Golf: The Open - Rivals united in fairway folklore

Ronald Atkin visits the golfing homes of two Carnoustie heroes; ...meanwhile at neighbouring clubhouses in Dorset the members cannot take their eyes off the coverage
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The Independent Online
OF ALL the stories to emerge from the carnage of Carnoustie none is more heartening than the tale of the two Thompsons, Lee and Martyn, professionals at clubs three miles apart in Dorset, unrelated friendly rivals, qualifiers for the Open Championship and now destined to be there on the tournament's final day.

In case coincidence might rationally be expected to stop right there, the two Thompsons fathered sons in recent weeks and both decided to call the baby Ben.

Lee Thompson, 27, is based at Dudsbury and Martyn, 29, is resident head professional at Canford Magna. Both courses are fairly new, to the north of Bournemouth and on the edge of the New Forest. Both have seen their bars packed over the past few days as members eagerly followed TV coverage of the Open straining for the mention of a Thompson. Dudsbury's assistant pro, Alastair Rackley, reported: "Peter Alliss actually mentioned Martyn and Canford Magna and a big cheer went up from our members."

Martyn Thompson might be a neighbouring club's man but he enjoys a special affection at Dudsbury where, at the beginning of this month, he shattered the course record of 65 by three shots in a PGA Order of Merit event, finishing his round with five birdies on the trot. Martyn's 62 card is framed and hangs in Dudsbury's Spikes Bar. When he qualified for the Open at Downfield, Lee was in similarly rich form with five birdies in the last seven holes.

They are a young bunch at Dudsbury, a Donald Steel-designed course which opened in 1992. The secretary, Giles Legg, 28 and off scratch, is not at all surprised that Lee is doing so well. "We actually have some fearsome rough so I don't think he is finding it too difficult up there," he said. "Lee is a very good wind player because we are quite an exposed club here and also the course is very slightly linksy.

"Lee is a perfectionist, always grumbling about his putting or his driving. He is very dedicated, practises a lot and has improved enough this year to take his chance. When he rang me from Carnoustie it was the first time he has been really excited about anything."

There were reasons, apart from his rounds of 75 and 78 in the testing conditions. For one thing Lee had bumped into his boyhood hero, Gary Player, and said hello. For another, he played a practice round with Colin Montgomerie and was thrilled by his friendliness and helpfulness. Help was something that this son of an Ipswich Town footballer was in need of on Friday night, too. Lee had rented a house for himself, his caddy Andy Puttnam, his parents and girl friend Sam. Not expecting to make the cut, he took the place only until Friday, so there was much scuttling around to secure accommodation for this weekend.

But Lee was not too preoccupied to welcome Martyn in the gloaming on Friday as the man from Canford Magna, the last player to drive off in the second round, was also the last to putt out at 9pm and the last to secure a place in the final two rounds. "Lee was there to congratulate me when I came off the 18th green," said Martyn, who also made it to the 1995 Open at St Andrews. "We embraced each other. I was just high on adrenalin. What a fantastic achievement for both of us to get through. To play the last weekend is a dream come true. I have never won pounds 6,000 in my life before, pounds 2,000 is the most I have collected from a tournament."

At Canford Magna, opened in 1994 and Dorset's largest golf complex with 36 holes (to be expanded to 45 at the end of the month) and a flourishing youth academy, they are unanimous that it couldn't happen to a nicer man. Trevor Smith, the managing director, said: "Martyn is very amicable, such a nice bloke, very good for the club because he is such a good communicator and a good teacher. We are lucky that he is a good player as well. He came to us with the new clubhouse, which has been open 15 months, and he spent the first year getting the pro shop up and running. Now he is able to concentrate more on his golf and since the birth of his son six weeks ago he has been playing as well as he has ever done."

Martin Cummins, assistant pro at Canford Magna, is well positioned to compare the two Thompsons as he has known Martyn since their junior pro days together and worked with Lee at Bournemouth's Meyrick Park municipal course. "Martyn is the perfect shape to get the ball round long courses, a bit like Tiger Woods. He hits it straight and can give it a tonk. At Carnoustie Tiger got up on the 14th with a six iron and a wedge. Martin made it with a five and a wedge.

"Although Lee is more bubbly, he is a very good competitor. He thinks his way round the course and spends a lot of time practising, where Martyn gets his clubs out every six weeks and annoys you by shooting six under. Lee has his sights set on the top and if he keeps improving I would think he has a chance. I don't know whether Martyn is that interested, although he has the better chance. He has three children now [Tara, 13, Josh, 10, and Ben], he is a family man and isn't looking to spend too much time away from home."

Strangely, the less extrovert Martyn is the one who comes attached to nicknames - Ploppy, for his habit of finding water on important rounds, and Swampy because it goes with his name, as in Swampy Thompson. Now the golfing folk of Dorset are going to have to find new names for their heroes of Carnoustie.