After emulating the likes of Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy by winning the coveted Silver Medal for the leading amateur at last year’s Open, Stonehaven’s Sam Locke made the decision to enter the professional ranks.
One year on, and after coming through Final Qualifying for the second year in a row, the 20-year-old is once again preparing to tee it up amongst golf’s elite at Royal Portrush.
So how has life changed for the young Scot?
Reflecting on his achievement 12 months ago, Locke said: “Obviously it was amazing to win the Silver Medal last year. To be the only amateur to make the cut was an unbelievable feeling, especially doing it so close to home.”
Whilst the Aberdonian was “always going to turn pro,” he admitted that his performance at Carnoustie “accelerated the decision for sure.”
Life as a Professional
Locke’s professional highlight came at last year’s Portugal Masters. After making the cut in three of his first four starts on the Challenge Tour, the 20-year-old was invited to play in his first European Tour event.
Rounds of 68, 69 and 67 meant he entered the final round tied for 27th and in an all-star Sunday group with South Africa’s George Coetzee and Spain’s Sergio Garcia. Despite closing with a disappointing 74, Locke took plenty of encouragement from his performance.
He said: “The best event I played was the Portugal Masters. Although I had a poor round on Sunday, I learned a lot that week and proved to myself that I could be up there. I wasn’t quite in contention to win but I made the cut comfortably and it made me realise I can play amongst these guys so now I’ve just got to get back there.”
After missing out at European Tour Qualifying School last year, the young Scot has been plying his trade mainly on the PGA EuroPro Tour in 2019 with mixed results meaning he currently sits 100th in the Order of Merit.
Summing up his first year in the paid ranks, Locke said: “The first few events after The Open I felt like I was doing quite well. It wasn’t easy but I managed to make the cut in most of them and do okay. This year, I’ve been a bit slow to get going but I feel like things are starting to pick up now.”
“I think some people expected the transition to be harder, but the only real difference is that I’m getting paid to play and the crowds I’m playing in front of are much bigger,” he added.
Locke insists that although results haven’t been as good as he would have liked, mixing it with the professionals has had a positive impact both on and off the course. He said: “I’ve learnt more in the last year than I did in all my amateur days. You find out so much more about yourself against better players, not just from a golfing perspective.”
Digging Deep at Final Qualifying
Despite a “slow” start to 2019, entering last week’s gruelling Final Qualifying event at Fairmont St. Andrews, Locke remained optimistic. “I’d said to a lot of guys that my scoring at some of the EuroPro events hadn’t been great, but I knew my game wasn’t far away and it was a matter of time before everything fell into place.”
In difficult conditions, scores of 69 and 67 on the par-70 composite layout were enough to secure the third and final qualification place, ensuring it would be back to back appearances in golf’s oldest major for the Aberdeenshire lad.
But it was far from plain sailing.
With five holes to play, Locke produced a number of sublime up and downs to keep his qualification hopes alive and fend off his fellow Scot and playing partner, Paul O’Hara. Tree trouble meant a chip in was required to avoid dropping a shot on the 5th (his 14th) before the 20-year-old calmly rolled in a 30-foot par putt on the next after his tee shot found a bunker.
Locke (left) and O’Hara (right) waiting to tee off on their second last hole of the day.
However, the young prodigy saved the best for last. Along the cliff edge and running adjacent to the North Sea, the par-3 9th is not for the faint-hearted. Out of bounds awaits those who miss right whilst a wall encroaches on the left for anyone who plays too safe.
Locke’s piercing tee shot was straight at the flag but flew through the wind and the green, leaving a delicate shot over the wall with crowds gathering in support. The young man showed nerves of steel however to engineer an escape that even his mentor, Paul Lawrie, would be proud of.
Discussing his final hole heroics, Locke said: “I was nervous over that chip to be honest. I hit a lovely tee shot, but the wind just never took it and I was fearing the worst when it went over the wall. I wasn’t sure what was over there but thankfully it was just semi-rough, and I was able to get it up and down.”
After a nervous wait, Locke’s third place was confirmed, and the 20-year-old was delighted to have survived final qualifying for the second consecutive year: “It’s absolutely brilliant obviously and to do it twice in a row is pretty cool. I’d been playing some nice stuff coming into it but just not putting it all together into one tournament, so I knew it wasn’t far away and thankfully I picked today to do it.”
On His Return to The Open
Locke now returns to the scene of his famous Silver Medal winning performance as a budding professional looking to lean on the experience he has gained since Carnoustie. “I learnt a lot last year, so I know a bit better what to expect. Obviously, I knew there was going to be big crowds but it’s not until you get there you realise the magnitude of it but I’m more used to playing in front of lots of people now.”
For the first time since 1951, Royal Portrush is set to host The Open which will see 156 of the best players in world descend upon Northern Ireland as they test themselves against the unique challenges of links golf. For Locke, having never played the course, he admits he “can’t wait” to get going and is confident he can produce another memorable performance.
“Qualifying last year as an amateur and making the cut in my first major was amazing so I don’t see why I can’t do that again and push on for a better finish. I definitely feel like I’ve become a better player so I’m hoping to go and have a good week.”