The PGA will be keeping a diary of events both on and off the course throughout the week at the 146th Open Championship.
The dedication and commitment shown by our 22 PGA Professionals in the Open Swingzone this week is demonstrated by Oliver Barnes.
Despite getting married at the beginning of the month and going away with his wife Victoria on their honeymoon, Oliver made sure he was back in time for what he describes as the biggest event on his calendar.
He was part of a team of 22 PGA Professionals who delivered over 2,000 lessons across seven days here at Royal Birkdale.
You can read more about Oliver's story by clicking here.
Record crowds at Royal Birkdale
This year's Open Championship at Royal Birkdale has attracted record-breaking crowds with 235,000 people attending over the past week, making it the third most attended in Open history.
The figure has surpassed the 230,000 mark set at Royal Liverpool in 2006, making it the largest ever Championship held in England and record advance ticket sales made it the fastest-selling Championship in history.
St Andrews holds the record for the largest ever crowd for an Open Championship with 239,000 watching the action in 2000 and two years ago the event attracted 237,000.
Martin Slumbers, Chief Executive of The R&A, said: “One of the main reasons why The Open is so highly regarded as a world class sporting event is the hundreds of thousands of spectators who generate a very special atmosphere for the players and millions of viewers watching around the world.
“A record-breaking crowd has enjoyed a week of thrilling golf and we thank every single person who has visited Royal Birkdale over the last eight days for making this a very special Championship.”
The Open’s Biggest Attendances:
2000, St Andrews, Scotland: 239,000
2015, St Andrews, Scotland: 237,000
2017, Royal Birkdale, England: 235,000
2006, Royal Liverpool, England: 230,000
2005, St Andrews, Scotland: 223,000
1990, St Andrews, Scotland: 209,000
2014, Royal Liverpool, England: 203,000
2008, Royal Birkdale, England: 201,500
2010, St Andrews, Scotland: 201,000
1998, Royal Birkdale, England: 195,000
Jet to the rescue
While many of the players and spectators were still happily tucked up in bed this morning, both Luke and his pet peregrine falcon Jet were up at the crack of dawn to carry out a very important role here at The Open Championship.
At around 5.30-6am every morning this week, including today on the final day of this year’s event, Jet has been released into the skies.
He has been gliding around the Royal Birkdale course to fend off seagulls and pigeons who could prove to be a nuisance.
Luke kindly brought Jet along to the PGA Swingzone where our PGA Professionals were able to say hello and have their pictures taken.
It’s widely acknowledged that when a bird drops its feces onto your head it brings with it good luck. Those superstious players out there today might be hoping that Jet has left a few birds in the sky to bring them the luck they need to lift the Claret Jug this afternoon.
American Jordan Spieth showed no signs of buckling under pressure on Saturday afternoon as he shot an impressive 65 to stretch his lead to three shots.
The ‘A-list’ of golfers threatened to make their move yesterday with Dustin Johnson (64), defending champions Henrik Stenson (65) and Brendan Grace (62) all closing the gap on Spieth before he teed off.
Matt Kuchar too was hot on his heels after shooting 66, but Spieth flourished in almost perfect conditions and a neat birdie putt on the 18th has set him on course to a first ever Open Championship win today.
“I understand leads can be squandered quickly,” he said. “And I also understand how you can keep on rolling on one.
“It (Augusta last year) was a humbling experience that I thought at the time could serve me well going forward.
“And if I don’t win this time, it has nothing to do with that. It has to do with it was someone else’s day and I didn’t play as well as I should have.”
Move over Paul Broadhurst and tell Sir Nick Faldo the news. Both former Ryder Cup players are among those who can no longer claim to have shot the lowest round in a major championship following Branden Grace’s golfing pyrotechnics at Royal Birkdale.
Grace racked up eight birdies in a bogey-free eight-under-par round of 62 to break a record that, set by Johnny Miller at the US Open in 1973 and subsequently equalled by another 28, had lasted 44 years and was of the longest-standing in sport.
