David Carey cuts a distinctive figure. There’s the white flat cap, à la that of Ben Hogan (his idol and inspiration), and there’s the brown takeaway pizza boxed tucked under his arm, which has come from the firepit outside the players’ lounge, a fancy marquee tent erected for this 150th Open Championship on the Old Course where the world’s best players are living the dream.
There’s the kid with a souvenir flag, unsure of whether to ask for an autograph or not? There’s a look on the young boy’s face, wondering who the golfer, striding with confidence, actually is?
Carey, indeed, is probably the most comfortable golfer in his own skin at St Andrews.
He may play on the Alps Tour, a development circuit, and be ranked 912th in the world; but there is a sense of belonging and of the 26-year-old Dubliner, into his eighth year as a professional, knowing that he has every right to be moving in such a company and of dreaming the same dreams of holding aloft the Claret Jug.
On the back of Carey’s flat cap there is an emblem unlike any other in golf. There’s a four-leaf clover with the letters “DC” and the numbers “57″, a fashionable reminder to one and all that he is actually recorded a round of 57 in competition, which he did en route to winning the Matterhorn Open in Italy in 2019 on the Alps Tour.
When he played the back nine with Bryson DeChambeau in practice on Monday, the American asked him if he’d come through qualifying? I had. “Congratulations,” replied DeChambeau, then wondering if he’d won any professional tournaments? “Five,” came the reply. And off they went, talking golf and talking Ben Hogan.
Carey, a former Irish boys’ international, made the unusual move to turn professional in his teenage years when an Alps Tour card came his way. He was coached by the late Stephen Ennis at the time – “Stephen passed away, never got to see when I shot 57 or any of my wins” – and, these days, his swing guru is Shane O’Grady, who also includes Leona Maguire in his stable.
His ticket to the Open came by virtue of emerging as leading qualifier in the final stage at Fairmont St Andrews and Carey has retained the services of a local caddy, Dave Williams. “He has been able to stand up and tell me, ‘that grandstand, that bunker, that TV tower, hit it here’. It has taken the guessing out of it. You can see very little off the tee,” said Carey.
And, for Carey, there is a strong belief of being here and being here to contend.
“When you are practicing and trying to prepare for things, this is what you are getting ready for. I remember my dad used always give out because I’d be looking at stats and stuff and I would be comparing my stats to Tiger and he would say, ‘you are not playing against Tiger, you don’t have to do this or that , you only have to do this much’. Well, this is what I have been getting ready for, ”said Carey, adding of his fascination with him with stats:
“Everything was always based off the PGA Tour averaging, which is what I always based everything against when I was trying to get better.”
Carey’s preparations have been good, playing 14 holes of practice with Keegan Bradley on Sunday and the back nine with DeChambeau on Monday. “I’m feeling very good about things. It’s really setting up well from what I’ve seen. For the moment, my miss is a bit of a pull down the left and, from what I’ve seen, all you had to do out there is don’t hit it right, more or less.”
Although seen as a long hitter, Carey himself places “wedge play” as the strength of his game. And putting? “When I putt well, I putt very well, and my putting has been trending upwards for a couple of months. I putted very well at the qualifier and if that continues and I drive it pretty good, I will have a chance.”
So, expectations? And his hopes of him?
“I think the only thing I can really, fairly expect for myself is to go out there and do my best and try to commit to every shot. Beyond that, I don’t know. If I commit to every shot, I’ll go have a good week because that’s one of the hardest things in golf, to pick a line and don’t think, ‘don’t miss it here;, or ‘don’t miss it’s there’.
“That bit I can control. What do I hope for? I hope to have the Claret Jug in my hands on Sunday. I’m sure a lot of people will say that, but I’m not sure how many really believe that they can. I know I can.”