Marcus realises dream

MARCUS Armitage may never have played in the Open at Carnoustie without the help of a member from Saddleworth Golf Club.

Alan Squires, a scratch player for a remarkable 46 years, helped mentor and tutor the teenage Armitage who finally made it though to a major at the age of 31.

CARNOUSTIE, SCOTLAND – JULY 19: Marcus Armitage of England plays his shot from the 13th tee during round one of the 147th Open Championship at Carnoustie Golf Club on July 19, 2018 in Carnoustie, Scotland. (Photo by Ross Kinnaird)

Squires, 69, the former England amateur international, quickly realised Armitage was destined for great things.

“I played a lot of golf with Marcus when we were members at Oldham. And aged 14 he was hitting shots I had never seen anybody so young doing. You could see he was something special,” explained Moorside-based Squires.

Squires explained how focused and driven Armitage was to reach the top.

He said: “Marcus was always a confident young lad.

“He was only aged 12/13 when he arrived at Oldham and went to the pro shop who was the best player at the club.

“When he found out it was me, he kept on and on badgering me to teach him what I knew and to play golf with him.”

Armitage has always been appreciative of the time he spent with Squires who won the English Seniors’ Championship three years in a row between 2010 and 21.

He said: “Alan was a massive guidance to me as a kid. I never had any lessons, but he showed me so much when we on the golf course together.

“He never spoke much, but I learned from watching how he hit shots and I made pictures in my head.

“The problem when you have lessons is the professional tells you what to do which has never been for me.

“I simply wanted to ask what I wanted to know and play golf.”

Though the pair lost contact after Armitage left to join Manchester and Howley Hall, Leeds, the pair were reunited through Facebook a couple of years ago.

Though Armitage won a European Tour card in 2017 and currently competes on the Challenge Tour, he still visits Saddleworth to play 18 holes with Squires.

“I always have time for Alan who is great company,” said Armitage.

“He loves golf and I love it, too, and it is great we are back in touch.”

Squires added it was indicative of Armitage’s confidence that he practised with Rory McIlroy and Tommy Fleetwood at Carnoustie before the Open.

He said: “You can put your name on the board to practise with anybody and it was typical of Marcus that he picked McIlroy and Fleetwood.

“On his second practice round he went for top Americans Jason Duffner and Ricky Fowler (they declined his request).”

Squires, who played in the Open at Birkdale in 1976 as an amateur, recalled his own experiences.

“I was green as I didn’t go to Birkdale for a practice round beforehand. I didn’t milk it like Marcus did,” he said, adding it is highly unusual for two players from the same club to have played in the Open.

Armitage had to come through local and regional and final qualifiers – only the top three made Carnoustie from his final even at St Anne’s Old Links.

“Marcus shot 10 under par over two rounds (65 and 69) and with only three to qualify that was the toughest part. Everything else was a bonus,” explained Squires.

Armitage added he almost never made it to Carnoustie after dislocating his shoulder four days after qualifying for the Open at an indoor sky diving session – he had been trying since becoming a scratch player aged 16, having made final qualifying eight or nine times.

He said: “It was a Christmas present, but I ended up dislocating my shoulder and a specialist told me I would be out until the end of the season.

“Having worked so hard to finally make it to the Open – I was buzzing – I couldn’t believe what happened.

“I couldn’t move my arm for a week and was told I need an operation to repair torn and damaged ligaments.”

Armitage received treatment from top physios sufficiently to make it to Carnoustie, though he says he was far from fully fit.

“I couldn’t have a full back swing – it was only about half. Normally I would hit a drive 285-300yds, but I was only able to hit it 240,” he explained.

After shooting a disappointing nine-over-par 80 in the opening round – he hit his opening tee shot out of bounds – Armitage came good in the second round shooting a two-under-par 69.

Though his seven-over-par 149 failed to make the cut, Armitage still managed to finish ahead of five former champions, Ernie Els, Mark Calcavecchia, Padraig Harrington, Darren Clarke and Sandy Lyle, the latter in his final Open.

He was also in front of top American players Jimmy Walker and Brandt Snedeker along with Ryder Cup man Ian Poulter.

Armitage, looking back, said: “I didn’t know what to expect and get caught up with it in the opening round.

“I hit my opening tee shot into the water and was playing three off the team.

“I scored a bogey that was a birdie with the second ball.

“I believe had I been on my game I would have shot 75 instead of 80. In the second round, though, I putted unbelievably well – 22 putts – in my 69 when conditions were a lot easier.”

Armitage added through he had played in front of large galleries on the European Tour, they were not on the scale on playing in his first major.

That was something endorsed by Squires who said: “If somebody had asked me to sign and turn pro after competing at Birkdale, I would have done.

“I was aged 25 and, though I went on to achieve great successes as an amateur, everything after competing at the Open was a damp squib.

“It is like a footballer playing at Wembley which is the pinnacle.

Looking ahead, Armitage says his immediate target is to try to regain a European Tour card, either through a top 15 finish on the Challenge Tour or through Tour School.

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