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“Who’s the boy in the blue?”

It was a question that any of the 50-odd crowd could have answered, but it fell on the marshal on the tenth fairway of Dundonald Links.

“That’s Calum Scott,” he said. “Young lad from Nairn. An amateur.”

“How’s he getting on?”

“He’s three-under. In the lead.”

The conversation was out of earshot of the golfer from the north, who was decked out in his national colours, but it didn’t matter. After 27 and a half holes, he knew exactly where he stood in the shootout to reach the 151st Open at Royal Liverpool.

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His quest had started around nine hours earlier at 7.20am. At that time, there were crowds at the Ayrshire venue for Final Qualifying, but they weren’t following Scott.

Instead, golf’s latest fan favourite, Michael Block, was absorbing the galleries. When all was said and done the affable American wasn’t close to achieving his Open dream but that didn’t stop him putting on a show.

When his approach bounded through the first green, the US PGA Championship star fell to his knees in disbelief.

When his approach on the second bounced once and stopped around 40 feet short of the flag, he was flummoxed.

“Where are we playing this, California?” he quipped, just loud enough for his crowd to hear. If he wasn’t going to make the Open, he was at least going to entertain along the way.

As the swell of the so-called Block Party was making its way to the fifth tee, the first tee box was witness to an altogether more sad scene.

Alex del Rey came into today as one of the more experienced players in the field. The Spaniard played in this year’s US Open and would have fancied his chances of making it to the equivalent tournament across the Atlantic.

That hope was all but dashed before he’d even completed his first hole. Two lost balls in the thick rough of the Dundonald Links left del Rey with a tester for an eight. He made it, but it was all in vain. His iron off the second tee found the trees.

In the words of the man himself: “no bueno.”

While there might have been a language barrier between del Rey and others in the field, the rest of his group had no such issues. Joshua Greer and Connor McKinney are good friends. They play out of the same club, Joondalup on the west coast of Australia and they both grew up in Scotland. Coincidence brought them together for Golf’s Longest Day.

Their playing partner’s day was as good as over by 8.40am, before it was definitively over when he left after his first round, but Greer and McKinney would have no such early finish.

The pair both carved out decent rounds in the morning, Greer a 72 and McKinney a 70, to sit 18 good holes away from the Open Championship. An unbelievable prospect to some, but to them, it was just a bounce game with a little more on the line. As comfortable pairings go, this doesn’t get better.

“We’ve played together a million times,” McKinney told me before he went for his lunch. “Just never with a spot in the Open on the line. That’s a little different.”

As the Kirkcaldy born, mullet-bearing pro went for lunch, Calum Scott was getting his afternoon round underway.

Like McKinney, he would only have one other for company in his second attempt at the Ayrshire links. Ryan Dixon was a late addition to the field for Open Qualifying. The man from Hartlepool who is looking to make his way in the pro game replaced Peter Uihlein in the field when the multi-millionaire pulled out the afternoon before things got underway.

Dixon’s first round didn’t go to plan, but that didn’t stop him giving everything in the afternoon.

“If passion and commitment was the mark, he’d be top of the leaderboard,” said his mum, as he grinded over a six-footer to save par.

Meanwhile, Scott was grinding for a place in the Open.

On a day where fortunes can change quickly, the 37th ranked amateur golfer in the world was ever-present at the top of the leaderboard.

With Dundonald’s testing final three holes to play, he was in prime position.

Scott comes from a golf background. His older brother Sandy will be on show at this week’s Made in Himmerland event on the DP World Tour, but it was his father, Alec, who started things off.

A pro golfer himself, Alec watches on as his son rescues a par on the brutal 16th hole.

“Phew. He’s been doing well on the holes with the wind from the right, but when it’s off the left, he’s been struggling a bit.”

Indeed, the par-4 17th is a dogleg from left-to-right and the wind was over Calum’s right shoulder. A booming drive left just a flick of a wedge, which in turn, left around 20 feet for a birdie.

Uncharacteristically, three putts followed.

Scott, who will fancy his chances at this year’s Walker Cup team, needed a birdie at the last to make a playoff. Under normal circumstances that wouldn’t have been a tall ask but understandably, his mind was racing. A par led to a two-under-par total.

“Not good enough,” was the response to seeing his name drop a place on the leaderboard. He was right, his two-under-par total was one shy of the number needed.

“I played some solid golf out there. It was really windy early on and there was some rain too but this afternoon was a grind. I didn’t have my best stuff,” he said.

Calum Scott

“Sadly, I just made a silly mistake towards the end. Towards the end I could feel myself getting tired. I tried to concentrate and focus the best I could. I just wasn’t good enough, so yeah.”

While Scott was preparing to make the long journey back north, McKinney made his way over the front nine at Dundonald.

By this time, he had just about dried out from the biblical rain shower that soaked him as he got his second round underway. During that downpour, he hit probably his worst approach of the day.

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“Come on. Get your shit together,” was his pep-talk to himself and it seemed to work.

By the middle of his back nine, he was the last man still playing from his original three-ball and he was hovering at the three-under-par mark.

Greer too had stopped playing, instead acting as cheerleader to his clubmate, who had joined up with Paul McKechnie for the final few holes of his day.

“I’m knackered,” Greer tells me. “But I think Connor can do it. He’s playing better than his score and he’s made a couple long putts.”

As Greer explains that, McKinney’s ball is tracking towards the hole on his 35th of the day, but it slides by. He cleans up for par and needs another par on the ninth hole to guarantee a playoff.

When he needs it most, however, his driver fails him. “No!” he says, as his ball heads right, giving himself a near impossible angle.

He would do well to get his ball over the green and, mercifully, get up and down for a par. He had posted three-under-par and now it was the waiting game.

The Scot-come-Aussie watched on as Craig Ross left his putt to reach the Open Championship in the jaws of the hole on the ninth green.

McKinney was going to be part of a sudden-death, three for two, playoff to reach his first major.

He’s an endearing character but up against two Scottish players, he might have felt like the crowd was against him. Three pars on the first playoff hole took the trio to the par-3 11th.

Connor McKinney

McKinney’s wedge nestled around 20 feet from the hole on the short par-3 and when Ross’s par attempt from just outside that range missed, he only needed to two putt to book his place. As he had done several times during the day, he rolled in his first attempt.

His birdie-two secured his place alongside Michael Stewart, Marco Penge and, eventually, Graeme Robertson in the  151st Open Championship.

“A lot of people say they’re speechless and now I see where they’re coming from,” McKinney explained.

“I turned pro last November and I’m playing my first major this July. It’s special.

“I ground it out today. There was a lot of adrenaline going but I’ve been playing golf pretty much 12 hours in a row.

“There was times of frustration. I teed it up and it started raining hard in the afternoon, it’s definitely a mental test.

“But, here I am.”

From 72 golfers at Dundonald, most today experienced disappointment. But for some, it was ecstasy.

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Lewis Fraser As bunkered’s Performance Editor, Lewis oversees the content that’s designed to make you a better player. From the latest gear to tuition, nutrition, strategy and more, he’s the man. A graduate of the University of Stirling, Lewis joined bunkered in 2021. Formerly a caddie at Castle Stuart Golf Links, he is a member of Bathgate Golf Club where he plays off four.

Performance Editor

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