Sherry brings delightful sense of youthful daring

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The Independent Online
His two playing partners were both agreed. Gordon Sherry is a delightful man, and has a lovely sense of humour. A sweet Sherry and a dry Sherry rolled into one. The Amateur champion can also play a bit, and the sight of a Sherry clutching the old claret jug on Sunday night cannot be entirely ruled out.

Teeing off in your first Open championship alongside Greg Norman and Tom Watson is enough to make anyone pack a bagful of extra gloves to combat sweaty palms, let alone a 21-year-old still at university, but Sherry offered a nice example of his sense of humour when someone asked him whether he had managed to get any sleep. "Of course I did," he said. "I'm a student."

There are several words to describe what sort of last fortnight it has been for the 6ft 8in Scot, and humdrum is not one of them. He came away from the European amateur team championships in Antwerp with a 10-match 100 per cent record in six days, finished fourth in the Scottish Open at Carnoustie, holed in one during a practice round here in the company of Jack Nicklaus, and as he walked on to the 18th green in the company of two more of the game's superstars, Sherry had to pause for a good three minutes while the legendary figure of Arnold Palmer was feted on and off the adjoining first tee. When the decibel level had died away to an acceptable level, Sherry rolled in a seven-foot putt for his birdie three.

"One day, my boy, all this could be yours" may have crossed Sherry's mind as Palmer drank in the applause at his final Open, but as far as Mrs Sherry is concerned, her boy's size 13 feet are in no danger of leaving the ground. "He's not above getting a clip around the ear," his mum said, "just so long as I can find a pair of steps to reach him. He's no superstar, just a lovely boy who leaves his shoes lying around for me to tidy up."

When Sherry turns professional, he is both talented and marketable enough to afford more shoes to leave lying around than Imelda Marcos. However, when he teed off yesterday alongside Norman and Watson, there was a slight discrepancy in personal wealth. A combined fortune of around pounds 50 million, against a boy on a student's grant.

When Sherry played in the Scottish Open he had a side bet with the American amateur Tiger Woods on which one of them would finish higher. The stake was pounds 1. When Sherry partnered Watson against Nicklaus and Tom Wargo in Wednesday's practice, the stakes shot up to pounds 20, which probably made him rather more nervous than he was yesterday.

He outplayed Greg, although the Australian was struggling with a bad back. Having received $350,000 (pounds 225,000) just for turning up at the Irish Open, Norman is wholly reliant on the prize-money here in order to help the Shark keep the wolf from the door. So it was possibly the weight discrepancy in his wallet which led to the pain around his lumbar region.

Norman's estimation of Sherry was already pretty high when they clambered on to the ninth tee, at which point the Scot said: "I know I shouldn't be hitting a driver here, but it's OK, because I'm an amateur." Sherry struck it 30 yards short of the green at a 356 yard hole, and Norman said: "I wish I still had that kind of attitude. The game needs a breath of fresh air like that."

"It seems a touch curious that someone with a Ferrari for every day of the week, and a private jet for slightly longer trips, occasionally regards taking the driver out as a bad risk, but until Sherry learns to play the percentages (as, sadly, they all do in the end) it is, as Norman says, a treat to watch him.

"This new young kid is a star on the horizon," Norman said. "He's intelligent, likeable, and nothing seems to faze him. He reminds me a little bit of Ernie Els. I'm really, really impressed with this kid, and I can't say that about many other young kids I've played with around the world."

Watson was every bit as complimentary. "He's got a great smile, a great sense of humour, and is just a delightful guy. Besides that, he can play. He has a good rhythm, a good arc, and it's amazing for such a tall man to swing that well." Sherry is so big, in fact, that if he wasn't a golfer Watson reckons he would make a good American footballer. "Right tackle, for the Kansas City Chiefs."

His father Bill, a retired policeman, is a comparative midget at 6ft 5in, but was hardly a Sherry to be trifled with when he was on his beat in Kilmarnock. "He's enjoying every minute out there," he said of his son walking down the 12th, which, considering that the round took 287 minutes to complete, was an achievement in itself. Whatever else Sherry achieves over the next three days, he is - in more ways than one - already one of golf's taller stories.