Why 'long shot' is worth it for 150th Open qualifying hopefuls next week

Dreams can come true. Just ask the five players who’d come through qualifiers to sit in the top six after the opening round of the 122nd US Open at The Country Club in Brookline on Thursday night.

It won’t really matter where they finish up in the season’s third major because it was already a triumph just being part of that event in the suburbs of Boston. As will be the case for anyone who emulates that feat in the 150th Open.

Through a Qualifying Series, a number of players have already secured spots in the milestone event at St Andrews next month, but the biggest and most exciting battle is about to get underway.

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Regional Qualifying takes place on Monday and, with a whopping 1,900 entries - the original figure had exceeded 2,000 but has dropped following withdrawals - two additional venues have been added to the 13 that had already been lined up for 18-hole shoot-outs by the R&A.

Andrew Crerar is teeing up in Open Regional Qualifying at Panmure, where he's the head professional. Picture: Mark Runnacles/Getty Images.

The majority of the Scottish hopefuls will be at Panmure as the Angus club hosts the first stage for a fifth and final time, with numerous others flying the Saltire just south of the border at Goswick in Northumberland.

Players successful at all the various venues around the UK and Ireland will progress to Final Qualifying, which takes place on Tuesday week at four courses - Fairmont St Andrews, Hollinwell, Prince’s and St Annes Old Links.

The odds of making it all the way to the first tee at St Andrews in the middle of next month may be slim, but, due to the significance of this year’s event and where it’s being held, it’s attracted a wide spectrum of dreamers.

“I snuck a late entry in,” said Andrew Crerar, laughing, of deciding to try his luck at Panmure, where he’s been the head professional for the past 15 years. “If there was ever one I was going to try for again, it was St Andrews and, yeah, it’s mainly because it’s the 150th Open.

Peter Whiteford pictured during the 2018 Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open after qualifying for that event at Gullane. Picture: Harry How/Getty Images.

“I’ve not played a lot and part of the reason I’m playing is to get competitive practice for Senior Open Qualifying, having got into that event at the last two attempts, but it’s one round and it’s at Panmure, so I’ve got a little bit of an advantage, though that brings its own pressure.”

Crerar, a former PGA in Scotland captain, played in the 1995 Open at St Andrews before also making it through at Royal Troon two years later. On both occasions, he missed the cut.

“If you get through this, you are only 36 holes away and it’s never going to happen for me again as I’ve not entered for probably 15 years and won’t be entering another Open after this one,” he added. “I feel like I have some unfinished business, but it’s a long shot.”

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That view was echoed by Peter Whiteford, who played in the 2011 event won by Darren Clarke at Royal St George’s at a time when he held a European Tour card but is mainly involved in coaching these days at Kingsfield near Linlithgow and Elmwood in Fife.

California-based Scot Niall Shiels Donegan, who won the Hawaii State Amateur Championship earlier in the year, is teeing up in Regional Qualifying for the 150th Open

“It’s my brother’s fault, really, as he came up with the idea (of him playing) off the cuff when we were doing our podcast,” said Whiteford, laughing loudly, of Talk Golf Scotland, which also involves sibling Stewart, a former Scottish Boys’ champion. “He was half-joking about it, saying that they’d get me mic’d up and Scott Rose, who also does the podcast with us, is going to caddie for me.

“Look, it’s the 150th Open and it would be phenomenal to play in it. It’s a milestone event. But it’s not my game any more. I teach nowadays – I tell people how to stop shanking it, duffing it and topping it.

“I kind of swing in a straight jacket these days, so I’ve been putting in a bit of panic practice this last week. But I’m a realist and the big one would be getting to the final stage and giving myself a crack at that.”

While they always say experience is like having an additional club in the bag, Whiteford isn’t so sure about that. “Ignorance is bliss and the aggression of youth and not caring about the miss is a great thing, which I had but don’t have any more,” he added.

“There’s a fine line between confidence or knowledge and fear. There’s a lot more fear in my game than there was back then, but I still enjoy it and I hope I can let myself be free and go and give it a go. If it goes wrong, it goes wrong. But I don’t want to have to go on our podcast with my tail between my legs after shooting 80!”

Others due to be playing at Panmure include former Scottish Amateur champions Callum Macaulay and George Murray, as well as Craig Lawrie, son of 1999 Open winner Paul, and California-based Scot Niall Shiels Donegan.

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“The main thing for me is the experience of playing at an historic course like Panmure,” said Donegan, who won the Hawaii State Amateur Championship by seven shots in March. “I made it through to final qualifying for the US Open a couple of weeks ago at Olympic Club in San Francisco and competed well against pros and top amateurs.

“Realistically, that’s the goal on Monday - get through to final qualifying then see what happens after that. I can’t imagine what it would be like to play in The Open at St Andrews, but I’d love to find out.”

Thirteen years after they both teed up in the Claret Jug event at Turnberry, Elliot and Lloyd Saltman are in the Goswick line up along with their younger brother, Zack, with two other siblings - Oliver and Sam Mukherjee - also trying their luck at the Berwick course.

Elsewhere, Singapore-based James Byrne is due to be at Burhill while Jamie Gallacher, Bernard’s son, is dusting off his clubs to give it a go at The Buckinghamshire.

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