Back in the old routine: Paul Broadhurst, watched by his son and caddy, Sam, gets in some bunker practic ebefore the second round of The Open.
However, Broadhurst, who is coached by Tim Rouse, the head PGA pro at Northants County Golf Club, and was a regular on the PGA Midland circuit until he became eligible to play on the European Senior Tour, can still claim the lowest in a major to par. As can seven others including Gary Player and Rory McIlroy.
Their rounds of 63 were nine-under on par-72 courses, Broadhurst’s coming at St Andrews in 1990.
Refereeing in the rain
It's been a busy few days for referee David Wilson who is enjoying every moment of sharing the fairways and greens here at Royal Birkdale with some of the top names in golf.
He followed Sergio Garcia, Jason Day and Zach Johnson around the course on Thursday, and yesterday he refereed leading amateur Alfie Plant.
"Throughout the week I’ll get the chance to do some actual refereeing myself.
"Walking alongside the players, walking with the group as they go round the 18 holes and trying my best to help them avoid any issues really, that’s the primary reason we’re here.
"We’re not there to penalise or anything like that, we’re there to primarily help and advise where necessary."
Previous winners of the Silver Medal for the leading amateur include the likes of major winners Justin Rose, Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy.
One young player hoping to emulate their success in the future is Alfie Plant.
Cheered on by a sizeable army of fans, Plant, 25, is the last amateur standing in the competition and the cheers from his supporters could be heard all around Royal Birkdale when he eagled the 15th on his way to a four-over total for two rounds.
His score was just enough to make the cut but his performance has not come as a surprise to his PGA Professional coach Warren Wood.
He revealed: “We’ve been planning for this moment for a year. Nothing has been left to chance. We work as a team and every member of his team is interviewed before being appointed. After that they are under pressure to deliver.”
Read more from PGA pro Wood about Alfie Plant by clicking here.
No Pressure for Poulter
He may be the leading British hopeful chasing down a pack of Americans including leader Jordan Spieth, but PGA Professional Ian Poulter is showing no signs of nerves.
Another fine round in tricky conditions saw the Ryder Cup legend finish on 70 today, which keeps him tied in third position on three-under par.
"I'm loving it. I really am," said a confident Poulter. "This is a massive bonus for me to be in this position. I haven't played a major for a little while. And I can't wait.
"I'm excited. I'm pumped up. I feel my game's coming back to form. I'm ready to go out there toe to toe with anyone this weekend.
"The large confidence tank that was empty a few months ago is starting to fill up. And I like it when it gets full up.
"I kind of play -- I play some of my best golf when I'm pretty confident. And I'm excited for this weekend; I can't wait."
Swinging in the rain
The wet weather may have put many spectators off throughout the second day of play here at Royal Birkdale, but come rain or shine our 22 PGA Professionals have continued to provide free lessons to the general public.
Paul Warner has been involved with the Swingzone at The Open since 1998 and he originally got involved to encourage more people to play golf.
He said: "One of the big things about coaching is the satisfaction of seeing people improve. The Swingzone is an idea way to promote the PGA and the game of golf."
Helping other people improve their game in the Swingzone is one of the highlights of the year for Tom Gibbs.
He said: "Being part of the Open from start to finish is amazing, feeling the atmosphere grow throughout the week and getting close to the best players in the world is a fantastic experience."
Denise Hastings added: "The Swingzone at The Open has to be one of the best weeks of the year.
"It's fanstastic seeing lots of people that don't play golf wanting to have a go, and good players who do play a lot wanting to get some help."
The Syme duo of father Stuart and son Connor are normally regular faces in the crowd on the final two days of action at the Open Championship.
They have been attending the event together for over ten years, but this time around they have decided to leave early.
Coached by his PGA professional father, Connor qualified for his first ever appearance at the event here at Royal Birkdale.
