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WIRRAL, United Kingdom - John Singleton's mornings are much different now than when he was an All-American golfer on scholarship at Rend Lake College in southern Illinois. The kid from Moreton is now 30 and lives in Wirral. He wakes up to 6-year-old step-son Theo, and fiance Lucy Johnson. He punches in as a production operator at a resin factory five days a week in nearby Birkenhead.
John's afternoons, however, are very much the same: Perfecting his length on the driving range; working out the kinks with a round or two at Eastham Lodge; and putting through dusky shadows on the practice green.
Singleton became a professional golfer in the states after graduating from RLC. He moved back to the U.K., in 2010 and kept working hard on the game he loves. With The British Open coming up July 17-20 at Royal Liverpool Golf Club Hoylake - just five minutes from his home - Singleton decided to enter the regional qualifier, June 23, at Mere Golf and Country Club. He told the Liverpool Echo that the choice to enter was "an afterthought, really." With his dad on the bag, Singleton came one stroke short of qualifying. Later that night, he tweeted, "Unfortunately I didn't make it out of the play off. But very proud of my performance today. Thanks to my family and friends for the kind words."
It was back to life as usual. Or so he thought.
"Getting the phone call to play at final qualifying was fantastic," said Singleton. "I couldn't believe I would have the chance to compete for a place in The Open."
Singleton had been called as a reserve for the final qualifier. It was July 1 at Hillside Golf Club - a challenging course in Southport, England that is open to the wind coming in from the Irish Sea.
"I played great golf in the morning," he said. "I shot 72 with a double and a triple. So I was full of confidence going into the second round."
That afternoon, his dream came true. Singleton carded a course record 66, finishing at 138 (-6) and forcing a four-way playoff for three spots. Chris Marsh couldn't match pars on the second hole and Singleton was in The Open, along with Oscar Florén and Chris Hanson.
"I had no idea of the scores," John said about the second round. "I thought six under had a chance, but I wasn't actually aware of my position during the round. The only time I felt I was going to make The Open was during the playoff. I felt really calm and relaxed. Coach Smith always taught me fairways and greens, and I use that to this day."
Dave Smith has been the head coach of the Warriors golf team at Rend Lake College for 23 years. In 2005, then-sophomore Singleton led Smith's squad to second place at the National Junior College Athletic Association's DII Championship Tournament. It tied the best finish in program history. It had been 11 years since Smith's team came in runner-up and it hasn't beat or had a repeat since.
As an All-American, Singleton led the Rend Lake College golf team to second in the nation in 2005, matching a program best.
"They all worked so hard in that tournament," Smith said. "They played well."
The national tournament is 72 holes. Singleton shot a 286 (67-75-74-70) and tied for seventh, earning him All-American status. He said it was a team effort and the most memorable part of his time playing at Rend Lake. He keeps in touch with Smith and teammates Lucas Cromeenes, Brain Kuddes, Clint Preistley and Charlie Throgmorton.
"Coach Smith taught me so many things during my time [at Rend Lake]," Singleton said. "[He] had a huge influence on the player and person I am today."
"Before nationals in 2005, John was the Illinois JUCO state champion," Smith said. "He had a lot of game, a lot of different golf shots. English kids have shots American kids don't have, because they get used to playing in unfavorable conditions."
When asked about Singleton's training ethic, Smith recalled the rivalry between Singleton and Cromeenes.
"He and Lucas pushed each other so hard. They would push each other and not talk for a couple of days after, but when Lucas got married, John flew over here and was his best man. They pushed each other and they just made each other so much better."
"It didn't surprise me," Smith said of receiving news Singleton had qualified. "John is a good player. I mean, I don't know what kind of stats they have on him, but he played on the Euro Tour. He is a very good player."
Smith said he spoke to Singleton about playing in The Open. His advice: "I told him good luck and focus on what you need to do. You know how to do it. Go do it."
Singleton's 31st birthday is July 20 - the final round of The Open Championship. What could be a better gift than his name bannered with golf's giants at what is, arguably, the most prestigious golf major in the world? The field of 156 will include three-time champion Nick Faldo of England, and the United States' five-time winner Tom Watson, three-time winner Tiger Woods and reigning champion Phil Mickelson. Singleton said he likes to watch Woods and Adam Scott, but would delight in a pairing with Watson. The top prize is more than a half-million dollars.
"I can't describe how I feel right now. In a week's time I will be playing against the best players in the world. That's a lot to take in. ... I wish for a great tournament and to enjoy every moment of it. This might never happen to me again, so I need to cherish this time. I don't think you can prepare mentally for it. I think it's too big to take it all in. I am focusing on my swing speed and course management. I can control these things and it puts me at ease knowing that."
He has been given time off from work. That makes a huge impact on his ability to train for the biggest tournament of his life. Even better, his bosses at Advanced Electrical Varnishes (AEV) reportedly bought tickets for staff to attend Thursday's opening round and cheer on the hometown kid.
"They have been so supportive of me, which has helped so much," he said of AEV. "They gave me the time off straight away. I would like to thank them for everything they have done for me. My schedule is a bit different now that I am not in work. I start early and play nine or 18 then have some lunch and then go and hit balls and work on parts of my game."
Wallasey Golf Club has welcomed Singleton to train there. It's a private links golf club on the Wirral peninsula, near Liverpool. "Wallasey is links [like Hoylake]. It's great to be able to hit the same shots and work on new shots," he explained. His caddy will be his best friend, Ally Haddow. "He did a fantastic job at final qualifying, so he's got the bag for The Open.
"It is the biggest golf tournament in the world and it's made even more special by the fact it's by my house and all my friends and family will be there to support me. [This has] been my dream since I started golf. To realize it now, just before I will become a dad for the first time, is amazing."
Lucy is due in September. John said they aren't going to ask if it's a boy or a girl.
"We wanted to keep it a surprise."
What a summer for John Singleton.
The 143rd British Open is July 17-20 at Royal Liverpool in Merseyside, England. It is a par 72 at 7,312 yards.
How to watch ...
On ESPN: July 17 (1st Round) 4 a.m. - 3 p.m.; July 18 (2nd Round) 4 a.m. - 3 p.m.; July 19 (3rd Round) 7 a.m. - 3 p.m.; July 20 (Final Round) 6 a.m. - 3 p.m.