SOUTHPORT, England – Gregg Pettersen had to rush off to work after his Saturday morning round of golf at his local club, just like many ordinary golfers.
There is one slight difference: his local club just happens to be Royal Birkdale, and his morning game took place in the third round of the 146th Open Championship.
The 38-year-old Englishman got a call at 9:50pm on Friday night telling him he was playing in the game’s oldest championship. Pettersen was drafted in as a marker for South Africa’s Shaun Norris after an odd number (79) of players made the cut.
Pettersen is used to playing the Birkdale links in his role as one of Royal Birkdale’s club professionals. He’s obviously never teed it up in front of thousands of fans.
“It was just a bit surreal,” Pettersen said. “Just an amazing experience. I’ve been here for 15 years as a professional, so I get to play the links obviously quite regular. I’ve never played in front of that sort of crowds over the years.”
Fortunately, Pettersen knew ahead of time he might get the call, but it didn’t stop the first tee nerves.
“I think the highlight was getting the first tee shot away,” said Pettersen, whose biggest pay check as a professional is £300 ($390) in a club professional competition. “I wasn’t expecting the crowds to be like that all the way around. I halfway expected it on the first tee with everyone getting ahead ready for Justin (Rose) and Tommy (Fleetwood).
Pettersen only had to mark Norris’s card and not his own. He estimated he was five over par in his first, and probably only, Open Championship. That was 10 shots behind his playing companion, who returned a 65.
The Southport resident doesn’t have to worry about first tee nerves on Sunday. Thirty-year-old fellow Royal Birkdale club professional Nick Jennings is next in line to play with whoever is first out on Sunday morning.
Still, Pettersen can tell his grandkids he got to play in an Open Championship, an experience he called “the 100% highlight of my golfing life.”
The euphoria didn’t last long. Pettersen had to get back to his day job after finishing his round.
“I’ll be going back to work in the pro shop this afternoon, back to normal.”