Quest for the Claret Jug is no walk in the park . . .

The Herald - Sport - - FRONT PAGE - TO­MOR­ROW Stu­art Bath­gate

THERE have been a lot of largely fu­tile ex­er­cises per­formed down the sea­sons. This cor­re­spon­dent of­ten mut­ters that to him­self af­ter two for­lorn hours spent try­ing to eke out words let alone sen­tences for this slab of newsprint.

It could be worse, of course. When the Grand Old Duke of York marched his vast bat­tal­ion of foot sol­diers up to the top of the hill and swiftly marched them back down again, the com­men­ta­tors, colum­nists and crit­ics of the day were re­morse­less in their sav­aging of such point­less mil­i­tary ex­trav­a­gance. And no won­der. Ten thou­sand be­wil­dered men were left won­der­ing why they were nei­ther up nor down be­fore morale was sapped even fur­ther when they be­came the sub­jects of a with­er­ing nurs­ery rhyme.

By all ac­counts, the noble Duke’s hike was a fairly fruit­less task. Rather like try­ing to qual­ify for the Open for those dream­ers who, well, dare to dream. As we hurtle to­wards the peak sea­son, the world’s old­est ma­jor cham­pi­onship is ly­ing se­duc­tively on the hori­zon. To­day, across four venues in the UK, over 280 play­ers will fight it out over 36 holes for just 12 tee-times for next month’s show­piece at St An­drews. It will be a fevered scram­ble on a par with the first har­row­ing hours of the Box­ing Day Sales, but with slightly less el­bow­ing, bit­ing, shriek­ing, scratch­ing and goug­ing. Well, hope­fully.

Vi­jay Singh, the for­mer Mas­ters cham­pion, was on the en­try list for the shoot-out at Glas­gow Gailes while Colin Mont­gomerie, who just missed out on re­tain­ing his US Se­nior Open ti­tle on Sun­day, has made a fraught dash from the west coast of Amer­ica to Woburn in Bed­ford­shire to give it a go. Now 52, the bold, intrepid Monty shows no sign of eas­ing up and you have to give him im­mense credit and ad­mire his un­quench­able thirst for com­pe­ti­tion. He will play seven ma­jors this year – eight if he does the ex­tra­or­di­nary at Woburn to­day – on both the se­nior tour and the main tour. In fact, the vet­eran Scot has al­ready played five ma­jors in a row since the mid­dle of May. The young guns at the top of golf’s tree talk about lim­it­ing their sched­ules but a gal­vanised Mont­gomerie has a com­pet­i­tive di­ary that would make men half his age shud­der.

Monty will be among the star at­trac­tions at to­day’s qual­i­fiers but there are many am­a­teurs, clubs pro­fes­sion­als, has-beens and never-have-beens who will be at­tempt­ing what is be­com­ing some­thing of a mis­sion im­pos­si­ble.

With the Royal & An­cient cast­ing the net far and wide with its Open

Fork­ing out the £150 fee and be­ing part of the Open, even at the re­mote dis­tance of the re­gional rounds, can still stir the senses

qual­i­fy­ing se­ries – a suc­ces­sion of reg­u­lar main tour events in Europe, the US, Aus­tralia and the Far East that of­fer Open places to the lead­ing fin­ish­ers – the op­por­tu­ni­ties for the rank and file on the golf­ing peck­ing or­der con­tinue to dwin­dle.

At least the new se­ries is a fairer and a more lo­gis­ti­cally sen­si­ble for­mat com­pared to the old In­ter­na­tional Fi­nal Qual­i­fiers that were in­tro­duced around the globe in 2004.

At the US round, for in­stance, an in­sult­ing 53 of 120 play­ers scratched leav­ing just 67 to fight it out for 15 Open places, a suc­cess ra­tio that was far greater than those try­ing to en­ter via the more tra­di­tional route. Here in 2015, the grum­bles can al­ways be heard, par­tic­u­larly at the re­gional qual­i­fy­ing level. Last week at Brunts­field Links, one of 13 venues stag­ing an 18-hole re­gional show­down, only seven spots into the fi­nal qual­i­fier were on of­fer to the field of 93 play­ers. It wasn’t that long ago that the num­ber was in dou­ble fig­ures. Phrases like “it’s not worth it now” and “they are just pan­der­ing to the tour­ing pro­fes­sion­als” can of­ten be trot­ted out.

Of course, the history and majesty of the Open con­tin­ues to be a big lure and its come all ye feel re­mains en­chant­ing. Even Aus­trian pro­fes­sional Man­fred Krainz, who cob­bled to­gether an eye-wa­ter­ing 23-over 93 dur­ing qual­i­fy­ing at Hank­ley Com­mon a week ago, will prob­a­bly fill in his en­try form again next year. Fork­ing out the £150 fee and be­ing part of the Open, even at the re­mote dis­tance of the re­gional rounds, can still stir the senses . . . and of­ten shred the swing and scup­per the score.

Get­ting a foot in the Open door is the ul­ti­mate aim and come this evening, a dozen play­ers from var­i­ous golf­ing walks of life will be rel­ish­ing the prospect of a trip to the cra­dle of the game in Fife.

Last year, John Sin­gle­ton, a fork­lift driver from Wal­lasey, came off the re­serve list from re­gional qual­i­fy­ing, emerged tri­umphant from a play-off in fi­nal qual­i­fy­ing with bor­rowed wedges and earned a place in the Open on his own doorstep at Royal Liver­pool.

The cham­pi­onship it­self is al­ways go­ing to be about the giants of the game in the up­per ech­e­lons but it’s the John Sin­gle­tons of the world who make the event un­like any other ma­jor sport­ing oc­ca­sion. Those Open dreams, not mat­ter how fan­ci­ful, can still oc­ca­sion­ally come true.

A BRIDGE TOO FAR? Fi­nal qual­i­fy­ing for next month’s Open at St An­drews takes place this week

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