“I don’t think any golfer has not dreamt of walking down the 18th at The Open Championship, or having their name announced by Ivor Robson on the first tee!”
That dream became a reality for Chris Hanson last week when he competed alongside the likes of Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods at Hoylake.
The Huddersfield-based golfer turned professional in 2006 and has been competing on the Challenge Tour since 2011. He qualified for the world’s oldest golf tournament via the Hillside qualifiers when he tensely came through a four-man playoff for three places to qualify for his first Major- an experience he will cherish forever.
Taking part in an Open Championship is a million miles away from a few years ago when Hanson competed in – and subsequently won – a ProAm event at Arabian Ranches in Dubai.
Controlling nerves and handling pressure is a key element of golf at the highest level, but Hanson insists he was surprisingly calm as he prepared to take the most important drive of his career.
“The first tee was an amazing feeling,” the 28-year-old tells Sport360°. “I expected to be so nervous that even balancing the ball on the tee would be a challenge, but I proved myself wrong.
“As soon as I struck that first shot to a huge cheer from friends and family, it soon became overwhelming. It's a moment in my career I will never forget!
“I was pretty sure that when I went down to pick up my peg I was not getting back up, my eyes filled up and it sunk in what support I have,” Hanson adds. “I put my arm around Steve (my caddie) and said, ‘are you okay?’ he replied, ‘I don’t know how you hit it… I can’t feel my legs’!”
Hanson’s first round of The Open didn’t go to plan, scoring a nine-over 81, which left him a near-impossible task to make the cut. This didn’t prevent the Englishman from making the most of his next 18 holes on the prestigious Hoylake course.
“After the disappointing first round, I just knew I could enjoy it,” Hanson explains. “But nothing else changed, my preparation was the same and I gave it 100% again.”
The second round saw a marked improvement, shooting a two-over 74, and although it was not enough to make the mid-way cut, Hanson can look back at his debut Major championship with pride.
“I will never hide my disappointment to shoot such a poor first round, but I know deep down I actually played okay,” reflects the world No 678. “I had three shocking holes and two of them due to bunker trouble, but I know my game is good enough to compete with the top guys and can't wait to get back out there and play again.”
While not one of the star names on show at Royal Liverpool, Hanson enjoyed plenty of support as friends and family turned out to cheer him on. Bright yellow shirts were adorned with #TeamHanson printed on the front, and Hanson insists he had no idea about the campaign.
“My wife and her best friend had organised this the night before, I knew nothing,” he says. “I walked onto the first tee to a group in the stand wearing the bright yellow t-shirts! It was fantastic, a great touch and it made some great media stories.”
The excitement of the Open may be over but Hanson’s aim is to now try and achieve his full European Tour status by maintaining his terrific form on the Challenge Tour, in which he’s currently ranked No47.
The 6ft right-hander is keen to return to the UAE and has one tournament in particular he is aiming to qualify for.
“I always spend a few days in Dubai en route to Kenya each year to practice in the Emirates. I also played a few Mena Tour events last year,” Hanson states.
“Hopefully the next time I’m back will be for the Dubai Desert Classic!”
Rory McIlroy’s win at the 143rd Open Championship last week at Royal Liverpool was never in any doubt after the storming start he had, but thankfully, it did not even turn into a romp like Martin Kaymer’s triumph at the US Open at Pinehurst.
The final winning margin for McIlroy was two shots, and there were several performances, especially on the Sunday of the championship when the pressure is at its worst, that saw several players inch up to the perfect 10 score that we usually reserve for the champions in our post-major scorecard.
So, here is how we ranked the performances of the some of the leading players at the third major championship of the season.
Rory McIlroy (10/10)
With so many question marks hanging over his game, McIlroy posted a fitting riposte to each one of them. The only thing he was expected to do was play well on Thursday, and then fizzle after a terrible second round.
If Tiger Woods’ 2006 win at Hoylake will be forever remembered for the use of just a single driver in 72 holes, McIlroy’s 2014 triumph was all about how well he used the mightiest club in the bag.
His response to Freaky Friday? Take a 66. His answer to the persistent failures with the putter for the last year and a half? More than 10 clutch saves between 10 and 15 feet – always considered the make-or-break range in professional golf.
And even though he started Sunday with a six-shot lead, it was amazing how he protected that despite not having the best of rounds, and the superb charge by Sergio Garcia and Rickie Fowler.
Sergio Garcia (9.5/10)
Really, Garcia could not have done anything better that this, and he can consider himself unlucky that there was one player in the field who still played better than him.
The Spaniard tied for second place with Fowler, but we give him a better score because unlike the American, Garcia was fighting several problems, including that unwanted tag of being the best in the world never to win a major, and his history of what happened last time at Hoylake.
Rickie Fowler (9/10)
With two tied second-place finishes in his last two majors and three top-five in his last three, the American is clearly having a fantastic season. It’s never easy to win a major, but as the old saying goes…if you keep knocking on the door, it will open one day – or break down.
