for the U.S. Senior Open a few weeks back. I lipped out on 18, tied with three others at 70 and quickly bowed out of the playoff on the first extra hole. I played Southport and Ainsdale, a demanding hard and fast track with roughly 140 well-positioned and penal bunkers. There were 124 qualifiers. I had an early time and played flawlessly tee to green. I avoided every bunker, hit 17 greens, and had two kick-in birdies early and a sole three-putt for a nice tidy 71. I knew that score would hold up for perhaps 4th or 5th. In the end, the course firmed up and I was co-medalist and earned a spot in the Open! To have my Dad here and to see his excitement as I experience this is beyond words.

I followed Ken Tarling who was in a six-man playoff for three spots. I was more nervous for him then I was during my own round, Ken has been another mentor during my 20 years in Ontario and before that on the Canadian Tour. He has lost two playoffs previously to get into a senior major, so to see him cozy a couple of solid pars as the others scrambled and to see him raise his arms in triumph was very emotional. Ken hired me as an assistant at Donalda in 2001 when I was stuck for a job.

Ken immediately arranged for his son Kevin to fly over and caddie and I saw Kevin today with a huge smile on his face. Kevin is in the PGA of Ontario, working at the Granite Club and has the best role model in his dad in terms of an all-around golf professional: an honest, tough, tenacious competitor, great teacher and a real student of the game.

I was joined on 10 today by Joe Daley, whose story began in Canada. He loves our country and tour and his journeyman story is unreal. A putt popped out of the last hole at tour school that kept him out of the PGA Tour. He grinded out a card years later, and then won a major on the Champions Tour. Chatting with him was also inspiring.

My first round is at 10:20 local time with Dr. Dirt (Brad Bryant) and Andrew Oldcorn, right behind the Walrus (Craig Stadler) etc. What a trip, and it’s just starting.

In ending, I want to talk about The National, and the support from its members. A member passed the hat for a contribution that turned into a sum that helped so much, and a smaller group of members stepped up, which enabled me to try to qualify the past two years in Portugal for the European Senior Tour. Without this experience, I would not have been able to believe maybe I could pull this off. The National is relentless, demanding, and cruel, just like Birkdale. It’s great preparation for any test in golf. I will try and get Mr. Watson to reminisce a bit about his experience at The National (when he finished third in the 1979 CPGA Championship there).

Good luck, Keir, and the same to your fellow Canadians at Birkdale.

RELATED LINK: More blogs from Lorne Rubenstein

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Lorne Rubenstein has written a golf column for The Globe and Mail since 1980. He has played golf since the early 1960s and was the Royal Canadian Golf Association’s first curator of its museum and library at the Glen Abbey Golf Club in Oakville, Ontario and the first editor of Score, Canada’s Golf Magazine, where he continues to write a column and features. He has won four first-place awards from the Golf Writers Association of America, one National Magazine Award in Canada, and he won the award for the best feature in 2009 from the Golf Journalists Association of Canada. Lorne has written 12 books, including Mike Weir: The Road to the Masters (2003); A Disorderly Compendium of Golf, with Jeff Neuman (2006); This Round’s on Me (2009); and the latest Moe & Me: Encounters with Moe Norman, Golf’s Mysterious Genius (2012). He is a member of the Ontario Golf Hall of Fame and the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame. Lorne can be reached at lornerubenstein@me.com. You can now follow him on Twitter @lornerubenstein

 

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