Grant Forrest is a 20-year-old from North Berwick, Scotland. For the past two seasons, he’s been a standout University of San Diego golfer. He arrived at USD in fall 2011 after success in youth golf tournaments in Scotland. Forrest’s game has risen to significant levels, both in college and in Scotland. He was the 2012 West Coast Conference Freshman of the Year, the 2013 individual medalist at the WCC Championship Tournament and he won the 2012 Scottish Amateur Championship. But this week, Forrest will top it all when he’s one of seven amateurs to compete in the 142nd British Open — The Open Championship — at Scotland’s Muirfield Golf Club. Forrest won a local qualifier to earn his spot. He’s the first USD golfer to qualify for any of golf’s four majors (Masters, U.S. Open, British Open and PGA Championship). The tournament runs Thursday through Sunday. He tees off at 12:06 p.m. U.K. time (4:06 am PDT) Thursday, playing alongside Australia’s Marcus Fraser and American Mark O’Meara, the 1998 British Open champion. Recently, Forrest, an accounting major, answered questions posed by Inside USD about his opportunity, about playing at what is literally his neighborhood golf course, and what it will take to do well.
Q: How special is it to be playing in the British Open this week and how are you approaching it?
Forrest: It’s very special to think I’m playing in the Open Championship. When I first qualified, it didn’t feel real, but it’s starting to sink in now. Although the Open is a step up from anything I’ve ever played in before, I’m going to approach this week the same as any other golf tournament. I’m going to try my best, enjoy the experience and have fun. With the Open being so close to my home, there’s been a lot of media attention, etc., and it can be overwhelming trying to please everyone but I’m coping fine.
Q: How far do you live from the Muirfield course? Have you played it before and, if so, any memorable experiences?
Muirfield, until about two weeks ago, was within walking distance from my home. We just moved into a house in North Berwick, which is only a five-minute drive from the course. I’d only played the course twice before this week’s practice rounds, once with a friend and once in a match against the South African team. I also did some caddying there as a summer job last year so I’ve been around the course quite a bit.
Q: The Open, regardless of where it’s played, is always a formidable challenge because the course is difficult and the weather is unpredictable. Because you’ve played in these conditions often, including the local qualifier, how does this help you?
Having grown up in the U.K., I’ve experienced my fair share of bad weather on the golf course so it’s nothing new to me. Although I do want the weather to be nice it may actually be an advantage if the weather is bad because I’ll be more used to it than some of the guys and this relaxes me.
Q: What strengths in your golf game suit well to Muirfield? What part(s) of your game are you refining most to prepare for the Open?
Driving the ball straight is one of my biggest strengths and this is at a premium around Muirfield. Having played the course (last) week, the fairways are narrow, the rough is thick, and so it’s going to be so important to hit the fairways. Mental strength is going to be key as well because there are going to be times when it is a grind simply due to the nature of the course. I have been working a lot on hitting long irons and 3 woods from tees because that’s what the course demands. Hitting a driver brings a lot of trouble into play on most holes so hitting long irons well from the tee is going to be crucial. I’ve also worked a lot on my short game because it has to be especially good around the firm greens.
Q: How do you work on the mental approach to golf, which is certainly key to a successful golf performance?
A strong mental approach is something that’s built up over time, and while some of it comes naturally, good practice habits are essential. It’s important to go through your routine and visualization during practice so that it is automatic when you’re under pressure in a tournament.
Q: You’ve played in big tournaments before this and USD has had others golfers who’ve competed in PGA Tour events. What does it mean, though, to be the first USD golfer to compete in one of golf’s majors?
It feels great to be the first USD student to play in a major. I thoroughly enjoyed playing in a European Tour event last summer, but playing in a major is a step up from that and it’ll be a great experience I can use as a stepping stone in my golfing journey.
Q: Is there anyone you’re interested in playing with in the Open if the chance presents itself? Who’s your golf role model? Do you know or have you played with any of the other amateur players in the Open field?
I don’t have anyone in particular that I want to play with, just someone who will help me feel comfortable and relaxed during the first two rounds. Tiger Woods is my golf role model because he’s the best player of this era and, arguably, ever. I know two of the other amateurs, Rhys Pugh from Wales and Matt Fitzpatrick from England.
Q: How has your game progressed since your arrival at USD and what’s been the biggest improvement in your game?
The biggest thing I’ve gained by going to USD is maturity on and off the golf course. Playing college golf is a great life experience and the balance of golf and academics. Besides this, I’ve made improvements in all aspects of my game, particularly in the distance I hit the ball, which is mainly due to gym work.
As an amateur, I can technically choose what I want to wear. The Scottish Golf Union and my home club team, Craigelaw, would like for me to wear clothing with their logos on it, so I will most likely wear that during the tournament. During the practice days, however, I will wear some San Diego tops and I will probably wear the SD belt during the tournament.
Q: As special as this opportunity to play in The Open Championship is for you, family, coaches and teammates to see it happen, what does it mean to you in terms of honoring the memory of your late father [Graeme Forrest died in July 2012 after battling esophageal cancer]?
I know he would have been very proud that I qualified and it is sad that he cannot be here to watch me play in the Open that’s right on our doorstep. But I just have to do my best while knowing that he’s watching from somewhere and will be a proud man.
Q: Can you win the Open?
I think winning the Open is a bit far-fetched, but I would certainly like to make the cut and to finish as the leading amateur would also be great. Playing as an amateur, it’s more about soaking up the experience.
— Ryan T. Blystone
Photos of Grant Forrest courtesy of Kyle Terada (top left), and Scottphoto.net (lower right)