Open qualifier Jamie McLeary hails Lothians pros

Jamie McLeary at Gailes Links. Picture: SNS

Jamie McLeary at Gailes Links. Picture: SNS

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Jamie McLeary reckons a whole host of Lothians professionals have played a part in his Open dream coming true.

One of seven Scots who will tee up at Hoylake in a fortnight’s time after coming through Tuesday’s final qualifying in Ayrshire, the 33-year-old lives in Bonnyrigg.

“I mostly play at either Longniddry or Dalmahoy,” said McLeary as he savoured the prospect of competing in his first major. “I know most of the pros in the Lothians, though, so in the winter I can phone up and ask for a game and they are always accommodating.”

McLeary set a new course record at Gailes Links with an eight-under-par 63 – four shots less than the previous best off its back tees.

He followed that with a 71 to finish second behind former World Cup winner Marc Warren, while Braids Hill-attached Paul McKechnie claimed the other spot in a play-off.

It was a welcome return to form for McLeary after missing eight straight cuts on the European Tour. But the former Scottish Hydro Challenge winner says there is still room for improvement.

“I pulled out of this week’s French Open due to the fact I’ve been playing terrible and I didn’t want to go to Le Golf National – one of the toughest courses on Tour – playing badly,” he said.

“I thought it was better to spend some time working on my game and, to be honest, there’s still some things I need to fix.

“That’s what I’ll be doing for the rest of this week and my mate, Duncan Stewart, has been good enough to lend me his Trackman. When you are playing event after event, as has been the case with me due to not getting my season off to a good start, you don’t get a lot of time to practise.

“I was on the range alongside Henrik Stenson the other day. He plays nowhere near as many events as I do and you can see it in his swing.

“He comes to an event pretty much prepared, whereas I’ve been feeling unprepared.”

Tuesday’s success has teed up a dream double for McLeary, who is certain to come off the reserve list to secure a spot in next week’s Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open at Royal Aberdeen.

“It’s great because I grew up playing on links courses so even if play average, I can maybe still have a chance of doing well.

“If I can get my game in really good shape, though, I can give it a good run in both events.”

The latter, of course, will see Tiger Woods make his first major appearance of the season after missing both The Masters and US Open as he recovered from back surgery.

McLeary is excited that he has earned the chance to play in the same event as Jason Dufner, the laid-back USPGA champion.

“He’s my hero,” declared last year’s East Alliance champion. “I hit balls beside him in Doha earlier in the year and he’s the coolest guy in the world.

“Technically, I think he’s got the best swing. It’s like Ben Hogan’s without the power.”