The 148th Open is now just a fortnight away and the remaining places in the field for Royal Portrush are starting to be filled.
Another five men booked a spot on the tee in Northern Ireland over the weekend as The Open Qualifying Series took centre stage on both sides of the Atlantic as it passed through Spain and USA.
The Andalucia Masters saw Christiaan Bezuidenhout, Mike Lorenzo-Vera and Adri Arnaus all qualify for golf’s original championship, while Nate Lashley and Doc Redman did likewise at the Rocket Mortgage Classic in Detroit.
But who are the latest quintet now preparing themselves for the adventure of a lifetime at Portrush?
The Open and South Africa have a storied history, with the Claret Jug having been won by a man from the republic on ten occasions – more than any other southern hemisphere country.
And Christiaan Bezuidenhout will hope to write the latest chapter in that tale later this month, after ensuring he will make his debut at a major by winning the Andalucia Masters.
A graduate of the Ernie Els Foundation – on the Champion Golfer Foundations supported by the R&A – Bezuidenhout turned professional back in 2015 and after three wins on the Big Easy Tour and Sunshine Tour, secured a maiden European Tour triumph at Valderrama.
A return to Royal Portrush – the course on which he competed at the 2014 British Amateur – is the 25-year-old’s prize and he’s already counting down the hours.
“It’s amazing,” he said. “It has always been a dream of mine to play in The Open and it’s going to be a great week. I’m definitely looking forward to it. It’s my favourite major of the year and just to play in it is really special.”
Bezuidenhout won the Andalucia Masters by six strokes but part of that five-strong group tied for second was Frenchman Mike Lorenzo-Vera, who will appear at The Open for the second time as a result.
His maiden appearance came at Royal Birkdale in 2017 and he impressed to make the cut before securing a finish of tied 62nd.
A pair of PGA Championship appearances have been his only majors experience since, with a tied-65th in 2018 being followed by an incredible impressive 16th-place finish at Bethpage Black earlier this year.
Having turned professional in 2005, the 34-year-old is something of a veteran and used that nous to sink a 20-footer from the edge of the green on the final hole at Valderrama to ultimately seal second spot and a place at The 148th Open.
“It’s going to be magic,” enthused Lorenzo-Vera. “I remember two years ago at Birkdale it was fantastic. That was one of the best experiences I have ever had in my life so I want to play more.”
A man just beginning his career was the third qualifier from Valderrama and upcoming Spanish star Adri Arnaus will be making his Open debut in Northern Ireland.
Born in Barcelona, Arnaus attended Texas A&M University from 2012 to 2016 before winning the Spanish Amateur Championship and being a member of the Spanish team that won the European Amateur Team Championship.
Two wins while playing on the Alps Tour as an amateur in 2017 earned him a promotion to the Challenge Tour, where his amateur success transferred to the professional ranks with a victory at the end-of-season Challenge Tour Grand Final, second spot on the Order of Merit and a place on the European Tour for 2019.
He finished tied 58th on his major debut at the US Open earlier this month and after picking up four shots in five back-nine holes on Sunday at the Andalucia Masters, Portrush is now calling for the 24-year-old.
Arnaus said: “It’s definitely going to be packed and I’m really looking forward to playing some links golf in front of these crowds and getting another experience under my belt.”
While the above trio were earning their Open tee times on the European Tour, over the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, Nate Lashley and Doc Redman were doing likewise.
Lashley went from being the final player confirmed in the Rocket Mortgage Classic field following a last-minute withdrawal to being a wire-to-wire winner in Detroit – sealing his first PGA Tour win by six strokes.
Perhaps few men deserve the success more, as 15 years ago Lashley suffered tragedy while at the University of Arizona when his parents, Charlene and Rod, along with his girlfriend, Leslie, were killed in a plane crash while flying home to Nebraska having watched him play at a tournament in Oregon.
A knee injury then cut short the now 36-year-old’s 2018 season but he finished tied 28th in his debut major appearance at the US Open last month and will now test himself at The Open.
“It hasn’t sunk in to be honest. I’ve never played in Europe before so I’m really looking forward to it,” said Lashley. “Playing in The Open has always been something I’ve wanted to do and it will allow me to compete at the highest level. I couldn’t be more thrilled.”
The final man of the five to earn his place at Portrush this weekend was Redman, who will play in his first major championship as a 21-year-old.
Born in North Carolina, Redman attended Clemson University and brilliantly won the 2017 US Amateur having only just made it into the field after finishing 62nd in the strokeplay qualifier – with the top 64 advancing.
The American then competed in the 2017 Walker Cup before turning professional in 2018 and his best PGA Tour finish of second at the Rocket Mortgage Classic has left him excited about teeing it up at Royal Portrush.
“It feels awesome to have qualified for The Open, it’s going to be an absolute blast,” said Redman. “It’s going to be a unique challenge for me and I’m excited to give a shot.
“I don’t know much about Royal Portrush but I’m excited to go and check it out. I’m really looking forward to playing in front of a noisy crowd and it will be a lot of fun."