Adam Scott (8.5/10)
A third straight top-five at The Open just shows why the Aussie so richly deserves to be the No1 player in the world. And add to that the fact that he played the first two days in the more difficult sessions opposite of McIlroy, Garcia and Fowler, and it becomes even more commendable.
Jim Furyk (8/10)
Second at The Players and fourth in The Open, the American veteran is moving in the right direction. Royal Liverpool suited Furyk well, and he was consistent throughout.
Marc Leishman (8/10)
Along with Edoardo Molinari, the Aussie was the biggest surprise package of The Open. The world No51 put up another memorable major finish (after tied fourth at Masters last year). You do get a sense there is more to come from this quiet man.
Justin Rose (7/10)
Not many fans gave Rose a chance to maintain the amazing form which saw him win the Quicken Loans National and Scottish Open in his previous two starts. But for his final-round 72, Rose did very well to finish tied 23rd.
Dustin Johnson (7/10)
The big American played well in putting himself in contention, but there will certainly be question marks over his ability to deliver at the big stage after yet another miss in the majors.
Henrik Stenson (5/10)
Stenson said the key to doing well at this Open would be to hit fairways. The Swede did that superbly, finding 73.2 per cent of them off the tee. But his reliable iron play was not at his best, and so was his putting.
Martin Kaymer (4/10)
It almost felt as if the German was still in a party mood after his national team won the World Cup the Sunday before the Open. The world No12 looked a shadow of the player who won the US Open so convincingly not too long ago.
Tiger Woods (4/10)
The only thing Woods proved conclusively is that he is fit enough to last four rounds. But after a fighting 69 the first day, the rust just kept showing up throughout the tournament. Surely needs more game time.
Bubba Watson (3/10)
One single triple bogey derailed his campaign, but from American standpoint, the fact that their top Ryder Cup star struggled on links course yet again, would be of great concern.
Ian Poulter (2/10)
Agreed he played with a wrist injury, but this was his best chance to at least make things easier for Paul McGinley as far as the Ryder Cup is concerned. He will surely be one of the wildcards, but the loss of form in such a crucial stretch is worrying.
If the Ryder Cup were to be held this week, the rival captains would surely have contrasting emotions.
Europe clearly holds all the aces right now, and unless the Americans start performing in the next few weeks, it looks like they will have to wait for another four years before thinking of a win on European soil.
European captain Paul McGinley has almost got the team he would have dearly wanted, while Tom Watson can really do with some last-minute push by some of his top stars.
On September 3, the Tuesday after the Deutsche Bank Championship – the second leg of the PGA Tour’s FedExCup Playoffs – both McGinley and Watson will announce their three picks.
The current world ranking is a clear indicator of how well things are shaping up for Europe.
Four out of the top-five players are going to be part of McGinley’s team, barring world No1 Aussie Adam Scott, who’d obviously have no role to play during the September 26-28 tournament at Gleneagles.
These are still early days, considering there is still a World Golf Championship event and a major to be played.
Things can change quickly, but if it does, no captain would be disappointed to have a player in his team who is riding a hot streak.
McGinley has three picks, and he can surely hand it over to Ian Poulter; Graeme McDowell, who is showing some very good form recently, and perhaps Lee Westwood, who is struggling, but has a phenomenal Ryder Cup history.
Form is never a criterion for picking up Poulter.
If you cut that man, he’d probably bleed Ryder Cup.
He will walk into the European team even when he is playing on the Seniors Tour.
And G-Mac is a feisty character, well known for his bulldog like ability to never give up.
But what’s worked out so far for McGinley is that several of his musthave players on the team have hit form at the right time, including Rory McIlroy, who won The Open last week; Martin Kaymer and Sergio Garcia.
World No2 Henrik Stenson may not have had the best of Opens, but it is evident from the way he is playing that he is very close to the form that guaranteed him a place in the biennial competition towards the second half of last year.
And Victor Dubuisson proved once again that his earlier form was no flash in the pan as he did very well at Royal Liverpool.
As for Watson, two of his biggest superstars and most experienced hands – Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson – are currently out of an automatic place in the team.
So, unless the two players who have a combined 19 majors against their names, win at least once in the next five weeks, the captain will have to ‘waste’ his wildcards on them.
That leaves him with plenty of names he’d like to be on the team – Keegan Bradley, Brandt Snedeker and match play expert Hunter Mahan being just three of them – but just one person to choose.
The problem with both Woods and Mickelson is that they haven’t done anything of note this year.
Woods, as is well known, missed several tournaments because of his back surgery, while Mickelson is yet to notch a top-10 on the PGA Tour.
The other issue for Watson is Steve Stricker. He’d love to have the veteran in the team, but Stricker is definitely not helping his own case by playing a restricted schedule.
The good news for Watson is that Rickie Fowler and Jordan Spieth are already inside the automatic spots.
The two youngsters will add a lot to the team with their Ryder Cup inexperience.
They will not be carrying any ghosts of America’s previous defeats.
But the question remains: will that be enough for Team USA?