Don Thames went to Europe for the first time last week at age 62. Visited the United Kingdom with his wife, Carole. Experienced a proper English breakfast. Played a little links golf. Shot a 90.
Thames ventured across the pond with the goal of qualifying for the Senior British Open. A weeklong European vacation was the fallback.
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The churches and castles will have to wait.
Thames shot a 71 at Southerndown in Wales in his qualifying round. That got him into a playoff of nine players for three spots. He birdied the second playoff hole, the wind at his back giving his 30-foot putt just enough oomph to creep into the cup.
“I dropped my putter, stunned with the realization that we will be playing in the Senior Open Championship,” Thames wrote in a blog he shared with the residents of Rancho Murieta, where he is the director of golf. “I looked over at Carole and she was already crying (for the third or fourth time of the day).”
He was in the Open. But the wind was his friend for the last time.
Thames shot a 79 in the first round at Royal Porthcawl, acceptable on a blustery day during which eventual winner Bernhard Langer’s 69 was best. Starting the second round in the final pairing at 3:40 p.m., he faced relentless rain and the brunt of wind that gusted to 60 mph. Getting the worst of the draw on a brutal day during which no player broke 70, Thames shot a 90.
“To call (the conditions) ghastly would be an extreme understatement,” Thames wrote.
Two players scored worse. His playing companions shot an 86 and an 89, their group finishing in near darkness at 9:30.
“The most important putt I had all day came on the 18th,” Thames wrote. “Purely from a numbers standpoint, the 9-foot downhiller was for an 89.”
With the putt into the wind, Thames picked a spot 5 feet past the hole as his target. He missed, ultimately recording the worst competitive score of his career.
Returning home Monday, Thames said the wording in his blog was intentional.
“I said I missed a putt for 89 so I didn’t have to say 90,” he said. “I wasn’t really playing that bad, but I would hit it into the gorse off the tee, hit an 8-iron out and then have a 2-iron for my third shot (on par 4s). The course was playing like a par 82.”
Thames, who qualified for the U.S. Senior Open in 2008 and 2013, said the 73 shot by Miguel Angel Jimenez, playing several groups ahead of his in the second round, is the best score he’s ever seen.
“My appreciation for what he did that day is off the charts,” Thames said. “It was like shooting a 62. It’s a whole nother level of golf. It’s why I’m a club pro.”
Thames will always have the memory of awful hamburgers, hitting a 5-iron from 115 yards and aiming 75 yards away from his target, oftentimes over water and out of bounds, to account for the wind. He has video of a playing companion throwing a handful of tees straight up and seeing them land 40 feet behind him. And then there was Carole providing him with three nips of Jack Daniels Honey because, well, it was a round that called for whiskey.
“A long time ago, I learned to not get embarrassed about golf,” he wrote. “With that in mind, the whole experience from start to finish was something that I could only dream of until now. The people we met were fantastic and I believe some will become lifelong friends.”
▪ You won’t be able to wave a golf towel at this week’s PGA Tour Barracuda Championship in Reno without hitting someone with Sacramento ties. Davis’ Tyler Raber and amateur Ben Corfee played their way into the field during Monday’s qualifier; Haggin Oaks teaching pro Tom Morton earned a spot via his NCPGA Match Play Championship victory in May; and touring pros Spencer Levin (Elk Grove) and Nick Watney (Dixon) are signed up.
▪ Stephen Curry is in the field for this week’s Web.com Tour’s Ellie Mae Classic in Hayward. What do oddsmakers think of his chances? If you believe the Golden State Warriors point guard is going to miss the cut, you would need to bet $25 to win $1, according to BookMaker.eu.
▪ Sacramento’s Cameron Champ is up to 10th in the World Amateur Golf Ranking after his runner-up finish in the Pacific Amateur.
▪ Tim Sauer (El Dorado Hills) and Kristine Tran (San Jose) were winners in the Sacramento City Junior at Haggin Oaks.
▪ Emilee Hoffman (Folsom) and Nicole Schroeder (Rocklin) lost in quarterfinal matches in the California Women’s Amateur at Quail Lodge.
▪ Granite Bay’s Tyler Brown and Gary Dunn won the Topgolf Tour regional qualifier in Roseville and advance to play for a $50,000 first prize in October in Las Vegas.
▪ Jeff Hoffman (Folsom) qualified for the U.S. Senior Amateur, which will be played later this month in Minnesota.
▪ Mark Morgan (El Dorado Hills) is in the field at next week’s British Senior Amateur.
Steve Pajak: 916-326-5526.