McNeill will make Open debut in shadow of sister’s death

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George McNeill plans to play in the Open next week despite his sister’s death, which he learned about shortly after he qualified with a second-placed finish in the Greenbrier Classic.

The 38-year-old American produced a stunning nine-under-par 61, including a run of four successive birdie threes followed by a hole in one, to finish as Angel Cabrera’s closest challenger in West Virginia. In a tearful interview afterwards, he revealed the round had been played amid the turmoil of his older sister Michelle’s battle with cancer.

He said: “Sometimes golf doesn’t mean a whole lot. It’s hard.”

After returning to the locker room he discovered that Michelle had died, aged 46, around 20 minutes before he headed on to the course.

“She passed at 11.35 this morning,” he said.

“When I was out there, I had no idea what was going on. But when I talked to (my family, Sunday morning), they said it’s going to happen soon. They said it might be the next couple of minutes, it might be the next couple of hours, but it’s going to happen soon.

“I was out there with that all day. Then when I finished up, I talked to my mom and she told me.”

Prior to his sister’s death, McNeill had already withdrawn from next week’s John Deere Classic to be with his family, but his plans for Hoylake will not be affected.

He said: “To qualify for the Open Championship is an absolute bonus.

“I like links golf but I haven’t played enough of it to know how to play it. I am going to try to get over there a few days early to get used to it and get used to the time change.

“It’s going to mean a lot to me. Playing in major championships is what we are out here for. That is where the game started over there so I am really looking forward to it.”