If you're a youngster looking for ways to improve your golf, who are the best players to follow at this week’s English Senior Open?
This is not an opportunity to be taken lightly. As a schoolboy, Sir Nick Faldo used to sprint from hole to hole at the Open to make sure he caught various players in action and he ended up with six majors, a record for a European golfer.
Nobody in the field at Rockliffe Hall is better qualified to make suggestions than Mark James, no big pal of Faldo.
James was Europe’s captain for the explosive Battle of Brookline Ryder Cup showdown in 1999, 18 times a European Tour winner and a BBC TV pundit.
Once part of the consortium that used to own Burgham Park, James isn’t too happy about his own game going into the three-day tournament starting tomorrow at Steve Gibson’s five-star golf resort in Hurworth, outside Darlington.
But he is happy to flag up five to follow for youngsters in a North East region which over the last three seasons has produced two English Open Under-16 champions and a Sir Henry Cooper Junior Masters title winner in Jack Hermeston, Jake Storey and Matty Lamb.
First up as a James likely lad at Rockliffe is Paul Wesselingh, No 1 in the tour rankings and last year’s winner of the PGA Seniors Championship at Slaley in his rookie year.
Wesselingh has more than £300,000 in prize money to show for his first two seasons on the tour.
James said: “In terms of combining power with accuracy, Paul is the one to watch off the tee. He has a good turn, a good late hit, plenty of power and he plays through the ball well.”
The boss when it comes to putting, says James, is Gary Wolstenholme, six times a Walker Cup player,and twice the British Amateur champion.
Wolstenholme has won three Senior Tour events although this is only his third full season and he’s hoping for a third successive top-10 finish in the rankings.
“Like everything in golf, rhythm is vital in putting,” said James. “Gary has this calmness about his action. You just see everything working smoothly in tandem, with the pace of his putting beautifully controlled.”
James would have gone for Carl Mason, who has won a record 25 European Senior Tour events, as the man to watch on the greens at Rockliffe had Mason not been a devotee of the long handled putter, soon to be outlawed.
For bunker play, James opts for Spain’s Miguel Angel Martin, whose claim to fame is that he signed for a 59 in the 1987 South Argentine Open – a score never achieved on the European Tour.
“Again, keeping everything smooth and under control contributes to the desired end result,” said James. “You never see a pro attempt a splash shot without opening the club face on his sand wedge and using a much fuller swing than the average club player. And you certainly won’t see that from Miguel.”
In searching for a swing that will stand up to the pressure of tournament play, James selects Mason and Mason’s close friend Nick Job.
“You don’t play at this level in your sixties unless your overall use of your woods and irons is exemplary. Carl and Nick are well worth following to see which shots they choose. These players do everything well. Youngsters can really look and learn here paying special attention to the timing of the shots and, yes, that word rhythm again.
“I am no different to any other golfer in that my game goes to pieces if my rhythm is not right, and all round the course the tempo of any shot is the first thing you should pay attention to.”
So who will win at Rockliffe?
James said: “I would tend to favour one of the form horses in Paul Wesselingh and the New Zealander, Peter Fowler, who are the top two in the Order of Merit, particularly if it gets a bit damp. Rockliffe is a long course and they both hit it a long way and they hit it straight.”
North East players in the field are Matfen Hall’s “godfather of golf”, John Harrison, Rockliffe founder member Roger Roper and the Eaglescliffe club pro Graeme Bell.
The Rockliffe-attached European Tour player Graeme Storm is playing in today’s Pro-Am and will be at the resort every day of the tournament hosting VIPs and Rockliffe members.
It was Storm who procured a tournament invitation for old pal Bell, a serial winner on the PGA regional circuits, and has tipped him as the dark horse of the event.