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Will travel, need game: Ben Crane makes long, wild trip with no guarantee of Open start

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HOYLAKE, England - Ben Crane faced long odds of getting into the British Open, and an even longer trip to get to Royal Liverpool.

And he left without playing a single hole.

Crane arrived in Hoylake about five hours before the opening round. He waited for some 10 hours as the first alternate, and was out of luck when no one withdrew.

Considering what happened two years ago, it was worth the trouble.

Even after a 24-hour journey from Portland, Oregon, to the northwest of England, getting only a few hours of sleep and not having an opportunity to warm up on the practice range, Crane was beaming Thursday morning outside the clubhouse.

"Even if I don't get in, I am so glad I came," Crane said as the first couple of groups teed off for the first round. "This is so good for my soul just being here. Just to see this, it's inspirational."

Crane was the first alternate two years ago at Royal Lytham & St. Annes, but he couldn't decide whether to come across because the Open had an overflow of players that year. Two players would have had to withdraw for the alternate list to even be activated.

Confusion followed. The R&A was notified that he had decided not to come, even as Crane was still looking at flights. Just his bad luck, two players withdrew. And then, Senior British Open champion Russ Cochran pulled out with a bad back and Michael Thompson — the second alternate behind Crane — took his place.

"I had a pit in my stomach all week," Crane said. "I just couldn't believe it. I didn't expect it to move that much. They didn't expect it to move that much. I would love to win majors, and you've got no chance sitting at home."

It already has been a memorable trip to Crane, who won the St. Jude Classic last month.

He was playing golf Tuesday afternoon with his father at Portland Golf Club — site of the 1947 Ryder Cup when the matches resumed after World War II — waiting to reach Seung-Yul Noh in South Korea to see if he was going to England. Noh was ahead of Crane on the alternate list.

"It's 4:30 p.m. and I'm on the golf course, 30 minutes away from the airport," Crane said. "I'm waiting for Seung-yul Noh to wake up in Korea. At 5 o'clock, he says he's not going. I was already packed, so I run home, jump in a car, my dad drives me to the airport, and I just missed the flight."

Crane called a friend at Delta who told him of a late flight out of Seattle. So he caught a flight to Seattle, then to New York, and then another layover before going to London, and then he couldn't get a flight over to the Liverpool area. Instead, he took a 3 1/2-hour car drive to Hoylake and arrived just after 1 a.m. Thursday.

He looked to be in remarkable spirits. Crane couldn't stop smiling.

"Amazing. This is so exciting," he said. "What an opportunity, right? But get this — I can't go hit balls. The guy said I've got five minutes to get to the tee (if someone withdraws). The range is seven minutes away by car. And I haven't hit a ball since Portland Golf Club on Tuesday."

Instead, he turned to chip on the putting green at the clubhouse. The ball hit the hole and popped out. It was a good chip, just too hard.

"I was aiming for the one behind it," he said, with a laugh.

Rickie Fowler walked by on his way to the range and smiled when he saw Crane.

"Heard you just walked over," Fowler told him.

Some players were oblivious to his plight. Kiradech Aphibarnrat of Thailand walked by and they shook hands. "Have a good week," the Thai told him. Curtis Strange and Mike Tirico, working for ESPN, were on their way to the broadcast booth when they stopped to chat with Crane.

"What time are you off?" Strange asked him.

When the last group teed off at 4:06 p.m., he didn't have a tee time at all.

Crane had a flight booked home Friday morning, but he wasn't going to leave without playing golf somewhere.

He pulled out his phone and looked at a list of possibilities. It doesn't get dark until about 9:30 p.m., so Crane could easily squeeze in 18 holes. Among the courses he thought about playing was Royal Lytham & St. Annes. He wound up just up the road at Wallasey.

And then he was headed home.

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