Sullivan's Open career has lift-off
The build-up to the 144th Open at St Andrews is well underway. This is the first in a series of articles looking at the Open Qualifying Series and the players who qualify to play in golf’s oldest championship when it returns to St Andrews from 16-19 July.
When you have already earned yourself a trip into space a visit to the east coast of Scotland might not seem that special.
But St Andrews is no ordinary place, of course, and as it will be to compete in July's Open Championship then Andy Sullivan's delight at securing his place through the Joburg Open was totally understandable.
The former Walker Cup amateur - he was part of the winning Britain and Ireland side at Royal Aberdeen in 2011 - entered the Open Qualifying Series tournament knowing that three spots at the Home of Golf were on offer.
There was no way he was going to be denied one of those when he closed with a six under par 66 for a 17 under total, but minutes later a two-stroke victory was his as well - and this only seven weeks after he kicked off 2015 by beating Charl Schwartzel in a play-off for the South African Open, also in Johannesburg.
As for that trip into space, Sullivan was the recipient of a unique hole-in-one prize at last season's KLM Open courtesy of US-based XCOR Space Expeditions, which from the end of this year will be giving members of the public the chance to travel on board its Lynx spaceships.
"I’m not great with heights or flying - I might have to pluck up some serious courage," he said. "My daughter will think I’m the best dad in the world – a professional golfer and an astronaut!"
His real career has certainly had lift-off in recent months. From a position well outside the world's top 200 only last September he was closing in on the leading 50 following his two titles.
The other two Open qualifiers on March 1 were also English, but whereas Sullivan has no previous experience of the championship David Howell and Anthony Wall have 17 appearances between them.
The pair actually shared second place at the Royal Johannesburg and Kensington club with Ireland's Kevin Phelan and South Africans Wallie Coetsee and Jaco Van Zyl, but their higher world rankings gave them preference.
Howell, joint 15th at Hoylake last July, commented: "I’m absolutely delighted. It means a lot to play again," while Wall said of St Andrews: "It’s the ultimate place to play golf and The Open."
Three legs of the Qualifying Series have now taken place. Last November Rod Pampling, Greg Chalmers and Brett Rumford were successful at their home Australian Open, then a month later their compatriots Marcus Fraser and Scott Hend, plus Indian Anirban Lahiri and American Jonathan Moore, had cause to celebrate at the Thailand Championship. Those events were won by the already exempt Jordan Spieth and Lee Westwood.
The series continues at the Irish and Mizuno Opens on May 28-31, then come three events on the PGA Tour - the Travelers Championship on June 25-28, Greenbier Classic on July 2-5 and John Deere Classic on July 9-12, just a week before Rory McIlroy defends the Claret Jug.