He made seven birdies across two rounds but two double bogeys in his opening round and a quadruple bogey at the 12th today ended any hopes of making the cut.
Connor finished on nine over par and is now heading back home to reflect on his performance rather than sticking around.
Stuart said: “He’s obviously disappointed at the moment but after it’s all settled down he’ll be able to look back at this as a great experience.
“It doesn’t feel right sticking around. We have a hotel booked until Sunday but I think we just want to get everything packed into the car and head home!”
Connor has little time to rest. He’s back on his travels on Tuesday as he heads to America where he will be playing a handful of tournaments in Chicago and California.
Memories are made of this
The return of The Open Championship to Royal Birkdale has enabled Tony Coop to take a trip down memory lane.
Coop, the head professional at Dean Wood Golf Club, Lancashire, for 45 years until his retirement in 2010, played in nine Opens.
His appearances spanned 11 years, starting at Royal Lytham St Annes in 1958 and ending at Carnoustie in 1968. He missed out in 1958 and ’64 and only stopped competing because the tournament’s format changed in 1966.
“We played 18 holes on Wednesdays and Thursdays and 36 on the Friday,” explains Coop who has been keeping abreast of this year’s tournament via the TV screens in The PGA Members’ marquee.
“There was no Saturday play in those days. But when the tournament was played over four days and ended on a Saturday, I had to stop because I had to be in my pro shop at the club.”
Inevitably, he has a treasure trove of memories from those years and a fund of stories about playing with Gary Player, Arnold Palmer and Peter Thomson.
Palmer claimed the first of his two Open victories in 1961 and Coop recalls: “It was at Royal Birkdale and I had my highest finish.
“The wind was so strong it blew the tents down but I came 13th and earned £125. It was adifferent world in those days!”
Many of us know what it is like to attend an Open Championship as a spectator, but one person who will be the other side of the rope this week at Royal Birkdale is referee David Wilson.
Wilson has been preparing rigorously for the role and today he was thrown in at the deep end after following non other than current Masters champion Sergio Garcia, former World Number One Jason Day and Zach Johnson.The PGA member currently works full-time for the Golf Union of Wales and is working as a referee for the first time at an Open Championship.
"It’s an incredible experience to be here and to be involved in one of the biggest sporting tournaments of the year," said Wilson.
"It’s a little different to the day job. I can’t wait to be out there over the next four days and experience the unique atmosphere of this event.
"I’ve been at The Open before and sat in the Grandstand before but I’ve never been the other side of the fence.
"The world’s best players are here. It’s going to be an amazing experience, that’s for sure."
The Pluck of the Irish
Philip Ring was presented with the PGA’s Toby Sunderland Award on Wednesday evening.
Ring, who is a corporate account manager at online retailer McGuirks Golf, was given the award on the eve of this year’s Open Championship at Royal Birkdale.
The prestigious PGA Toby Sunderland award is handed out each year to celebrate the many wide-ranging charity achievements by PGA pros across Great Britain and Ireland.
Irishman Ring won it for putting his life on the line as a volunteer coastguard.
Read more about Ring’s story by clicking here.
A family affair
It was a day to remember for the Syme family after amateur Connor made his Open Championship debut.
The 22-year-old has been attending the tournament with his father and coach Stuart for over a decade.
This year, with the help of Stuart who is a PGA Professional, instead of watching from the sides, the role was reversed as his dream of playing in an Open Championship came true on Thursday.
Syme showed no sign of nerves as he went through the opening nine holes level par. A double bogey at the 11th and 16th hampered his progress slightly, but Syme still managed to pick up three birdies on the back nine to finish on a respectable three over par for the tournament.
To find out more about how Stuart Symes helped his son qualify for The Open this year click here.
Pumped up Poulter
Ryder Cup legend Ian Poulter has revealed his confidence is as high as it has been for some time after posting an impressive 67 on the opening day of the 146th Open Championship.
The PGA Professional did hold the clubhouse lead on three-under par for some time after picking up four birdies and just one bogey around the Royal Birkdale course.
