Golf Open Championship: Gareth Wright gears up

Muirfield.   Picture: Ian Rutherford
Muirfield. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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GARETH WRIGHT is hoping to have some Muirfield members cheering him on in next week’s Open Championship in East Lothian.

The 31-year-old can rely on a sizeable contingent of West Linton members heading down the coast, having played out of there since he moved to Edinburgh nearly 17 years ago.

But Wright revealed he also has a strong connection with the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers through his stepdad Ian, the West Linton pro.

“Muirfield is like a second golfing home for me,” he told the Edinburgh Evening News. “My stepdad, Ian, coaches maybe 15-20 members and I’ve been down there quite a bit playing with some of his pupils.

“I know the course and it’s one I really like. It will also be nice to play in such a big tournament while still staying at home.”

Wright secured his spot in the 142nd staging of golf’s oldest major through last week’s qualifier at North Berwick.

He shot rounds of 69 and 68 before coming through a three-man play off for the final two spots along with Fifer George Murray.

It also involved Irishman David Higgins, but his Open dream turned into a nightmare when he discovered 15 clubs in his bag and was hit with a two-shot penalty.

“I felt for David,” admitted Wright, who had birdied his final two holes to get into the nerve-jangling shoot-out.

“It’s not a nice thing to happen to anyone especially a nice guy like him.

“But it was nice to know that I’d have gone through even without that happening as I birdied the first hole in the play-off.

“I’d played in final qualifying only twice before – in 2005 then last year – so it was nice to make it third-time lucky.

“I knew all the courses well this time and thought either North Berwick or Gullane would be best for me. I was pleased to get North Berwick and, happily, I was proved right.

“I was delighted to come through and can’t wait for 
next week to come around.”

Wright is getting some links practice this week up in the Highlands – but not in the Scottish Open at Castle Stuart.

“I’m playing in the EuroPro Tour up at Lossiemouth, which was in my schedule anyway, and is even better for me now as it means I’ll get some links golf the week before The Open,” he said.

“I enjoy playing links golf, having grown up playing that type of golf. I’ll be back on Friday night then probably head down to Muirfield on Sunday.”

Wright is “100 per cent Welsh”, having represented the principality as an amateur, including the Eisenhower Trophy.

But, having lived in Edinburgh nearly half of his life, he is willing to play along with the suggestion that Scotland will have ten-and-half players in next week’s event.

“It is a home tournament for me and I’m probably an 
adopted Scot these days what with my wife being Scottish and helping Scotland win the PGAs of Europe Team Championship last year,” said the 
Tartan Tour star.

“I’m Welsh, but I’m probably as close to being Scottish as you can get after living up here now for close to 17 years.

“This particular Open is the one I really wanted to play in and competing in events like the Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles and the PGA Championship at Wentworth in recent years is invaluable.

“I know this is going up to a different level, but knowing the golf course and also being able to stay at home means I can keep things as normal as they can be for such a big event.

“I’ll try and keep my practice the same because when you start changing things is when things can start going wrong.

“My phone was going non-stop after I’d qualified. There are quite a few members down supporting me at North Berwick and I’d imagine there will be even more at Muirfield.

“It’s nice for me to feel as though I’m giving something back as the club has been 
good to me over the years. Ian Rowlands, my step cousin, caddied for me in final qualifying and he knows my game pretty well so it will either be him or Scott Walker on the bag next week.”

Wright won the British Club Pros’ Championship last year and has qualified for the Great Britain & Ireland team to take on the Americans in the PGA Cup at Slaley Hall later this 
season.

“Playing in the PGA Scottish Region has helped my game, as is working because it means I’ve had to structure my practice,” he said. “If you are patient, do things correctly and go through the processes, it can pay off for you. I’ve probably not had the results I’d have liked this year but I’ve been playing nicely.

“Teeing up in your first 
major is a massive thing. The first thing is to try and make the cut and if I’m down there and can get comfy then that could be achieveable.”