A dream come true would have been winning, but it was a great experience - that was the verdict of Southwater golfer Toby Tree after his Open debut.
It speaks volumes of the standards that the 23-year-old sets himself. Not content with just making up the numbers at his maiden major.
Yet, the former Tanbridge House School pupil didn’t even just do that, he made the cut and finished tied 54th with household names Justin Rose and Dustin Johnson.
The Golf at Goodwood player carded a level-par 70 and was as low as 37th after his opening round at Royal Birkdale, before going on to finish on +4 with a total four-round tally of 284.
Tree, who lifted his world ranking to 577th with the result, said: “The tournament was pretty good and it was nice to make the cut. I felt I played alright, but I just did not seem to score that well, which was a bit of a shame. I do not really have a stand out moment.
“It was pretty cool having all my family and friends there and walking up and down the holes and keep seeing them in the crowd. The 18th on the final day was good as well with everyone clapping and cheering.
It was cool playing in my first major, but to do well in the game, you have to play in moreToby Tree
“It was a weird feeling being there and it did not really kick in for a little while that I was actually going to be playing. I got in through pre-qualifying which is a bit of a lottery as it is out of 90 players.”
On the experience, Tree, who turned professional in 2014, continued: “I would have preferred to have won it than just played. It’s not really a dream come true for me, it would have been a dream come true to have won it.
“Playing (in practice) with Dustin (Johnson) was pretty sweet as he’s my favorite player. I do not really get too worried about who I am playing with, but that was pretty cool.
“Lots of friends I grew up playing with were playing as well so it wasn’t so surreal. It was obviously pretty cool playing in my first major, but if you want to do well in the game, you have to be playing in a few more.”
His avid supporters were pictured a plenty during the four-days, sporting their blow-up palm trees on the course, “They made a few headlines of their own, I kept seeing things pop up on the internet about them,” Tree quipped.
Qualification came for his first British Open two weeks ago after he finished joint second on six-under par along with Ryder Cup hero Ian Poulter at Woburn. Tree then claimed an eighth-placed finish at the Prague Golf Challenge on the European Challenge Tour so headed into the week at Birkdale in good form.
But standing at the first tee - a 448-yard par four, often rated as one of the hardest on the course - he admitted: “I did not know how I was going to react. I had started playing well in practice and I got off to a good start. I was one under until the 13th on my first round.”
Tree’s highest score was a five-over 75 on a tough weather-hit day two. Plenty of the field struggled, with the average score on the day 74.8.
And in a nervy moment in that round, he had thought he had blown his chances of making the cut on the final hole. “On the 18th in the second round, I thought I needed a par to make the cut and I tried laying one up off the tee,” explained Tree.
“The shot was so low that it hit the tee box and only went about 90 yards. I was thinking what have I done here? I only needed a par and I have gone and topped it off the tee. But I managed to lay-up in pitch-and-putt style and make it.”
He followed that up with rounds of a one-under 69 and level 70 to finish ahead of well known Danny Willett, Ernie Els and Padraig Harrington.
Tree now travels Finland next week as part of the European Challenge Tour, then back to South Africa where he plays the majority of his golf - especially during the winter.
He added: “The next aim is to get my European Tour card and make my way up the rankings, really. It will make it a bit easy to qualify for majors rather than going through all the qualifiers.”