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Ryder Cup hero gearing up for Rockliffe visit
HE might not have won a major individual title during a professional career spanning 37 years, but Mark James has just about done everything else in golf.
Eighteen European Tour titles, two Seniors Tour successes, three triumphs on the Champions Tour - including the Ford Seniors Players Championship - and numerous appearances at The Open, US Open, PGA Championship and the Masters.
Then there are the seven outings he had for Europe at the Ryder Cup before captaining the team against the Americans at Brookline in 1999.
But there will be a first for James next month when he heads to Hurworth, County Durham, for the English Seniors Open at Rockliffe Hall on October 4-6.
"I have seen pictures, heard reports, and I'm really looking forward to the test there," said James. "My brother-in-law, Mark Waddington, was actually due to play there that weekend, but has had his tee-time bumped off to allow for us to play! He's had some compensation, so he is happy with that.
"I live in Ilkley, so it's only an hour and a half up the road for me, it'll be a breeze for me to get there. I will be coming up for the Pro-Am on the Thursday, it should be really good."
While James has never played at Rockliffe Hall before, he has spent enough time in the North-East over the years without being a regular to the area.
Together with his business partner, Andrew Mair, they have designed Northumberland courses Burgham Park and Matfen Hall, while the Mark James Academy has links to both as well as the nearby Longhirst.
During his amateur days he remembers testing out his swing around the fairways at Whitley Bay and Wearside, while on his last appearance at Slaley Hall he finished tied fourth in the PGA Seniors Championship in June last year.
That represented one of three top ten finishes last season, but 2013 has not been as fruitful for the West Yorkshireman due to turn 60 in October.
"I played really well last year," said James, sitting 36th in the Order of Merit after ending up tied 29th at the WINSTONgolf Senior Open in Germany last weekend.
"This year I have really struggled and I have not been putting well at all. It has not been great. I need to get my game to settle down. I have three events left, including the English Seniors, and hopefully I can finish on a high."
In the hope of settling down, James has given this week's trip to Moscow for the Russian Open Championship a miss before heading over to Provence for the French Riviera Masters seven days ahead of his arrival in the North-East.
Opportunities to play in England are few and far between at professional level these days, so James is hoping Rockliffe Hall can impress the European Tour chiefs.
"Admittedly because this event was a late addition to the calendar and it's been booked in for October, there might not be as many who come to watch as there would have been had it been in August, like we had at Woburn," said James.
"But this is a chance for Rockliffe to show what they are about. They don't have long to turn it around, and the critics will have to be fair to them about that.
"This year it should be about trying to do what they can. They are doing the right thing by going down the Seniors route first, before the main Tour, then they can see what is required.
"Next year hopefully they will get a date a bit earlier on the schedule, make a few changes here and there from what they learn this time around. But it should be good."
James will be joined around Rockliffe in a few weeks time by the likes of Anders Forsbrand, Gordon Brand Jnr, Barry Lane and Peter Fowler. Colin Montgomerie could also be in attendance along with local talents Graeme Bell (Eaglescliffe), Roger Roper (Rockliffe) and John Harrison (Matfen Hall). And James' former Ryder Cup team-mate and Masters winner Ian Woosnam is already lined up.
"I have been lucky and I've had a great career, with the Ryder Cup a prominent part of what I achieved," said James, who has also battled to overcome testicular cancer a year after Brookline.
"Winning the Ryder Cup (in 1995 at Oak Hill, New York) is obviously the highlight of it all. It was really special to captain the Ryder Cup team too, but there was nothing like playing in it. You don't experience the nerves as a captain that you do as a player. The thrill of being involved, though, was still there."
* Tickets for the English Seniors Open at Rockliffe Hall in association with The Northern Echo are priced £11 and Under- 16s go free. To buy tickets or register an interest in being a course marshall and volunteer go to rockliffehall.com or call 0800 0232557.
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