HOYLAKE, England — John Singleton had just finished up a practice round along the Irish Sea when four young girls approached him from the other side of the fence.
“Are you famous?” one of them asked.
“I’m playing in the Open,” Singleton replied, trying to keep a straight face. “That’s pretty famous, ain’t it?”
Actually, there’s no more improbable player at Royal Liverpool than this 30-year-old factory worker, who lives 10 minutes down the road and qualified for the British Open on his very first try.
Singleton strolled around the course Wednesday with two-time major champion John Daly and PGA Tour regular Dustin Johnson, a pair of Americans who didn’t know the stunning back-story of the real-life Rocky in their group.
Johnson introduced himself on the first tee but didn’t inquire further until they got to the third hole.
“Do you play on the European Tour?” Johnson finally asked.
“No,” Singleton replied, “I work in a factory.”
He is the epitome of why this tournament is called the “Open,” a guy with no resume to speak of playing his way into golf’s oldest championship. This is the sort of rags-to-riches stuff normally reserved for the movies, the nobody who becomes somebody against all odds.
Singleton’s real job – at least for now – is at a resin factory not far from Royal Liverpool. He holds down the 8 a.m.-to-4:30 p.m. shift at Advanced Electrical Varnishes, where he drives a forklift and mixes the resin, a thick compound used as a waterproof coating for wiring, circuit boards and other electrical devices.
“He does a full job for us,” said his boss, Jonathan Kemp, who’ll be at the course to cheer Singleton on and gave all the employees a paid holiday so they could attend.
After Singleton gets off work, he usually heads to a local golf course to practice for several more hours – especially in the summer, when the sun hangs in the sky until nearly 10 o’clock.
“I want to get a sponsor so I can continue to play golf,” he said, knowing he would likely need to make the cut for that to happen. “I have to work full time. I want to play full time.”
Not that he’s not thankful for his blue-collar job.
“If it doesn’t go well this week,” Singleton said, “at least I have a job to go back to.”
He needed a bit of good fortune to make it this far.
After missing out in regional qualifying by a single shot, his hopes seemingly dashed, Singleton got in as an alternate when another player dropped out. He took advantage of the second chance in final qualifying, claiming the last spot into the Open by winning a sudden-death playoff, using a pair of wedges that were borrowed from a friend.
“It’s cool, isn’t it?” Singleton said, sounding like it still hasn’t quite sunk in.
He’s no weekend hacker, of course. Singleton attended Rend Lake College, a two-year school in Illinois, and finished seventh in the U.S. junior college championships. But his professional dreams were derailed by serious injuries to both knees, which required a total of six operations and pretty much kept him off the course for three years.
There comes a time when one must get on with the rest of his life, a reality that Singleton seemed to acknowledge by taking the factory job. But he never lost his love of golf, and with his knees healed and the British Open right in his own backyard, he mustered up the 140-pound qualifying fee (about $240) to give it a shot.
Talk about hitting the jackpot.
Singleton hopes this is only the beginning.
“This is just a steppingstone for me,” he said.
Singleton has never played in front of thousands of people, but any nervousness was eased by all the locals he knows around the course. On just about every hole during the practice round, he went over to the ropes to shake hands with an old friend or acquaintance.
When a reporter asked what it was like to play with Daly and Johnson, someone in the gallery shouted, “You should ask them what it’s like to play with John Singleton!”
“He’s going to win!” another yelled.
“Go get ’em, Singy!” a third person bellowed.
When Singleton was done for the day, the opening round less than 24 hours away, he headed up to a ridge overlooking the sea for a television interview. That’s where he was spotted by those four girls, hanging out just beyond the course in hopes of meeting someone famous.
“What’s your name?” they asked.
“John Singleton,” he answered.
That was met with squeals that would’ve put Beatlemania to shame.
“I saw you on news!” one of the girls said excitedly. “Can we get a selfie?”
Singleton posed with each of them, clearly savoring every step of this implausible ride.
Maybe he’ll be his own boss by the time the weekend is over.
“I hope he doesn’t turn up on Monday,” Kemp said. “That will mean he’s done good.”