12 Jul 17
When Connor Syme tees of at the first in the 146th Open Championship at Royal Birkdale next week, there will be a familiar face in the crowd brimming with pride – his father and coach Stuart.
The pair have been watching the greats of the game grace the greens and fairways at Open Championships together for more than a decade.
It is one of the biggest events of the year in the Syme family calendar, and this year’s Open will be even more special as Connor has qualified for the first time in his short career.
It means that, instead of following the likes of Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth in the galleries, Stuart will be able to watch his son play alongside them.
“I can’t wait,” said Stuart, who is the owner of Drumoig Golf Centre, which is located less than eight miles from the Home of Golf, St.Andrews.
"To see that first ball in flight he’s hit in the Open Championship, that’s going to be a big moment.
"I grew up in St Andrews so my first Open was 1978. I’ve just loved The Open my whole life, right from that very first encounter with it you could say.
"I’ve attended just about every other Open since. As soon as Connor was old enough, that would have been around 2004, we’ve gone together ever since.
"He loves it as well and so to see my son progress now to a level where he can play in it is just absolutely amazing."
Connor is a regular in the Open Championship crowd having missed just one of the last 12 events and his dream of actually playing in one came true after coming through the final round of qualifying last Tuesday.
The Dumfries amateur hit a level par 72 in the opening round at Gailes Links before scoring four-under, which included an eagle at the par five 14th, to finish two shots ahead of the field.
“Qualifying for the Open was a step up that he needed to make," Stuart added. "This is where Connor wants to be.
“It does get to a point where if he is going to progress and have a career on the European Tour or whatever tour he ends up on, then he does need to take a step up.
“He proved a big point to himself I think last week - that he can compete with these guys - and it was impressive.”
Stuart has been a PGA Professional for 26 years and heavily involved with Connor’s development from an early age.
“Everything I believe about the golf swing is in this boy of mine,” he reflected.
“He’s managed to take on board everything that I saw in the golf swing.
“I won pro-ams and other events but over four rounds I always got found out. I could never get myself high enough on the leaderboard.
“When Connor began to show this positive attitude for golf as well that was what I was always trying to teach him.
“So it’s all worked out grand that I’ve been able to put my views into it and then an individual has been able to carry it out. For it to be my own son is an even bigger thrill.”
It could have been a different career path altogether for Connor, however.
His father watched him blossom as a promising footballer but spells at numerous Scottish clubs, including Rangers, failed to materialise.
“I always felt watching that he was going to be a better golfer than he was a footballer," Sturat recalled. "But I just had to wait until the football had run its course.
“I felt he would come to golf as his life progressed and that was just exactly what happened.
“Of course I’m going ‘perfect, that’s ideal', but his experience was being away a long time and not getting much game time.
“He just felt that maybe more of an individual sport was going to be the thing for him after that.”
Juggling between being a father first and a coach second can sometimes be very difficult for Stuart.
Getting the right balance is key, which is why he is happy to take a back seat at Royal Birkdale.
“I see my role very much as a doing a lot of work with him back home. I occasionally go and watch him because sometimes you have to go and watch a player as well.
“At the Open I’m going to love being with him on the practice green but I’m very conscious of the fact I’m his dad as well.
“I’ll be happy just to soak it all up in the background. I’m doing the coaching role and we know exactly what we’re doing, but it’s important that other people help with other roles too.”
The performances of previous amateurs at recent Open Championships is something Stuart is constantly reminding his son in the build up to Royal Birkdale.
“We went along to watch Paul Dunne at St Andrews a couple of years ago. Connor knows Paul from playing amateur golf together. He knows the kind of standard of Paul’s game, compared to his own and Paul was leading The Open after three rounds.
“That shows that if you can get mentally correct going into the event, then it’s possible to do well.”
So does Stuart feel his son can maintain his recent good form and kick on after his first Open experience?
“He’s got to go and prove himself,” Stuart added. “I wrote a plan with him when he was 15 up until he was 25 and it’s been amazing how he’s knocked off all the little challenges I’ve given him.
“One of those challenges was to play in The Open and he’s managed to achieve it.”
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