Asked if he had found his ‘strut’ again in a press conference earlier, he joked: “I didn't know I was a strutter."
Poulter, who has missed the last five majors, went on to say that he enjoyed playing at Royal Birkdale, a venue he finished runner-up at when The Open was last staged here in 2008.
He added: “The Open Championship is extremely special from a fan perspective and from a player to be clapped on to every single green, it means a lot.
“Players love playing here. They love playing in The Open, and spectators respect that, as well. And they really make you feel great out on the golf course, and I felt that today.
“They definitely gave me a little bit of a buzz. And they gave me a bit of energy on the greens, as well.”
It would be stretching things to say that Jordan Spieth’s starting price of eight to one made him the hot favourite to win The Open. Not so his pre-Championship dinner.
The two-time major winner dined on an Indian takeway from Formby eaterie, Shantii. What’s more the Texan collected and paid for his meal and those of his five-strong party himself as well as leaving a £20 tip.
Relating the unexpected encounter, a member of staff said: “I don’t know much about golf but when I saw the name Spieth on the customer’s American Express card I recognised who it was.”
SOLD OUT. NO VACANCIES. Such phrases are sweet music as far as theatre impresarios and hoteliers are concerned. In which case, how envious must they be of the Swing Zone at the Open Championship.
Three days after this year’s Swing Zone opened for business and two days before the skirmish to claim the Claret Jug began in earnest, ‘sold out – lessons fully booked’ was the message to punters hoping to score a free lesson with a PGA pro. All of which suggests the 22 pros on duty in the R&A’s Swing Zone are going to be busy until the tournament ends on Sunday.
However, all is not lost for those in search of a free lesson to either see what this golf malarkey is all about or polish their skills. A mile or so away in Lord Street, Southport, three PGA pros are doing their bit to make the Summer of Golf project similarly successful.
The trio comprising locally-based Alan Bradshaw, a Swing Zone stalwart for the past 13 years no matter its location, George Scott, who is set to take charge of golf at Milton Abbey School in Dorset, and Jason Dransfield (below), an Assistant pro at nearby Heswall, are all doing their bit to spread the golfing gospel.
A change of scenery
Meanwhile Bubba Watson makes no secret of his affinity for a more conventional gospel – of the biblical kind. There are occasions when Bubba can be anything but conventional, however. Witness his astonishing shot when, seemingly stymied by Augusta’s pine trees in his sudden death play-off with Louis Oosthuizen in 2012, he produced the golfing version of the great escape to win the first of his two Green Jackets.
That penchant for the unconventional resurfaced after the left-hander’s private jet decanted him and his entourage on UK soil on Monday.
Rather than get acquainted with Royal Birkdale, Bubba and Co opted to tackle the course at Formby Ladies Golf Club.
And, by way of adding to the locals’ bemusement at their course being used for practice by a major champion, they were treated to the sight of Watson transporting his clubs on what he described as a ‘pull trolley’ because his caddy wanted to play.
What's in a name?
While Watson attempts to keep a low profile, Open qualifier Joe Dean’s caddy has little choice.
Joe is coached by PGA Master Professional Graham Walker and carrying his bag will be the Sheffield golfer’s longtime girlfriend and county standard golfer, Emily Lyle.
But it’s not Ms Lyle’s gender that is set to create the most attention, it’s her name.
With a name like Lyle, that's maybe no surprise, although she’s not related to former Open and US Masters champion Sandy Lyle.
Nevertheless, it was enough to cause confusion within the walls of the R&A when she applied for accreditation for the tournament as Joe's caddie.
When asked her surname, she told the official "Lyle, L-Y-L-E, as in Sandy Lyle".
So when the name badge came back it read 'EMILY LYLE, Guest of Sandy Lyle'!
It remains to be seen whether Sandy Lyle, who will be playing in his 42nd Open, will be formally introduced to his 'guest' at some point during the week.