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‘Home’ Open lives up to expectations for Carnoustie member Matthew Southgate

Matthew Southgate.
Matthew Southgate.

The kid waiting for Christmas analogy doesn’t do justice to Matthew Southgate counting down the days to Open week at Carnoustie.

Try the kid waiting 19 years for Christmas.

Southgate is the nearest thing the championship has to a local.

Since he first travelled up to Scotland with his dad, who was playing the popular week-long amateur event the Craw’s Nest Tassie, the Southend-on-sea professional’s bond with the town and its residents has been a strong one.

This is the course he views as the “best in the world” and he qualified to play an Open on it.

Perhaps a bit of initial anti-climax was inevitable when the first present under the tree was unwrapped. But, thankfully, the ill-fitting socks from the distant aunt have been the exception. Christmas is now living up to expectations.

“When I first arrived, I was a little disappointed,” Southgate admitted. “I think I had built it up too much in my mind from the age of 10.

“A couple of things that you play through in your imagination, where you saw things happen, unsettle you when they don’t quite go that way.

“For one thing, I always had this vision in my head that a little old Scottish fella would meet me at the front door and call me ‘Mr Southgate’ and I would feel all excited and stuff.

“It wasn’t. It was a young American girl that was a bit sort of flashy. ‘Let me show you around.’ And I thought, I don’t really need showing round. I’ve been a member since I was 16. It kind of threw me a little bit.

“Once I went in the clubhouse and met a couple of members, I settled down. And even more so when I got on the golf course. The first round has lived right up to everything.”

No wonder.

There were two eagles (on the par fives, six and 14) in his two under par 69. Local knowledge is definitely played its part.

“I don’t think you can ever know a golf course too well,” said Southgate. “It helps when you know what the miss is. You miss a green to the right, and you know exactly what you’re faced with next.

“I think that’s kind of settling. I was walking another 100 yards knowing what was coming up next.

“The local boys get it round here in good scores. They play aggressive when they need to, and they lay it up when they need to, and I think watching them, getting beaten by them for a long time when I was a kid, it definitely helps.

“I must have played 50-odd rounds and watched a couple of Opens every day. I don’t think you can know the course much better than I do. I’d be lying if I said I knew every break on every putt, but I’m not far off it.”

If there are people in Carnoustie who aren’t aware of the Southgates, three more rounds where the first one came from will sort that out.

“I think the whole town pretty much knows me and my dad,” he said. “It’s lovely. It’s like a home away from home.

“What’s nice for me is when you walk to the local Chinese to pick up a take-away and bump into two, three people you know. It does feel like a second home. Dad’s the same.

“We’re walking to the golf course, which is lovely. This morning it was like a ghost town, and you just know in the next couple of hours, there’s going to be that hustle and bustle when the crowd starts swelling. It was brilliant – great cheers from the crowd. That’s what you live for.

“There’s not one pub in the town that we can’t walk in and find someone with an old golf story and sit down and have a chat with. That’s lovely for all of us.

“Carnoustie is a completely individual place. I’ve played golf all around the world, and I’ve never seen anywhere like Carnoustie. It doesn’t matter if you’re the milkman or a lawyer, as soon as your golf clubs come out, you’re all just equal and you’re all square on the first tee. ‘Let’s play golf’.

“And I think they deserve a huge amount of credit for that, the lads up here, because they’ve kept the true etiquette of the game and the true spirit of the game. Raw talent wins and good scores win.

“They just go head to head and play, and in the end shake hands in the right way.

“I think a lot of golf clubs around the world have lost that. Not here. I don’t think they ever will.”

Matthew Southgate weighs up his options with his caddy.

When the world number 159, whose last two Open finishes have been 12th (Troon) and sixth (Birkdale), plays against a fellow Carnoustie member, he won’t be asked for shots.

“They’ll play fair,” he said. “They wouldn’t want to beat me with shots, a lot of the guys here.

“I’ll tell you this, there are a lot of people up here that you wouldn’t want to give shots to. Keir McNicoll works in the pro shop here, and he was a plus-six handicap when he tried to turn pro.

“You play him in his own back garden, and he’s pretty special to play against.”

Southgate is doing Carnoustie proud, with a promotional campaign than any marketing team could come up with. And his golf.

“I’ve certainly tried to do them all proud,” said the 29-year-old. “I don’t think there’s anybody that would judge me off of one week. I think a lot of people will judge me for the last sort of eight years as a pro, and I think I’ve done alright so far.

“If the next eight years are better than the last eight years then there’s no reason why there’s not going to be a whole host of things to be proud of.

“As a kid I envisaged winning the Open. I envisaged me standing there with the Claret Jug. Now, being older, I don’t.

“I see the professional that’s got the ability to shoot four good scores on a really tough golf course, and someone might just give you the Claret Jug.

“I don’t think you can stand on the first tee and say, right, I’m going to win the Open this week. But you can stand on the first fairway and hit the first fairway and go from there and see what you get.

“It’s the old cliche, ‘one shot at a time’. Good shots end in good scores, and good scores beat good players. So do I care that Rory and Tiger are playing? No. It’s me on the golf course and can I shoot four good scores? I’ve got one out of the way today.

“I would 100% have taken that. I think it’s very easy for spectators to watch and just take for granted how tough this golf course is. It demands a lot out of your game. So anything in the 60s is fantastic, I think.

“You shoot four rounds in the 60s, you’re going to be there or thereabouts. I’ll come out and do the same sort of thing tomorrow and try and stay in for long haul.”