Whistling Dixie sends the West wild

David Dixon has already won the amateur medal. Tim Glover charts his journey alongside the greats
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The Independent Online

When Tiger Woods won the silver medal as leading amateur the last time The Open was played here in 1996, he did not have to do what David Dixon has done. Dixie, as he is popularly known in the West Country, has already secured possession of the medal by virtue of being the only non-professional to make the cut but that was almost the least of his achievements.

The incredible journey began for the 24-year-old from Spaxton, a village near Bridgwater in Somerset, when he failed to get through regional qualifying at Burnham and Berrow, finishing third reserve. For the final qualifying last weekend, he was 34th reserve and, lo and behold, received a telephone call from the R & A at 10.30 last Saturday night. A spot had been found for him at St Annes Old Links on Sunday morning.

Dixon drove to Lancashire with his friend Shaun Harris and hasn't stopped driving since. At St Annes he scored 65 and 69, the same aggregate as the American Jeff Maggert, and in the 130th Open he has completed rounds of 70, 71 and 70 to stand at two under par for the Championship, only four shots off the lead. Good grief, when Bobby Jones won the Open at Lytham in 1926, he had two rounds of 72, a 73 and 74. But, of course, the great American was an amateur.

Dixie will not be an amateur for long. He is expected to turn professional next week, joining the stable of Darren Clarke and Lee Westwood. In the meantime he is having a ball and there has not been the slightest sign of that ending at the midnight hour.

The same goes for Harris, a 14 handicapper and a member, like Dixon, at the Enmore Park Club. Last year, the two dovetailed to win the Lytham Trophy here, one of the pedigree tournaments for amateurs, with Harris employed as caddie.

It would not be unkind to suggest he is the largest caddie in golf. The Craig Stadler of caddies, Harris weighs in at 26 stone; he stands 6ft 6in and has a 60in chest. He used to play American football in this country for the Bristol Aztecs.

Yesterday, the bib issued to all caddies here looked, on big Shaun, like a vest on a hippopotamus and the golf bag on his shoulder like a quiver. When he isn't playing golf or caddieing for his friend ­ "When he says a four iron, you don't argue with him,'' said Dixon ­ Harris runs a kitchen-fitting business. Last Monday, after safely negotiating final qualifying, he had to return briefly to Taunton to attend to somebody's kitchen.

Dixon's experience at Lytham in winning the Trophy has been of huge benefit to him this week, as was playing a practice round with John Daly on Wednesday. "I didn't know what to expect being out there with enormous crowds. It's so different to the amateur game,'' Dixon said. "And it helped playing with Daly because the people came out to see him. It was absolutely awesome and great fun.''

When asked about Dixon, Daly replied: "Is he that amateur guy? How does he hit the ball so damn straight?''

Not only straight but long. On Friday night as the lights in the clubhouse became a beacon for the last groups out on the course, Dixon got to four under par for the tournament and was lying sixth. Then he had three bogeys in the last four holes. Even so, at the 412yd 18th, he hit one of the longest drives, around 400 yards downwind, ever seen at the hole.

Yesterday, aside from an untidy few holes in mid-round, he again played impressively, indeed almost flawlessly. Paired with the Irishman Paul McGinley, Dixon began in tremendous style with a birdie two at the first, holing from 35 feet. He created more chances before picking up another birdie at the par five seventh where he had a legitimate eagle opportunity. At the eighth he failed to save par, missing from four feet, and at the ninth, found a bunker on the right, his first visit to sand of the day. From a wretched lie, he had no choice but to play out sideways and the result was a bogey four. He steadied himself over the back nine, captured a birdie at the 14th and was unfortunate not to gain strokes at the 11th and the 18th where the crowd gave him an emotional homecoming.

"It's great to keep the ball in play and give myself chances,'' he said. "I'm hitting the ball well and I'm hoping to hole a few more puts. I'm just going out there to enjoy it. The crowd has been fantastic and I'd like to thank all of them. I'm just taking so much out of this. It's a fantastic experience. I've had loads of calls and the telephone has been going crazy the last couple of days. I had to turn it off for a while.''

Down at Enmore Park in deepest Somerset, the professional, Nigel Wixon, and hundreds of members were glued to the television set. Nigel's son David was a junior brought through the ranks along with Dixon.

"They were known on the county circuit as Dixie and Wixie,'' said Nigel. "We're all very proud of Dixie. He's not only talented, he's a tough boy and we're all confident that he's going to do well.''

Today at Enmore Park, where Dixon's step-mother works behind the bar, it was supposed to be captain's day. Instead, that has been put on hold and all the members are heading for the links at Lytham. No doubt, they'll be whistling Dixie.