The US Open, The Open Championship, The Scottish Open: Open golf tournaments. But what does the ‘Open’ mean?
Basically, it means the event is ‘open’ to any player eligible to qualify for the tournament. Players can enter the event, go through qualifying and compete in the final event.
For this year’s Open Championship at Muirfield, anyone with a handicap of 0.4 or better can try and qualify. 288 players made it to the final stage of qualifying. Tuesday, they played for 12 spots at golf’s original ‘Open’ Championship.
One of the players, 40-year old David Higgins, was playing at North Berwick’s West Links. The 19-year pro has played in the Open Championship twice before, missing the cut in 2007 and 2009. After opening with a one-under par 70, Higgins sat in a tie for 12th, needing a strong second-round to finish inside the top-3 and earn a spot at Muirfield.
His second round started well. He made birdies at 2, 4, 5, 7, 8 and 12 to reach seven-under with four to play. Had he parred the last four holes, he would have won the Qualifier and earned a tee time at the 142nd Open Championship.
That’s where things started to go wrong.
Bogeys at 15 and 16, and pars on the final two holes saw him finish at 5-under for the two rounds.
Having finished 3 hours before the last group, Higgins had returned his clubs to his car upon completing his second round. In his car was an extra fairway wood he’d chosen not to use. He put the fairway wood in his bag, put his bag in the back of his car, and waited to see how things panned out.
He ended up in a tie for 2nd place with two others. Meaning, the three players would play a sudden-death playoff, with two of them qualifying for the Open and one leaving unhappy.
The three men teed off on the first extra hole, only for Higgins to realize that he had not removed the extra club that was in his car. The extra fairway wood meant he had 15 clubs in his bag, thus receiving a two-shot penalty. His playing partners made a birdie and a par, making it impossible for Higgins to extend the playoff.
Much like what happened to Ian Woosnam at the 2001 Open Championship, Higgins maintained the integrity and tradition of the game by owning up to his error. His playing partner in the playoff, George Murray said:
“I do feel bad about what happened to David, but he was honest and came straight out with it when he realized his mistake.”
Whilst he won’t be tipping his cap at Muirfield, I tip my cap to David Higgins for owning his error and showing why golf is one of the most respected sports, at all levels.