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