Wednesday 20th June 2018

The Greatest Playoff in History

With The Open Championship only one month away, Scottish Student Sport has teamed up with The R&A to offer a pair of tickets to the penultimate round of this year’s event at Carnoustie from the 15th-22nd July.

There have been some great playoffs in the history of The Open, full of drama and excitement, but arguably none as magical as the ‘Moray Moonlighter’ at this year’s Scottish Student Golf Championships. With the Open Championship only a month away we have teamed up with The R&A to offer you the chance of winning a pair of tickets to the penultimate round this year’s Open!

However, there is only one way to win, and that is to tell us your stories of playing golf (or any other sport) in unusual or challenging conditions.

Comment on our Facebook post with this link for your chance to be in the running. 

So here is the story of the greatest playoff in history….

Imagine the scene – Moray Golf Club (Lossiemouth) in late March, well over 100 student golfers from across Scotland’s Colleges and Universities have fought and battled round 36 holes over the beguiling links of Moray Golf Club New Course, all with their gaze firmly fixed on making the top 39 half-way cut.

It has been a day of twists and turns, with the breezy conditions nudging the scoring up and the possibility of a playoff starts to take shape, with a number of players anxiously awaiting the scores from the final few groups on the course.

As the early evening twilight starts to gather, the last of the round two cards is submitted amidst whispering and rumour within the clubhouse. It is then dramatically confirmed to a full clubhouse bar that an historic seven-man playoff for two available slots will commence at 1930!

Players, teammates, organisers and onlookers alike – a 50-strong crowd – don an extra layer and stride out purposefully across the course to reach the arena of destiny: the par-3 17th hole.

The organisers deem that seven is just too many for one group and so the players draw numbers at the tee to determine their playing order, with the first four playing in group one, to be followed by the remaining three.

Which two of these gladiators could book their places in the Tuesday’s final two rounds?

Jack Malone – Stirling University

Matt Myers – University of St. Andrews

Niall Young – Robert Gordon University

Scott Macpherson – Stirling University

David Nagiev – Stirling University

Stewart McCaw – Stirling University

Stephen Alexander – University of St. Andrews

With a pressure-cooker atmosphere, the players did well to gather themselves, focus and play their shots. The challenge at hand: Approximately 180 yards to a well-guarded green, surrounded by a ribbon of enthusiastic and entertainment-hungry spectators.

ATTEMPT NUMBER 1 – the magnificent seven

Six brave men were to card pars at this first attempt, with only the very unfortunate Scott Macpherson missing out for his three, after failing to successfully negotiate a poor lie for his greenside chip and leaving himself too much to do to save par.

With the slightly trimmed field it was decided to amalgamate everyone into the same group and return to the tee for another go – especially given that the 18th is a par four and the daylight was beginning to fail (official sunset 1940 hrs).

ATTEMPT NUMBER 2 – the steely six

The six remaining student golfers returned to the tee at a brisk walk and set about the unusual scenario of playing in a gloaming set six-ball.

Only two of the six tee-shots find the putting surface, meaning testing up-and-downs become the order of the day if survival is to be secured. One after another, the students display deft touches to surround the hole and tee-up the most valuable of pars – but with two exceptions. Stirling’s David Nagiev leaves his approach chip an uncomfortable distance from the hole and would go on to slide the putt past to be eliminated with a bogey four. No such problems for Stewart McCaw however…

The Stirling Uni fresher, who had only been ‘relegated’ to the playoff following a 2-shot penalty in the second round, would have been excused for feeling sorry for himself as he prepared to play a bunker shot from a very tricky position to the right of the green.

With a compromised stance and the ball sitting down he waited for the hush of the crowd before playing the perfect shot – holing out from the sand to send the crowd into raptures!

