Sam Bairstow: Sheffield amateur in the Open at St Andrews looking to prove he belongs
He wanted to soak up as much of the Open experience as he could, putting his name down alongside the likes of Danny Willett and Lee Westwood on the practice days, before shooting rounds of 75, 72 over the first two days to bow out.
This year, the 23-year-old from Sheffield returns to the Open Championship, still an amateur, but one determined not to just be there for the ride.
“Last year’s Open I used it more as an experience because it’s the biggest tournament in the world,” says Bairstow, at 12, the highest Englishman on the amateur world rankings.
“I tried to play with people I might learn off like Tommy Fleetwood, Westwood, Willett, Viktor Hovland and just saw what they did and took a lot from them.
“This year I’m heading into it thinking about doing well rather than just using the week as an experience.”
As a seasoned amateur and veteran of many a tournament around St Andrews, he is hoping to put that knowledge to good use.
“I know it well and I like it. Hopefully it sets up well for me this week,” says the Hallowes Golf Club member, who won amateur golf’s prestigious Brabazon Trophy last year.
“I think around St Andrews you can be aggressive off pretty much every tee. It’s more of a second-shot golf course, you’ve got to be really accurate going into the greens, knowing where certain pins are, knowing the slopes and where you can still two-putt from if you miss it initially.
“Off the tee, I know everyone says you can hit it left all the way round but to shoot well on that golf course you’ve got to really challenge the right side to give yourself the angles into the pins.”
Bairstow is in the field for the 150th Open after coming through final qualifying for a second successve year.
As any golfer, professional or amateur, will attest, qualifying via a route in which only four players out of a 72-man field are successful requires 36 holes of some of the finest golf they can play.
To have done it in successive years as an amateur, speaks volumes for Bairstow’s talent and mental strength.
“It probably up there with the highest achievement in my amateur career,” the left-hander tells The Yorkshire Post.
“Doing it this year was better than last year because of the standard of the field – there were DP World Tour players playing, there must have been 10 or 12 Challenge Tour players in action.
“To do it against that standard of field was very pleasing.
“It’s funny how golf works like that. It’s almost like it was meant to be. To qualify against a strong field was a great feeling.”
Doing so at St Annes Old Links in Lancashire, where just 10 days earlier he had lost the final of the British Amateur was very satisfying.
“To have come so close to winning the British Amateur, having put in so much time and effort over the week to get there and unfortunately lose hurt a lot,” says Bairstow, who shot 69, 67 to finish join top of the qualifier with Howley Hall’s DP World Tour player Marcus Armitage.
“The thing that hurt the most was missing out on the Open at St Andrews because that’s the one everyone wants to play. So to then qualify made amends and softened the blow somewhat.”
Bairstow, who considers himself a ‘professional amateur’ given how much support he receives from the organisation Golfing4Life and England Golf to play around the world, tees off on Thursday at 11.47am alongside Austria’s Bernd Wiesberger and South Africa’s Christiaan Bezuidenhout.