“Never give in. Never give in.” Guy McQuitty had obviously taken the words of Sir Winston Churchill to heart. Because the 23-year-old assistant professional could have been excused if he had turned on his heels and dashed away from his turmoil at Turnberry in the summer of 1986. But McQuitty was not for quitting.
Travelling from his Exeter golf club to Barassie for the Open Championship qualifiers, McQuitty had made the journey in “hope more than expectation,” as John Hennessy noted in the Times. Yet rounds of 70 and 69 saw him qualify for the Open three days before the tournament, causing McQuitty to hastily rearrange his plans.
Needing to find some accommodation and clothing for this extended stay, McQuitty turned to friends and fellow club members for help. “I couldn’t let them down,” he would later explain, when questioned on why he didn’t throw in the towel during his torrid two rounds on the west coast of Scotland.
Playing the course for the first time on the Tuesday, McQuitty was given an indicator of just how testing Turnberry would be. “I’ve never seen anything like this before,” declared playing partner Jeremy Robinson, another who had qualified at Barassie. “This course could be unplayable in the wind.”
Hennessy, following the group, gave a chillingly accurate assessment of McQuitty’s aspirations at the Open. “Of the three [McQuitty, Robinson, and Amateur champion David Curry] he would seem to be the most vulnerable if, or when, judging by the weather forecasts, the wind blows and the tiger roars.”
In fairness, McQuitty was not the only player who would be in danger of shooting a high score if things turned nasty. “This is the toughest course for any championship I have played,” eventual champion Greg Norman announced on the eve of the tournament. And he was merely referring to the deep rough on the course. If the wind arrived, then there would be trouble ahead.
With winds reaching up to 45 mph, Turnberry bared its teeth on the Thursday. In total, 48 players shot 80 or more around the par 70 course, and even Norman, who was delighted to finish on 74, was rattled by the experience. “It was a brutal day for golf, the kind when you felt like a nonentity and came off with a headache.”
Norman had come out of his round relatively unscathed. Sadly, the same could not be said about McQuitty. Covering the Ailsa Craig links in 95 shots, for a total of 25 over par, his “I couldn’t let them down” mantra was tested to the maximum. To his credit, McQuitty stuck it out, scoring just two pars in his chastening round.
Others fell by the wayside. Craig Stadler pulled out with a wrist injury after a first round 82, and rookie professional Andy Broadway walked off after 10 holes with a back strain. “I took 10 at the seventh and when I took eight more at the tenth I decided to pack it in,” he revealed. “It was unfair on my playing partners.”
Broadway was 18 over par and had taken 57 shots for the ten holes he played, and possibly might have kept McQuitty off the bottom of the leaderboard. Undeterred, the man eight shots away from his nearest competitor, returned for more on the Friday. Surely things could only get better.
The situation did improve slightly. But understandably the events of the previous day had left a number of scars. “I lost all concentration after a while,” McQuitty admitted when talking about his first round. “I couldn’t even visualise how to swing the club.” The first tee on day two was a big test of his character. “I was scared to stand over the ball,” he said. Hardly surprising.
A birdie on the fourth hole was very welcome, but 47 shots for the front nine hinted that McQuitty was not finding the going any easier despite the kinder weather. 37 over par with nine holes still to play, there appeared to be more pain coming his way.
However, in a heart-warming finish, McQuitty did manage to restore some pride, firing four pars on the last four holes. Unfortunately, his 87 left him at 42 over par, a record high for 36-holes in the Open Championship. But he had gained a lot of respect for not giving in. There was no quit in McQuitty became a popular phrase.
“I would have withdrawn, but I couldn't remember the way back to the clubhouse,” McQuitty joked after the first round. “At one point I thought, you know, ‘I wish I weren't here. This course is beating me up.’ But that's a silly thing to say. I just told myself, ‘Well, might as well keep going.’”
It is easy to take a look at McQuitty’s two days at Turnberry and mock. But I’d suggest taking a long look in the mirror before doing so. Only a select few are good enough to qualify for an Open Championship in the first place. And how many of us can honestly say that we would have been brave enough to see things through to the end, as McQuitty did that week.
He could have easily walked away to avoid the scrutiny, escaping from the prying eyes and the unwanted place in Open history. But he owed it to his friends and the members of his golf club to make it through 36 holes. “I couldn’t let them down.” He may not have shone at Turnberry, but his tale shows that he was one of the good Guys.