Wednesday 26 September 2018

Shinnecock a memorable stop on Carr's long journey

Dave Carr: Second chance. Photo: Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Dave Carr: Second chance. Photo: Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Dermot Gilleece

A long and rewarding golfing odyssey was only really beginning when Dave Carr played as a qualifier in the 2004 US Open at Shinnecock Hills. "I could never imagine this happening to me," he said while eager fans surrounded him, despite an opening round of 83. "Nobody wants your autograph in jail."

On the road to recovery from drug abuse, he felt moved to add: "I'm living a dream and who knows what might happen." What has happened 14 years on is that Carr came through qualifying last Monday (June 11) for the US Senior Open beginning at The Broadmoor, Colorado Springs, on June 28.

He is quite emotional about the idea of history repeating itself in this way.

"My mum had passed away just prior to Shinnecock and I felt she was pulling for me," he said on Friday. "And now, those memories have all come back to me. After trying every year, I've qualified at last for another one, this time as a senior."

Back in 2004, he looked strangely out of place with no sponsorship tags on his apparel: the only lettering was a patriotic "US" on his cap. And it seemed unlikely that his well-rounded midriff had seen the inside of a gym. Nor was there any concession to the current preoccupation with healthy living, in his regular puffs on a cigarette.

Earlier in the week, Carr succeeded in getting a practice round with the 1986 champion at Shinnecock, Raymond Floyd, simply by asking while they were both registering. "It was an awesome thrill to play with Raymond," he recalled. "You know that was my first time to see him."

In the championship itself, a policewoman stood in the players' walkway as Carr left the ninth green. And it struck me that there must have been many times in his troubled past when the sight of that uniform would have made him distinctly uncomfortable. Not any more.

Later, he talked candidly about the journey he had travelled. About having been arrested three times for possession of drugs and how he managed to spend only one night in jail on each occasion due to his connections as a former bail bondsman.

By the time he reached Shinnecock, however, he had been clean and sober for six years and he has since gone on to complete 20 years as director of instruction at Teal Bend GC near Sacramento. Along the way, he became Northern California's PGA Player of the Year in 2013 and 2014 and has made several appearances on the US Tour, including the Pebble Beach Pro-Am. Among the congratulations he received from fellow professionals was one reading: "Carr proves that you can miss the cut and still be a winner!"

At 51, another milestone was reached last Monday when a round of 69 got him a US Senior Open qualifying spot on the North Course designed by Arnold Palmer at Rancho Murieta, outside Sacramento. His self-taught compact, flat swing is now complemented by a conventional putting stroke, since the broomhandle was ditched in the wake of the change of rule two years ago.

"Broadmoor will mark my first Major since Shinnecock," he went on. "Naturally, the possibility of reliving the experience of 2004 brought me back once more to the recent US Open qualifying at Pasatiempo. But with a round of 70, I missed a play-off by a stroke.

"My 14-year-old son, David Junior, was on my bag on that occasion and having gone so close, I decided to give him another chance at Rancho Murieta. And dammit if he didn't get me in. Which was a wonderful thrill for both of us. Funny, I felt the same calmness as I did 14 years ago, as if my mum was looking down."

Meanwhile, I wondered if he planned to watch events from Shinnecock on TV this weekend. "Oh God, yes," he replied. "I'll go home, get into my comfortable clothes, sit down and enjoy it."

Familiarity with the venue will give a special dimension to his viewing. "From what I can gather, the golf course is a little different this time," he said. "It was a brutal challenge in '04 when I was left with memories of too many doubles and trebles [he carded two 83s to miss the cut]. For me, the golf course was just hard.

"Officials kind of lost control of the greens' surfaces towards the end of that week and I'm sure they'll keep a closer eye this time. Mind you, I thought they could have anticipated the wind better for Thursday's opening round and put some pins in softer places."

It hardly seemed fair to talk of a likely winner this evening, given the wreckage inflicted by the early rounds. Carr admitted, however, that he had high hopes for Tiger Woods, before adding: "When a player of his quality four-putts, makes a triple from in front of the green, it demonstrates what a difficult golf course it is. I've no hesitation in saying it's the hardest I've ever played."

Having trod the same fairways as this icon of the game, he had earned the right for an informed view. Yet he sounded more like a star-struck fan, who couldn't credit the rewards a notoriously demanding game had bestowed on him.

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