GULLANE, Scotland (July 18, 2013) -- Devon’s Jimmy Mullen leads the amateur challenge after the first round of the 142nd Open Championship.
The 19 year-old old from Royal North Devon opened with a level par 71 to go into the second round with a two stroke lead over Hallamshire’s Matt Fitzpatrick and reigning Scottish Amateur champion, Grant Forrest, who plays his golf just down the road at Craigielaw.
Mullen said on the eve of the Championship that he wanted a steady start to settle his nerves and he did better than that with birdies at both the 364-yard par-4 2nd and the 377-yard par-4 3rd. He dropped a shot at the 4th but regained it at the 5th before going out in two under par with a third birdie at the 184-yard par-3 7th and another dropped shot at the 441-yard par-4 8th.
The ginger-haired Devon youngster was followed by a group of about a dozen friends and family from his home club. He gave them a bit of a scare when he dropped two shots at the 469-yard par-4 10th but then played the remaining eight holes in level par despite a bogey five at the last.
“It was a fantastic experience and something I will never forget,” said the Devon county player. “I was a bit nervous on the 1st but the early birdies settled me down and I was all right after that.
“I can’t really believe I shot level par in my first round of The Open but I will take it because it was incredibly tough out there. I don’t think I have ever played in firmer conditions and can’t help but think the R&A will need to water the greens this evening.”
“It was great having so many people for Royal North Devon watching me. The fact they were there helped me to stay calm and in the present. They had threatened to wear ginger wigs so I’m glad they didn’t do that.”
Mullen was not the only amateur to give himself a realistic chance of making the cut and challenging for the Silver Medal because both England’s Matt Fitzpatrick and Scotland’s Grant Forrest both carded two over par 73s despite dropping shots at the last.
Fitzpatrick, the 18 year-old reigning British Boys’ champion is the youngest player in the field but that did not stop him racing to the turn in two under par 34 before dropping two shots at the last where he hit his third shot over the green and failed to get up-and-down.
“Obviously I’m disappointed to drop two shots at 18 but it’s been a great experience and lived up to all my expectations,” said the Sheffield youngster who is about to embark on a four year golf scholarship at Luke Donald’s alma mater at Northwestern University in Chicago.
“I have never played in front of a crowd like that and it took a bit of getting used to but it’s been great fun. I hope I can improve a bit tomorrow. I won’t be chasing flags but will try to score as low as possible and see if I can squeeze into the weekend. Another three days of this would do just fine.”
Forrest was drawn to play with 1998 Open Champion Mark O’Meara and he made a big impact on the double Major champion. He dropped a shot on the 447-yard par-4 1st on his way to going out in 37 and then shed further shots at the 13th and 14th before finishing with a late burst with birdies at the 448-yard par-4 15th and the 186-yard par-3 16th.
“First of all I thought Grant was a fine young man. Very talented,” said the veteran American. “He hung in there extremely well today. I think he gained a lot of experience. Kids today play a lot different to when I was his age. I couldn’t play like he could then. My philosophy when I’m playing golf is that I want to be a little bit of a mentor to the younger players. I want to set the right example. I’m not saying I’m perfect but I do believe that it’s my responsibility as a professional golfer to conduct myself in the right manner out there and if I can help a young player to become a better player I’m very happy to do that.
“I see a very bright future for Grant,” O’Meara added. “He’s very mature. He made some good birdies coming in when he needed to and I predict he will play well again tomorrow.”
The other four amateurs in the field for the 142nd Open will have a lot to do to make it into the weekend. New Amateur Champion, Garrick Porteous, and his fellow English international, Ben Stow, both shot five over par 76s while reigning US Amateur Champion, Steven Fox, needed two shots more. 2012 European Amateur Champion and 2011 GB&I Walker Cup team member, Rhys Pugh, from Wales, carded a 13-over par 84.