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Tuesday afternoon, and Alex Smalley is playing The Renaissance Club for the first time. In fact, it’s his first full day in Scotland. You wouldn’t think it.
After a tied for 16th finish at last week’s John Deere Classic, Smalley got the overnight flight to Scotland, a country he’s never visited before. He then went straight to the golf course.
While others might treat a Tuesday evening practice round as a hit-and-giggle, the 25-year-old PGA Tour rookie treats it like a tournament.
Smalley deliberates between clubs on the par-3, 17th. He eventually settles on a 5-iron, which he holds up against the wind, the ball finishing in the middle of the green.
“He’s pretty tired,” his caddie said. “He’s not played in Scotland before, so we’re trying to get as much practice in as we can.”
Alex’s mother has also made the trip.
“It’s his first time in Scotland, so I just hope he enjoys it, and maybe has a good week, too. If it’s really good, we might be extending our stay here.”
Indeed. Currently, Smalley holds the third and final spot to next week’s 150th Open Championship. The top three players not currently exempt will book their spot at St Andrews, assuming they finish in the top-10.
A Saturday 67 has him in a tie for sixth, but with several non-exempt players just a shot behind, Sunday afternoon is set to be a stressful one.
For Smalley, it’s an opportunity he’s relishing. When he spoke to bunkered.co.uk on Wednesday afternoon it was clear, he wants to be in the Home of Golf for as long as possible.
“I’m very excited to be here,” he said. “I remember watching the Scottish Open when I was growing up.
“This is only my second time playing links golf and I think it’s really cool. In the States, everything is through the air. Here, there’s a bunch of different shots you can play, along the ground or in the air.”
It’s not just the style of golf that Smalley is enjoying. While this might be his first time in Scotland, he knows that fans this side of the pond appreciate top level golf, perhaps more than those back home.
“I know people in Scotland are very knowledgeable about their golf,” he explained. “From 200-yards, you hit it to 30-feet, and in the States, nobody claps. You do that here, and people clap.
“It’s not that the American fans are bad, but the spectators over here are great.
“A shot to 30-feet isn’t always a bad shot. It’s something I’m really looking forward to, getting to play in front of the Scottish fans.”
He’s no stranger to the big stage, either. The New York born pro competed in the 2017 US Open and the 2019 Walker Cup. The latter, incidentally, is the only time he’s previously played links golf.
“I like when conditions are a little tougher,” he said. “It separates the field a little better.
“Whenever I’m playing in the States and I see a day when it’s blowing, I get excited. I like playing in the wind because I know I can flight it pretty well.”
Going into the final round of the Genesis Scottish Open, Smalley sits four shots off of Xander Schauffele’s pace. While catching him is a tall order, fending off fellow St Andrews hopefuls is something well within his grasp.
Do that, and it will be at least another seven days before the Smalley family take an overnighter back to home soil.
The bunkered Golf Course Guide - Scotland
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