November 22, 2017
Friday, July 14, 2017

Getting to the British Open

Rookie Xander Schauffele holds up a flag featuring the logo of the British Open after qualifying for the event.
By David Mackintosh / Golfing Traveller

Qualifying for the chance to win the Auld Claret Jug has long changed — but there are still opportunities for the hopefuls

For most of us, the route to Royal Birkdale takes us to Manchester airport and thence west to the Lancashire coastline.

Yet for many of the 156 players who’ll begin a challenge for the Auld Claret Jug this month, their itineraries have been considerably less straightforward.

Long gone the time where the Sunday and Monday prior to the championship golf courses in the vicinity of The Open venue would be crammed with anxious professionals from around the globe, each club hosting a 36-hole qualifier for that last-gasp Final Qualifying. There’d be as many as 130 players at each location desperately trying to grab three or four entry berths, all the thrills and roller-coaster emotions of multi-men sudden-death playoffs for one single slot. I recall an 11-man tie that went seven extra holes for a single place.

As media we’d hurtle around, visiting as many sites as we could, gleaning that so-and-so was in great shape, that a favourite was doomed to go home early and finally, by end-Monday, we’d gather in the media tent, listening as the results were radioed in, then handwritten onto as many as nine separate location boards.

Today’s world is a more sophisticated place and the advent of world rankings has made it considerably easier for championship committees to set levels for automatic invitation.

But although that final qualifying scrabble is now but a memory, golf’s oldest championship, has continued to provide the worlds’ best golfers multiple opportunities to make their way into the starting field.

Qualifiers for the 146th Open Championship, to be played at Royal Birkdale 19 to 23 July, actually began in Australia as far back as last November, where three players in their national Open gained championship berths. That international cycle continued to the Singapore Open, South Africa’s Johannesburg Open, Japan’s Mizuno Open, with these events yielding 11 spots. The European Tour’s Irish, Scottish and French Opens each have been allocated three places, the US PGA Tour’s recent Quicken Loans and Greenbrier Classic allowed four each, with the John Deere Classic this week given one final place.

There’s still a general final qualifying round in the UK, but nowadays it is staged earlier in July at various courses around the country, this year Gailes Links, Hillside, Royal Cinque Ports and Woburn’s Marquess course, each offering three spots and in a nod to history, hardscrabble sudden-death play-offs. In the event of international qualifier ties, uppermost in world ranking takes the place.

Some of the best preview stories come from the local qualifiers. Although Ian Poulter made the headline by qualifying second at Woburn, his home course, winner Shiv Kapur from India had the most interesting back-story. Kapur plays most of his golf on the Asian Tour and flew more than 2,000 miles solely for the qualifier. He arrived at Woburn on Sunday night, got in practice on Monday and immediately after winning, with scores of 71-65, flew directly home.

He previously qualified for the Open at Muirfield in 2013, the year Phil Mickelson won: and Kapur himself recalls he actually led that championship during the first round, finishing with 68, two off Zack Johnson’s lead, his name high on the big yellow leaderboard overnight. “I have very fond memories of that,” the 35-year old conceded.

And there’s always the worst hard-luck story to consider. This year it probably belongs to Sweden’s Jens Dantrop, a European Challenge Tour player, who missed qualifying by a single stroke at Woburn after receiving a two-stroke penalty on the first hole, for having 15 clubs in his bag.

For the record, most recent champions at Royal Birkdale are Padraig Harrington (2008), Mark O’Meara (1998) Ian Baker-Finch (1992), Tom Watson (1983), Johnny Miller (1976) and Lee Trevino (1971). Arnold Palmer won the title here in 1961.

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Edition No. 5055 - This publication is a property of NEFIR S.A. -RNPI Nº 5343955 - Issn 1852 - 9224 - Te. 4349-1500 - San Juan 141 , (C1063ACY) CABA - Director Perdiodístico: Ricardo Daloia