HOYLAKE, England — He is a 35-year-old touring professional, a veteran of 13 years in golf’s minor and major leagues, and David Hearn had (a) never been to Europe and (b) never played links golf.
Hard to believe, but true, says the native of Brantford, Ont., who drew into the Open Championship field Tuesday from the first alternate’s position when Mark Calcavecchia withdrew due to travel issues.
Because he’s replacing a former Open champion — Calcavecchia won at Troon in 1989 — Hearn will play the first two rounds Thursday and Friday with three-time winner Nick Faldo and 2004 champ Todd Hamilton.
Not a bad introduction to links play on a championship course, even if Faldo has reputation as a pretty frosty competitor.
“It’s going to be a lot of fun,” Hearn said Wednesday. “I guess that’s one of the upsides to replacing a past champion. Sir Nick has won here three times and Todd won here a few years back so I am certainly going to learn a little bit watching them play. “But hopefully I’m just going to be playing my game and doing some good things.”
He and Graham DeLaet of Weyburn, Sask., are the only two Canadians in the Open field. DeLaet plays nearly three hours later Thursday, with RBC Canadian Open champion Brandt Snedeker and Chinese Tapiei amateur Cheng-tsung Pan.
Hearn became the first alternate a week ago when 1998 champ Mark O’Meara withdrew, but flew to England on the PGA Tour charter from the John Deere Classic on Sunday night, even though he was not guaranteed to get into the Open until Calcavecchia pulled out Tuesday.
“It wasn’t too hard a decision because I got to be first alternate mid-week at the John Deere. I’m kind of surprised it took as long as it did for the withdrawal to come. I’m sorry that Mark (Calcavecchia) couldn’t make it here this week because he’s a great guy. I’ll hopefully do a good job of replacing him.”
It’s a lot to absorb in a very short time. Hearn has played in two previous majors, the 2013 U.S. Open (tied 21st) and PGA Championship, but this will be his first experience of links golf. Luckily, it comes on a Royal Liverpool course softened by rain, with more expected in the days to come.
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“Sometimes courses that are a little simpler aren’t my favourites,” said Hearn, who walked the Hoylake course on Monday and practised Tuesday and Wednesday.
“I’ve always played pretty well at challenging golf courses and I think it’s because I enjoy hitting the shots that you don’t have to hit every day. And, you know, I have the patience to be able to hit away from pins for a good portion of the day and still stay focused and make good putts.
“It’s been fast trying to catch up with some of these European tour players that have been here for years but I’ve just really enjoyed the experience so far — just enjoyed the style of golf. There’s not a single tree on this property and it’s been a lot of fun trying to hit some creative shots. The biggest difference is our firmest courses that we play in North America aren’t even close to the way this course plays. We’re used to flying it and stopping it a lot quicker.”
Hearn has played in 23 events in 2014, with three top-10 finishes, and earned just over $1 million in prize money. Now, it’s a whole new game.
“So for me, this week, I’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure out how far is a wedge going to release, how far is a 5-iron going to release when it hits the ground. Just really trying to figure out what number we need to land the ball and how it releases from there.”