ST. ANDREWS – The first time Cameron Young played the Old Course at St. Andrews was one of his best moments in golf. The most recent one was even better.
In his British Open debut, Young plotted his way around the course in a gentle breeze and finished with a long two-putt birdie for an 8-under 64 for a two-shot lead over Rory McIlroy.
Young, whose father is the longtime pro at Sleepy Hollow in New York, first came to Scotland in 2010 when he was 13. He played some of the fabled courses in the area — St. Andrews, Carnoustie, North Berwick — not knowing then that he would even pursue a career in golf.
“Any time you set foot on the first tee or 18th green or anywhere, there’s just no hiding how special of a place it is,” Young said. “And it’s certainly been a goal to get to an Open Championship. And for my first one to be here is a little bit extra special for me.”
He's not even sure he played his best for his opening round. His tee shots weren't always going where he was looking. But in his short time back at St. Andrews, he learned enough about where to go and how to play the centuries-old course to get by just fine.
Young went out in 31. He drove over the green on the par-4 12th, pitched back to 8 feet and holed it for birdie to reach 7-under par. A record score at St. Andrews on a good day for scoring was within reach.
But he three-putted for par on the 14th. His 10-foot birdie chance on the 15th spun out of the cup. He missed another good chance from 15 feet on the next hole.
Even so, the 25-year-old New Yorker had few complaints. He loves links golf.
“I don’t think I’ve figured that much of it out, honestly,” Young said. “You could play every day here for a year and you would just scratch the surface of what you can know about this place. There’s so many humps and bounds and little nuances to the golf course that we could never know in the four or five days that I’ve had to prepare.”
As for that trip? He still has great memories, none that top St. Andrews.
“My dad asked for permission to play from the back tees. I think that’s something you have to do, if I remember correctly,” he said. “So when we came out to hit our first tee shots with the R&A building right there, there were a bunch of R&A members presumably watching. And I’m glad I didn’t know. I’m sure I would have been nervous out of my mind.”
It's hard to detect a pulse from Young now. He has been around the game long enough to realize not to get too far ahead. This is an ideal start, and for now, that's all it is.
“I’m happy I shot 64. I’m happy that, as far as I know, I’m still leading The Open Championship, but it’s not going to change how I feel an hour from now,” he said.
His rookie year on the PGA Tour is among the best, though Young is not satisfied because he hasn't won. He was just inside the top 500 in the world a year ago. Now he is No. 32, thanks to four top-three finishes, including at the PGA Championship, where he finished one shot out of a playoff at Southern Hills.
Now he can only hope for another chance in the year's final major.
His father, David Young, is a master professional with the PGA of America. He thought the trip to Scotland was critical in his son finding a real passion for golf.
“It rained like the first four days we were there, and I have these pictures of him wearing my raingear down to his knees, soaking wet,” David Young said at the PGA Championship. “I’m thinking, ‘After this trip, this kid is never going to want to play golf again.’ But it did just the opposite. It got him excited about it.”
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