Locals miss out in Open bid

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Meon Valley Golf Club member Harry Ellis

Ellis' pride as he finishes Masters in style

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Billy Mckenzie believes he has gained a wealth of valuable experience from his attempt to qualify for The Open, despite seeing his hopes of a place at Hoylake dashed.

A quartet of local golfers all missed out on joining the world’s elite later this month as they were unable to take any of the three places on offer to 72 players at four venues.

But it was a day when the amateurs rubbed shoulders with the stars, with Mckenzie playing alongside two-time European Tour winner Robert Rock – who also missed out – and Corhampton’s Scott Gregory enjoying a chat with Ian Poulter before playing his Woburn home course.

Rowlands Castle pro, Darren Wright, shot rounds of 73 and 75 at Hillside to end in a tie for 24th position, with the qualifying mark set at six-under par.

Lee-on-the-Solent professional, James Ablett, was at Sunningdale and posted rounds of 73 and 70 to end on five-over par – four shots off the final qualifying berth.

But amateur duo Gregory and Mckenzie pitted their wits against a notoriously difficult Woburn course.

Gregory was the closest at making it, finishing on a fine three-under-par total, with rounds of 71 and 70, to earn a tie for eighth. But even that was three strokes too many.

And while Mckenzie ended on three-over par with rounds of 72 and 75, he was at two-under par at one stage and flying high on the leaderboard before he fell away.

But he took some kind words – and a signed glove – from his playing partner.

The 19-year-old from Rowlands Castle said: ‘Playing with Robert Rock was a fantastic experience.

‘A lot of people were following us round. I had to acknowledge the crowd when they were clapping. It was nuts.

‘I was a bit nervous but he said “this is nothing. You should see some of the crowds at other events!”

‘He couldn’t have been a nicer guy.

‘I was nervous but he had a chat and it calmed me down.

‘He told me he was working in the pro shop and selling Mars bars at my age so to just go out and enjoy it.

‘He signed a glove for me and at the end said “you are a really good player. Keep up the hard work and I will see you again somewhere down the line”.

‘That’s given me a lot of confidence.’

Mckenzie showed his talent when he holed a 122-yard wedge shot for an eagle two on the par-four 10th hole of his second round.

He said: ‘Everyone went crazy. It was a great feeling.

‘I didn’t expect to qualify – I just went out to enjoy the day.’

Gregory had his own brush with stardom and was satisfied with the way he played.

He said: ‘I’m happier this year than I was last year. I feel I played better.

‘I had it going a little bit and there were maybe three shots that didn’t quite go in.

‘It was a great experience. I got to meet Ian Poulter and had a quick chat with him. They had the Claret Jug on the first tee as well.

‘I’ve beaten some great players – that is a nice feeling.’