ATTEMPT NUMBER THREE – the fearless four

The conditions are now nothing short of very dark. The ball can still be seen at the player’s feet, but not in the air. There is a sense of no turning back, but all involved are acutely aware of the fact that this is no ordinary playoff. All four players strike their tee-shots and wait for crowd reactions or any other audible clue that will indicate the resting place of their ball. Three players are skilful and fortunate enough for their shots to trouble the green but luck has run out for RGU’s Niall Young who can only muster a bogey four from the rough and has to bid the buoyant crowd goodbye.

ATTEMPT NUMBER FOUR – the thankful three

It is now well past most some people’s bedtime and still the golf continues, with the players combining excellent golf under pressure with acute eyesight, impressive cardiovascular fitness, and genuine resilience to the cold.

‘We didn’t get all dressed up for nothing…’

Matthew Myers and Stephen Alexander manage to go to the well one more time and produce shots of real quality when it mattered most, though they weren’t to know that at the time, as it was almost pitch black. Only the sound of a landing ball was sufficient to inform anyone of the whereabouts of each shot and thus a sense of hushed anticipation met each strike of the ball. For Jack Malone there was no such hint and nothing more to go on than the sensation that it may have ‘gone a bit right’.

A mass search is briefly staged, before Jack gallantly calls it off and is eliminated from the playoff. The remaining two (Myers and Alexander) look knowingly at each other, share a rye grin and dart off at a pretty good 1500m pace back to the tee. ‘We didn’t get all dressed up for nothing…’

ATTEMPT NUMBER FIVE – the durable duo, chapter 1

New protocols are now in play. It is eight thirty pm and sunset is a distant memory. Technology comes into play as all those with phones enable torch mode to provide some much-needed illumination around the tee and green.

A call of ‘fore’ rings out once each ball is in the air, and the attendant spectators and officials hunker down half-cowering but fully listening, in the hope of a ball landing close – but not too close.

Both of the guys deserve great admiration for closing in on the target and leaving only a short chip or a medium length putt for their second shot. Each player makes a reasonable effort for an historic birdie but has to settle for a par 3 and the most impressive ‘half’ of the day.

ATTEMPT NUMBER SIX – the durable duo, chapter 2

A new level of silliness is achieved for the sixth playing of the 17th hole. The torchlight protocols continue but are extended to include light at the players’ feet, as the ball cannot be clearly seen now, even at address.

Both Myers and Alexander fire off pretty good shots in the circumstances, but are unable to find the green – and the resultant greenside shoot out (including some very high tariff bunker play) can only glean a half in four and cheers of approval from the delighted crowd who are starting to settle in for the night.

It is acknowledged that the conditions are unlikely to get darker from this point on and so as long as battery power remains there is no reason to turn back now. Onwards!

ATTEMPT NUMBER SEVEN – the durable duo, chapter 3

The time is now almost ten to nine and the excited murmuring of the still hefty crowd is being added to by rumbling stomachs and the musings of those who will be back out on the course in under twelve hours to do it all again.

Our brave duellers tee it up one more time with the phones at close quarters and are now fully reliant on the assistance of rules official David Fleming who is bravely (or perhaps very safely) attending the flag with his own lit-up phone in hand. A beacon of hope.

Stephen Alexander somehow fires an iron shot on to the front of the green, while Matt Myers’ ball is swallowed up by the tricky left hand bunker. His approach agonisingly glides out to about 12 feet while Stephen holds hi nerve to roll one up to the holeside, along a makeshift avenue of phone lights.

After 18 holes of regulation play and almost 90 minutes of additional playoff time, Matt Myers is unable to find one last putt in his hour of need, and with a sheepishly magnanimous smile and hand-shake Stephen Alexander is returned as the final man to make the cut.

His reward – an 0730 tee-time on the Old Course, and a story to tell for many years to come.

For your chance to win a pair of tickets to the 3rd round of this year’s Open Championship, please comment on our Facebook post with your own adventurous story or photo. We would love to see how you took part in sport in unusual or challenging conditions and the lucky winner will be chosen from all unique posts on the 7th July and will be announced on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram at @ScotStuSport. You won’t miss it.

Good luck!

Photography courtesy of Alasdair Dickson