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Hard week at Le Golf National earns dream Open Championship berth

The more experienced players know that everything about the French Open apart from the course is a struggle.   The hotels are massively overpriced the aircon doesn't work, food is difficult and the people can be rude.

My first year in 2006 it was 35 degrees and about 25 at night in the onsite Novotel.  It didn't have aircon and we dripped all week.
I payed a bit more this year to stay in a good hotel in Versailles thinking the aircon would work but I arrived and it was 24 in the room. I called up to ask to get it fixed in the next day, fortunately they did.  The bed was good and the room a decent size, that was all I needed.  Most of the big boys stayed in this hotel, Kaymer, Gmac, Donaldson, Harrington.  It does make you feel like a better player seeing them at breakfast as opposed to the guys struggling to keep their cards and penny pinching worrying about cash. 

On Monday I played 9 holes, its great to get a quiet course, very therapeutic!  Then on Tuesday it gets really busy when everyone arrives, 150 players caddies, equipment guys, tour staff etc about 350 people descend on the place.
 
I got myself up at 6 on Tuesday for another 9 holes at 8am before the Proam started this was the only practice time available.  It was 5 outta 6 days awake before 630, it was starting to feel like a treadmill but I had decided to take the day off on Wednesday and see the Eiffel Tower and just get away from the course for a change. I wasn't gonna feel guilty about not practising as I'd done a full day on Tuesday and was in the middle of 8 weeks playing out of 9. 
 

Bev came over on Tuesday with the direct flight from Aldergrove.  It was the first time she had left Erin for 3 nights, so she was a little concerned.  Thanks to Granny Audrey she was in safe hands tho and we are fortunate to have the help.

We got the train into Paris, its about 40 mins from Versailles.  We got off at the Eiffel Tower and bought tickets to walk up it.  It was a decent walk, a lot of steps to the 2nd stage, but good fun, apart from when Bev needed the bathroom at the top and it was a 35 minute wait!  I thought someone had kidnapped her!  The views were great of Paris, and the structure is unbelievable to think it was designed in late 1800s amazing!  The top was closed for repair so you couldn't get right up. We then walked towards Notre Dame.  It was a long way down the river and it was hot but we stopped for food, paid a fortune for bad service.  I don't get how people love this place, there must be a lot of first time tourists who don't return. 
 
Notre Dame was nice, but we were ready to leave, both of us were hot, and we got the train back home.  It was weird, it didn't feel like I was at golf tournament!

I was late on Thursday, 140 with Olazabal and Felipe Aguilar.  Felipe is a great guy and a great competitor, Jose Maria is not happy on the course these days he's struggling with the driver but still hits his irons good. I was going good 2 under keeping my tempo, it was hot though. The round took 4hr 45 in 32 degrees with humidity, it was tough towards the end, you couldn't drink enough water. Felipe was 4 under  playing really solid hitting fairways which if you don't on this course its hard to get round.  There is a lot of water in play off the tee and around the greens.  Jose Maria was cursing in Spanish, I've heard all the words at this stage, its a shame.  He's won so much earlier in his career but the modern equipment doesn't seem to suit his weak grip and lower flight, you have to try and launch the driver more in the air these days!  I finished in a wreck out of the blue I think it was so hot I didn't drink enough fluid and a couple of quick swings saw me triple the last hole.  2 balls in the water and limp home looking at booking a flight for Friday back to Belfast. But the scoring wasn't good as its such a tough track so I had to dig in, Bev helped me stay positive. 

Friday morning, I felt good and the swing felt great, I had great tempo and holed a few putts and got on a roll with 5 birdies in 6 holes.  Then on 18 I hit a solid 3 wood but it kicked harder than we thought and still trickled into the water, it was unlucky as less club leaves quite a long 2nd shot over water. In hindsight the lesser club was the play but everyone is good with hindsight in golf. Gerry was gutted, he prides himself on good clubbing but there is nothing you can do with a massive bounce.  We dug in on the back 9 and some solid swings and lots of fairways finished me in 5 under, the best round of the day in the end.

Jose Maria was tortured, he sprayed a few shots into the junk and was so dejected that he walked in, which is hard for him to do as he's a battler.  He's trying to get ready for the US Seniors tour I guess it's tough to stop when it's almost a new career starting over.  Felipe wasn't as good but good company.   He's on the players committee and I suggested an improvement by measuring the pin positions by laser which should be more accurate as every other yardage is lasered. The round took 5hrs and 12 mins so I didn't do much after just some putting for 30mins, then back to the hotel to watch a bit of Germany v France.  Kaymer and the German guys were watching it and happy afterwards, town was quiet, the French were silenced.  Bev left me on the 6th hole, happy to get back to Erin!

 On Saturday I was with Tongchai Jaidee, such a nice guy, former paratrooper in thai military, he still sleeps on the floor in hotels!  He plays so fast its unreal and I struggled to keep up.  I should have slowed myself down slightly 2 balls can be tough.    I started great, 3 under after 10 then pulled a 7 iron a touch downwind on 11 got a horrendous lie in the rough and got completely under it for an airshot, a very horrible feeling as everyone knows.  I slightly mishit and pushed a 9 iron on the 15th downwind over water and it didn't carry by 3 yards for another double but those are the margins on this tough course. I dug out 3 pars to finish. Tongchai is the best chipper I've  ever seen from the rough he opens the face so much and still gets it out low with check.  He drained 2 40 footers and shot 4under!
 
Sunday was a big day, every day is big in golf and you can't put too much on a pedestal but I wanted a spot in the open and there was a good chance.  Playing with GMAC is special, he's a world class player.  He has great focus, routines and is ridiculously positive. He just ground out pars when it was tough with a great putting  stroke and birdies when he had the chance, his routine on the greens is fantastic and something I need to improve.  The crowd were big and loud towards the end and I was happy to be turning an average round into a good one with birdies on 15 and 16 following Graeme in and it felt good.  My tempo wasn't my best, earlier I got a bit quick when the rain came in sideways.   Graeme was hitting flush irons and putting on a proper performance.  We both kind of bailed out on 18 and made bogeys but at the end of a marathon week its almost not a bad play to take double out of the equation and for me I knew bogey would be good enough for a spot in The Open Championship.  It finished and I got the spot and was presented with a Player's badge for The Open, a dream week really.  I had room left in the tank to improve that was the exciting thing and to see how it was done ringside by an expert was invaluable.

It was quite a week for the Northern Ireland golfing community.  Graeme retaining his French Open Title and Stephanie Meadows continuing to impress on the ladies tour! 

The Scottish is a great event and a true links test in Royal Aberdeen this year and it should be a good warm up for the open.  I'm not gonna hit the range too hard this week as its been a lot of golf but focus on the preshot routines and examine the course and yardage book as I've never seen it.
This year is becoming more enjoyable all the time.