Warren Bladon is the gent, and viewers of The Golf Channel will remember him as one of the 'Big Break IV' participants at Carnoustie. Hes spent his entire adult life bouncing around golf courses, frequently just on the fringes of respectability, futilely searching for sponsors, maybe a sugar daddy or two who could pay his expenses while he won enough money to get over the hump.
It's normal life for most people, paying the bills. It's day-to-day life, he said.
Ditto for the girlfriend, who makes a living working for an auto dealership. She works hard, comes in, gets paid, said Warren. Week and a half later, you're thinking you've only got so much money to last.
Card: Follow Warren at the British Open
So the lady put the qualifying fee on her credit card. And Bladon made the most of it. He finished in the top three out of 96 hopefuls, good enough to tee it up in the Big Show Thursday.
I don't have a great job, Bladon explained his predicament. It doesn't pay me that much money. At the time I didn't have the money to pay and she offered to put it on her credit card, so I accepted. She said on one condition - that you practice a little bit, so at least you give yourself a good chance of getting through the first stage. One-hundred-and-10 pounds for a round of golf is a lot of money.
Warren agreed to her condition, working from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., then going to the course in his hometown of Coventry for a few holes, then some chipping and putting. But it isnt easy to find time for golf every evening when youre also doing a 40-plus-hour work week. He works fulltime framing pictures, making about $10 an hour, but a couple of days a week he augments that by doing plumbing for a friends business.
Oh ' that friend is also his caddy this week. How much is Bladon paying the caddy? He isnt ' the caddy is paying for the experience of getting to carry a bag in the Open. Uh, the caddy is also paying Bladons expenses at Hoylake this week.
You would think Warren is quite awed by the experience of playing such a momentous tournament. But he really isnt ' he has played in two British Opens in the past, and even competed once in the Masters. That was after he won the British Amateur. He even played The Memorial that year ' 1996.
His highlight of the week in Augusta was playing nine holes of a practice round with Jack Nicklaus. Bladon had been practicing all morning long and exhaustion finally got to him. He had to walk in, leaving Nicklaus and U.S. Amateur Steve Scott to carry on the final nine.
It was brilliant playing with him (Nicklaus), said Bladon. He said where the pins were going to be. It was wonderful, just what you expect.
Bladon had two long breaks from tournament competition - in his 20s when he didnt play from 21 to 26, then after he won the British Amateur at age 30, he basically quit the tournament regimen again at age 34. He plays only one or two tournaments a year, he says, which is where his career is now.
I don't like not play, he said, adding that he plays now twice a week at the local course since his various jobs take so much time. I'm still a professional golfer in the loosest term.
Bladon actually tried the U.S. tour school last year after The Big Break experience, but he washed out in the opening rounds of a local qualifier in Atlanta. The Big Break, incidentally, was most enjoyable to Warren. It was great fun, yeah. I got my Bridgestone clubs out of it, he said.
So, he got his clubs free. They dont come cheaply, you know. And he doesnt have the manufacturers chasing him like they once did when he played in the tournaments. Over the years I have (telephoned) a lot of them and said, I'd like some balls or something. And you get, No, no, no. Not here, not now.
And Bridgestone said, Yeah, we'll give you as many as you want.
It was sweet words to a man who has had to struggle for a quid or two most of his life. But he finally has gotten a break by making the Open field. He earned about $1,600 from final qualifying. And he is guaranteed at least $3,800 ' the last-place payoff ' for competing in the Open. That, he says, will enable him to repay the loan from his girlfriend for qualifying.
And, even more, it has proven something to Bladon. I think it just shows that I can play, he says, simply.
People have written me off, and I'm now 40. I don't think it's an age issue there's no reason you can't win the Open in your 40s. If I got on the European Tour, I think after a bit of time I could perform on that (tour) and stay on it. It just takes money.
Making his way trying to earn a living doing the trades in England has been an ordeal for him ' It's been up and down, conceded Bladon. I've had loads of highs and loads of lows. It's not been very steady.
Through it all, though, the love of golf has never once wavered. I love it. It's my passion, my dream, he said.
This week, he makes no promises, either to himself or his fellow tradesmen who are pulling for him. He wants to enjoy the moment with his lady, and when it is done, he wants to know that he didnt cheat himself out of one moment of fun.
I just want to do as well as I can, he said. I want to come off the course knowing that I haven't been overcome by it, and just control myself and hit the right shot at the right time.
And if I do that, then I'll be happy.
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