'Most random thing ever' - Former Portsmouth and Coventry favourite bags place at golf's US Open

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Pompey fans with an interest in golf should not adjust their TV sets if they tune into next month’s US Open.

Nor should they seek an appointment with the optician if they think they recognise someone walking up the middle of the fairways at Pinehurst - the North Carolina course which will play host to this year’s third Major.

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Their eyes will not be deceiving them! Yes, it will be fomer Blues League Two title winner Carl Baker!

Why, I hear you ask? Well, it just so happens that the 41-year-old will be caddying for two-time DP Tour winner Robert Rock after volunteering to carry his bag for the qualifying event at Walton Heath on Monday.

Rock, 57, who stepped away from the pro ranks in 2022, was as surprised as anyone when he bagged one of nine qualifying spots for the event on June 13-16.  He posted a nine-under score over 36 holes in Surrey to record a joint-fourth-place finish and secure a place among the world-class field that will include the likes of Scottie Scheffler, Rory McIlroy, John Rahm and Brooks Koepka.

Having reached a career-high 55 in the world rankings back in 2012, Rock is, of course, well used to rubbing shoulders with the finest players golf has to offer. For Baker, though, it will be a totally new experience, having played the majority of his footballing career at Championship and League One level. In fact, after leaving Fratton Park in January 2018 following 50 appearances and nine goals for Pompey, the former Coventry ace was operating in the non-league ranks as he represented Nuneaton, Brackley Town and AFC Telford before his retirement in 2022.

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That’s worlds away from the magnitude of a US Open, which will be watched by millions of golf fans around the world. However, Baker appears to be taking everything in his stride as he prepares to jet out with Rock for what promises to be a truly memorable experience.

Speaking to the Coventry Live, Baker said: ‘It’s the most random thing ever. I am mates with Rocky and have played with him most weeks over the last year and coached his son. He played on the European tour for the last 20 years and retired two years ago, but still goes into the qualifiers for the major events.

‘He’s played at Walton Heath in Surrey for the last 10-11 years and never qualified. I think 95 percent of the 150-160 in the field are all tour pros, all massive names and millionaires who do it as a full-time job. Obviously Rocky doesn’t play much anymore, just once a week socially, so he hasn’t got a caddy.

Robert RockRobert Rock
Robert Rock

‘So I said to him that if he’s thinking of playing in the US Open qualifier to let me know because I’d caddy for him. He said that would be great so we went down on Monday and played two 18 holes on the same day. We went there with zero expectations and I was just buzzing to be on a top golf course in this country and inside the ropes with all these players I am used to watching on the telly, so it felt a bit surreal being in the clubhouse with all these top golfers everywhere.’

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Baker, whose winner against Mansfield on the penultimate day of the 2016-17 season helped Paul Cook’s Blues bag the League Two title on goal difference on the last day, admitted both he and Rock were so unprepared for Monday’s 36-hole event.

He added: ‘Rocky turned up and didn’t even have a practice round, Every player had yardage books so they know how far the flag is and where the bunkers are etc. They are something like £70 each for these books so we were just winging it.

‘The player we were playing with - a full-time pro on the European Tour - was laughing and joking about Rocky qualifying, and then he chipped in off the bunker on the 16th and went to nine under, which is where he finished.

‘We were walking back and there were Sky Sports cameras and hundreds of people following us. I was 20 yards behind him carrying his bag and people were coming up to me and congratulating us and telling us to enjoy America. I hadn’t got a clue what was going on. It was the first time I have ever done it and hadn’t got a clue what I was doing.

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‘I watch golf all the time and was looking at what caddies wear to know what to wear, looking at when they take the flag out and how they rate the bunkers, so I was literally copying what everyone else was doing. I have like zero experience and I didn’t even realise he had qualified because it hadn’t been confirmed at that stage. I was trying to act all calm and professional and couldn’t help thinking, “oh my god, imagine if he’s actually qualified to play in the US Open at Pinehurst, like one of the most famous courses ever in one of the biggest competitions”.’

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