Singleton living out his Open dream

He arrived at Royal Liverpool saying that he still had those borrowed wedges in the back of his car, and that his bosses at Advanced Electrical Varnishes all but declared Thursday, the start of the Open, a national holiday. They're shutting down the factory and providing tickets to all employees who want to watch the only forklift operator in the world who has been granted a paid two-week vacation to play for the Claret Jug.

Well, maybe not the Claret Jug. Singleton was supposed to serve as a volunteer marshal in this Open, after all. "I just want to make the cut," he said. "I think I'm more than capable."

His old coach at Rend Lake is scheduled to make the overseas trip to watch. Smith remembered recruiting Singleton out of an agency that placed foreign players in U.S. programs. He looked at four or five international prospects that year, watched some swing videos, and decided Singleton was his man.

"John had a 64 or 65 on his résumé, and that stood out," Smith said. "Sometimes numbers get in the way of golfers, but John was never scared to go low. And because of the golf they grow up playing, English kids have a lot of shots American kids don't have. I thought John would help everyone else on the team, and he did."

Singleton led the Division II juco nationals after one day, and nearly carried Rend Lake to the national team title. Cromeenes, himself a former Rend Lake coach who's now an assistant pro at Boothbay Harbor Country Club in Maine, remembered Singleton fighting through a back injury so severe in the final round that it nearly drove him to tears.

"He was tough, and the best chipper and pitcher of the ball I'd ever played with," Cromeenes said. "Everything he got out of his game he got off of talent, and not necessarily by outsmarting anyone. John just knew how to get the ball in the hole."

Back in the day, Cromeenes visited Singleton's blue-collar neighborhood in the shadow of Royal Liverpool and was struck by the small, cookie-cutter houses that he said were "literally two feet apart all the way down the street." It didn't look like the kind of place that would produce anyone's idea of an elite golfer.

That's OK. Although Singleton called his two years at Rend Lake "the best time of my life," life right now is very good. Johnson is pregnant with their first child, and Singleton has a chance to celebrate his 31st birthday Sunday by competing in the final round of a major.

"If people take anything from me," he said, "it's don't ever think that you can't do it. If I can do it ... then anyone can do it."

He said it already feels strange to stand on the other side of the Open Championship ropes, where accomplished pros and amateurs never have to ask their buddies if they happen to have an extra 7-iron stashed somewhere in the garage.

But if Singleton has to borrow a club or three at Hoylake, so be it; this opportunity is his alone. A long way from his American cornfield of choice, the English factory worker has found his field of dreams.

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