Friday, July 15th, St Andrews. A flat-cap wearing David Carey is tearing through The Open field. The man who once shot 57 on the Alps Tour is punishing the golf ball, his driver everywhere approach to the famous Old Course reaping the rewards of four birdies in five holes around the turn.
The cries from the galleries seem almost inevitable. Sure, there are some conventional calls of ‘Go on, David’ and ‘Keep her lit, Carey’. But there’s another outburst of affection too.
‘Go on, Bryson!’
“That was always going to happen,” Carey laughs, home again after a week living his dream at the 150th Open, brought swiftly back down to earth with Covid and a seven-day isolation.
“The joke I have with my dad and parents is that he’s more copied me than I’ve copied him.
“I think back to when I was a junior golfer, I remember being at the European Boys in Oslo and people were saying ‘why are you trying to hit it so hard?’ That was years before he started it so if anything, he’s copied me a little bit!”
I for one can testify to Carey’s claims.
As David came up through the junior ranks as a member of Carton House, I happened to work on the golf operations team at the resort, and my primary task was collecting golf balls on the driving range.
Each week you’d notice our inventory shrinking. Sure, we lost some balls, plugged or pocketed, but I was convinced Carey’s colossal hitting was also to blame. Barely a teenager, he was driving the ball so far that he quickly outgrew the 1,100 acre estate!
There are other similarities with DeChambeau aside from big hitting. Like Bryson, Carey used single-length irons up until the end of 2021 while he concedes that his arm-lock putting style is somewhat inspired by DeChambeau.
“I’ve taken a little bit from him in putting,” he says. “There was something I heard him say in an interview and it made me want to test it. I’ve definitely seen some improved consistency to the roll with that particular type of putting.”
When it comes to similarities of the swing, however, he believes it’s the pair’s appreciation of Ben Hogan that pits them closer together.
“I definitely have more in common with Hogan than Bryson but they’re both very good players so any comparison is a compliment,” Carey says, who, like Bryson, has never been afraid to be different.
“I’ve never worried too much about what others think. When I’m out there, I’m just trying to concentrate on the next shot.”
Through 36 holes at the Old Course, that approach, as cliché as it is, was serving the Darwin Escapes swinger incredibly well.
Surrounded by the Irish media at the halfway stage in St Andrews, Carey cut a confident figure for a man making his Major debut. His name inside the top-20 might’ve raised some eyebrows externally, but his own sat above a knowing stare unmoved.
He told journalists, nonchalantly, that this is what he’s come to expect of his game. Carey had been waiting for this moment all of his life. Waiting for the right stage on which to shine. And now he had it.
Indeed, Carey was so calm that he was convinced he could go lower than his Friday 67. As it happened, he carded successive one-over par rounds of 73 on the weekend.
Had he upped the pressure ante unwittingly on himself?
“I don’t think so,” Carey says. “It obviously plays different in practice days but the previous Sunday was the first time I played the Old Course and although I wasn’t keeping score, I think I was seven or eight-under through 12 holes.
“The first tournament day was so difficult. I couldn’t see the flag on 18 playing the last it was so dark. It took 6 hours 15 minutes and we were all frozen by the end of it, but on the second day I had some three putts and shot five-under so at that moment in time, I felt like, ‘yeah, I can shoot lower than this’.
“Unfortunately it just didn’t happen.”
Carey’s self-confidence should be commended. Three-time Major winner Pádraig Harrington certainly thought as much, describing the Dubliner as ‘pig-headed’; his ability to back himself a trait that every pro golfer requires to succeed.
A record-attendance of some 290,000 people through the gates at St Andrews could’ve gone one of two ways for a relative unknown like Carey. A lesser character could crumble under such pressure.
If anything, Carey stood two feet taller.
“I’m a complete show off, most golfer are! The more people the better,” he says before illustrating the difference between good nerves and bad.
“I remember a couple of years ago I was down in Spain practicing and Borussia Dortmund, the football team was there.
“I was friendly with the club pro who was about to give the team a group lesson. He saw I was hitting drivers on the way by and had the whole team stop behind me to watch me hit shots for a few minutes.
“There was less than 100 people, but more than 50. It’s not the same thing but just having those people watching me, I had the launch monitor there and my swing speed immediately jumped up like 3mph.
“It took a couple of minutes to get back to normal but those nerves are good nerves. That was the feeling in St Andrews too, just on a bigger scale.”
For Carey, it was a week packed with highlights at the Home of Golf. He played nine holes of practice alongside the like-minded DeChambeau, trading notes on GCQuad numbers, shaft types and Hogan.
