Amateur on an annual mission

Woosnam joins Kemp in chasing a common goal
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The Independent Online

There are two players lining up in that lottery known as final qualifying at four courses in Kent today ready to write their own footnotes in Open history: Ian Woosnam and John Kemp.

The former needs little introduction: 1991 Masters champion, Ryder Cup legend, much-loved ambassador of the European Tour... Alas, none of the above come with an automatic entry to The Open and so, as his game slips away with the years, Woosnam will become the first former world No 1 to play in final qualifying since the ranking system's inception in 1986.

Kemp, meanwhile, does need a lengthy introduction, if only to Woosnam, who could do with a few tips on how to survive this bloodiest of 36-hole shootouts, in which around 25 players will be left standing from a field of almost 400. Should he emerge as one of the lucky half-dozen from Royal Cinque Ports, Kemp will become the first amateur to come through final qualifying in three successive years.

It would be a unique feat, as it is only his third time of trying, but when you consider that this is an amateur good enough for The Open but who has yet to represent his country, it is obvious we are talking about a special golfer here.

Kemp is a throwback to a bygone era, where self-supporting amateurs would often beat the pros. Now, of course, a glittering amateur career is a vital apprenticeship for the professional ranks, but in the days that stretched into the Seventies it was often merely a means to a Corinthian end -to play the game simply for the reward of playing.

But even to this nostalgic breed, Kemp would have been considered as something of an oddball in a threeball. The plus-three handicapper did not take up golf seriously until his early twenties, and even then his job as a self-employed salesman for four different companies had to take precedence. Thus, he only practises "two or three hours a week".

"Hitting targets is more important than hitting golf balls in my book. Because if I don't hit those targets, I don't eat," he said on Friday as he drove down to his £35-a-night digs in the Sandwich area, along with his caddie, Roy Mackenzie, who doubles up as a packaging millionaire in his spare time.

When Kemp first qualified with a 10-under total two years ago he stunned the assembled press sniffing for "the little man at The Open" by admitting that he had only played "five or six competitive rounds this year". Many wrote it off as the biggest fluke since Foinavon was a foal, but 12 months later he was back stunning them again. Again he confirmed he had hardly practised, but that this time he was "thinking claret jug, not low amateur. I hear the rough's pretty long at Muirfield, so I'm off to buy a strimmer". He obviously did not find one powerful enough, as he missed the cut again, but still left with enough memories to last another 12 months. "The whole Open experience is brilliant," he said. "I'm not overawed by it at all. The first year I marched up to the first and asked Tom Watson and Fred Couples if I could play a practice round with them, and last year did the same with Jim Furyk. I like the pressure, because this is 'go for it' golf. I just love taking these players on."

Not that Kemp would consider turning professional. He tried for his Tour card a few years ago, but after getting through the first stage he discovered that the final stage in Spain was the day after his wedding. "I convinced Mandy that it would be a good place to honeymoon, but when I got there the other amateurs were out jogging, which made me feel pretty inadequate. So I took it seriously, and got up at the crack of dawn to practise. But the range was already jam-packed by the time I arrived. I decided there and then that it wasn't for me."

And it seems he isn't for the England set-up, who have yet to pick him, despite his Open record and his winning the British Mid-Amateur twice. "The amateurs are all full-time now; a lot of them are more professional than the professionals. England want you to commit full-time, but I have a stressful job to do," he said. Indeed, his laptop will remain switched on throughout his latest Open adventure, and although it is hard to imagine Kemp taking a business call as he walks up the 18th at Sandwich, that is only because Royal St George's don't allow mobile phones.

He's certainly playing well enough to get there. "My coach, Ian Connolly - Nick Faldo's old mentor - has said I'm playing better now than the last two years," he said. By way of proof, Kemp won the Midland Amateur two weekends ago, and is 26 under for his last nine rounds. What Woosnam would give for figures like that.