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Tour leader makes Rockliffe experience worth it
The English Senior Open starts today and at yesterday's Pro-Am golf writer Paul Fraser got to experience 18 holes with Senior Tour Order of Merit leader Paul Wesselingh
FOR those golfers familiar with Rockliffe Hall, a little trip there over the next few days could lead to confusion. The course as you know it has had a re-jig for the English Senior Open.
The first hole has become the tenth hole; the second is now the 11th; the 18th renamed the ninth; and so on. All very confusing for those who have actually played the course before. Really, it is.
Well, before I carry on, that's my excuse and I'm sticking to it.
The changes are designed with the idea of finishing on an attractive par four tree-lined hole just in front of the beautiful Rockliffe Hall Hotel and Spa.
What the adjustments meant for yesterday's pre-tournament Pro-Am – and the up-coming few days - was that the first tee box rests just beyond the driving range on what was the tenth. And that's where I found myself at noon yesterday.
'OPEN YOUR LEGS': The Northern Echo's golf man, Paul Fraser, tries to put into practice the advice he was given yesterday
As the shotgun sounded in the dry and warm County Durham air, this high handicapper had the leader of the Senior Tour Order of Merit, Paul Wesselingh, and the former caddy of Seve Ballesteros, Ian Wright, to his right and two of the region's most promising 14-year-olds to the left.
If nothing else, this particular social golfer with a desire to improve was in good company on one of the finest courses in the North-East – and lessons were learned along the way.
But that is enough about me. I could fill this page talking lost balls (all six or seven of them), wayward drives and miss-hit rescue shots. Instead this was a day to experience, experience at its best.
While Castle Eden's Jack Ainscough, pictured below, and above, Seaton Carew's Cameron Wallace – two little-and-large golfers recently named in the England Golf North Region squad – provided a glimpse of youthful brilliance, Wesselingh provides an example of just how good golfers still are once they have turned 50.
The Derbyshire pro has arrived at the Hurworth course looking to cement his place at the top of the Senior Tour Order of Merit ahead of Aussie Peter Fowler and Denmark's Steen Tinning. Not to mention some of the other great names on show such as Mark James, Gordon Brand Jnr and Barry Lane.
Firstly, though, despite our fourball all playing for team points, Wesselingh was stunned to actually be behind Ainscough after the first two holes when the youngster followed up a 20ft birdie at the first with a 35ft putt at the second.
Wesselingh never played on the main European Tour because he chose to spend more time with his family and concentrate on being a club pro. He has adapted straight in to life on the Senior Tour and, in his second year, is looking for his third success of 2013 at Rockliffe.
While he will have his son on his bag this weekend, he had the expert eye of Wright with him on his lines and yardages yesterday. The Redcar caddy, 65, was by the great Ballesteros' side at Royal Lytham for the Open in 1988 and at the Ryder Cup a year later.
“You were right there,” said Wesselingh, after taking Wright's advice at the seventh when a change of club and approach ended in a putt for eagle chance. “I often am, you know,” said Wright, walking away smiling.
Wesselingh made birdie. And then another birdie. Helping the rising talents with target lines and putting greens at the same time.
Then Wright tried to help me. And so did Wesselingh. 'Open your legs more' and 'there's too much on the front foot' are two phrases I will be dreaming about for days.
They both did say I had a good swing: Practice swing that is.
Whatever was said must have worked, temporarily. At last I got on the scorecard - with the best two scores counting in better ball – at the 11th. And then again at the 17th.
In between times Wallace, a five-handicap, somehow made an incredible par at the 13th when he got up an down with a 20ft putt after needing to drop a shot when he found his tee shot in the lake.
And at the short island 14th hole his fellow Dyke House Sports & Technology College's Elite Development squad student, Ainscough, playing off four, came within a foot of Richard Roper's 10ft nearest the pin winner.
As the round closed with heavy rain, the Wesselingh fourball ended up in 17th place with 78 points – some 11 shy of eventual winners Rockliffe Raiders, made up of pro Des Smyth and club members Charlie Morrison, Paul Bradley and Ray Pipe.
We would have done much better had I adjusted my swing a bit earlier following the top tips. By the way, did I mention my putting and wedge shots were actually not too bad.
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