He also played nine holes for the first time with Harrington, while for two rounds of competition, he came as close to experiencing the Tiger Woods effect than he perhaps ever will.
“I played about an hour behind Tiger the first two days and the way the course criss-crosses, when I was going up 7 and 8, he was on 10 and 11, so it was the first time I got to see the Tiger effect in full effect,” Carey says.
“Whether it was a groan or a roar, you could just hear it echoing across the course. It was cool to feel it.”
Carey played the weekend alongside tour veteran, Lee Westwood, gaining an insight into the current divide splintering golf, and how even someone as experienced as the Englishman has been affected.
“He was a gentleman to play with but it was a little bit tough on him at times,” Carey says.
“He had some not so nice things being shouted at him to do with LIV Golf and you could see some of it bothered him.
“That was tough to see because he was being nice to me and just playing his golf. Whatever anybody thinks about that, I don’t think it was the nicest thing for anybody to hear.”
Carey’s reception was nothing but pleasant for 72 holes on the Old Course and while he’ll relish the memories of his first taste of Major championship golf, he can’t help but feel his two-over par showing over the weekend didn’t do him justice.
“I was extremely disappointed on Sunday evening – I was not in a good way at all after the way it finished,” Carey admits of his eventual T62 result worth $33,625 to the Dubliner.
“I obviously had big hopes for the weekend but it was how I dropped shots that really disappointed me.
“I still made plenty of birdies but it felt like I just threw away shot after shot. It’s still a great experience overall. I just wish I could go back and do the weekend again.
“I really, really wanted top-10 because that would’ve got me back next year, so even going into Sunday I was thinking if I can just shoot eight-under, I might sneak the top-10.
“I was trying the whole way, it just wasn’t quite meant to be.”
Carey may have been disappointed but in golf, there’s always next week. The Alps Tour regular hopes that more Main tour dates arrive off the back of his impressive showing, while he’s identified Korn Ferry Q-School in October, the feeder circuit to the PGA Tour, as his main goal for the rest of the season.
“I’d love to play over in the States,” Carey says.
“The end goal is you want to be playing on the PGA Tour. That’s where the best fields are, the most world ranking points. Korn Ferry would probably be the quickest route to get there but it’s not the easiest, or the cheapest.”
In fact, Carey’s entry fee cost a whopping $6,000. He saved $500 because he’s exempt into Stage Two.
“It’s definitely not cheap so if anyone is wondering where the money went from The Open, that’s it,” he laughs.
“I’ve always tended to reinvest the money I make in golf, be it from tournaments or sponsorships, back in, whether it’s directly into tournaments or having my own GCQuad, it’s all about moving forward in the game.
“So whatever avenue you can access and make progress on, that’s the one you end up taking.”
It’s hard to imagine Carey ever entering such cut-throat environments short on confidence but there’s no doubt that the living proof of his Old Course exploits can only help him in his promotion push.
That magical 57 on a par-68 en route to winning the Cervino Open in 2019 looked to be the springboard Carey had been waiting for to leave the Alps Tour behind. However, he still plies his trade on the satellite circuit having come agonisingly close to earning his Challenge Tour card last season.
Carey stood on the final hole of the final tournament in a share of the lead and on the cusp of promotion, only for his Challenge Tour card to slip through his fingers with a bogey at the last.
“It is tough when you get very close and you don’t get that progression forwards but I try always to bring it back to what’s in my control,” Carey says.
“If I can step away from the outcome of the Order of Merit and instead think, ‘if I can get one percent better at putting’. It’s just going back to basics, and it helps.
“I keep all the stats and numbers and I can follow the progression on that. Last year I was one shot away from moving up.
“If I didn’t bogey my last hole of the year I would’ve been top-10 in the Order of Merit which would’ve got me some kind of Challenge Tour card.
“To come within a shot, I can go, ‘well if I can find half a shot in putting and everything else stays the same, across a season that’s going to be good enough’.”
On top of that, Carey’s unforgettable week at St Andrews provides hard evidence that should he earn that forward progress, he has the game to compete at the very top level. Not only that, but Carey is buoyed further, believing he played all four rounds at The Open without his best stuff.
“I still don’t think I was at my tidiest or best so it’s nice to see where you’re at,” he says.
“It would’ve been very disheartening if I’d turned up, thought I played well and missed the cut. Then you’d be left really wondering ‘can I ever compete with the Rory McIlroys of this world?’
“But when you go out, probably not having the best side of the draw, not play at your absolute best and you’re top-20 going into the weekend, you suddenly think ‘OK, yeah, I can do this’.
“I just can’t wait for another chance to show it.”