Over half of the field for The 148th Open will be playing members of the PGA TOUR - a very healthy contingent making the trip to Royal Portrush when The Open returns to Northern Ireland after a 68-year hiatus.
It has not always been that way, though, with only four Americans entering in 1959 before Arnold Palmer’s victories in 1961 and 1962 encouraged more US players to follow his lead.
Since then many players from the PGA TOUR have conquered golf’s oldest Major Championship, including legends such as five-time Champion Golfer Tom Watson and three-time Champion Jack Nicklaus.
And many of the usual suspects will be teeing it up at the County Antrim course in a bid to win the Claret Jug, including Tiger Woods, who will be looking to tie Sam Snead with 82 PGA TOUR victories.
But there will also be several debutants at The Open, taking on the famous Dunluce Links having come through The Open Qualifying Series USA or from their performances on the PGA TOUR.
Mitchell returning to Portrush for Open debut
Keith Mitchell enjoyed two of the best weeks of his career to date at the beginning of March, starting with his first professional victory at The Honda Classic in Florida.
Something of a late bloomer, the 27-year-old had only made one cut - finishing 73rd at the Phoenix Open - in his previous four events before arriving at Palm Beach Gardens. But he held his nerve to sink a 15-foot putt for birdie on the final hole to win by one shot, avoiding a play-off against runners-up Rickie Fowler and four-time major winner Brooks Koepka.
While the momentous victory moved Mitchell up 93 places in the world rankings, it was the following week at the Arnold Palmer Invitational that saw him secure his place at Portrush.
Mitchell, from Tennessee, finished sixth to take one of three Open spots up for grabs as part of The Open Qualifying Series as reigning Champion Golfer Francesco Molinari triumphed at Bay Hill.
“I actually played Portrush about 15 years ago with my dad - it was really tough,” said Mitchell, who will be making his Open debut. “I also went to Royal Troon when Todd Hamilton won. Darren Clarke gave me his glove – I’ll never forget that.”
Portrush calling for Lashley and Redman
An American one-two at the Rocket Mortgage Classic ensured both Nate Lashley and Doc Redman qualified for The 148th Open at Royal Portrush in style.
The event was the ninth in The Open Qualifying Series and saw Lashley lead the tournament from wire-to-wire to clinch his first ever win on the PGA TOUR at Detroit Golf Club.
His dominant six-shot victory was made all the more remarkable by the fact that he was the final player to be confirmed in the starting field after a last-minute withdrawal.
The 36-year-old, who tragically lost his parents and girlfriend in a plane crash in 2004, will be making his Open debut in Northern Ireland and admitted it has been a long-term ambition.
“It hasn’t sunk in to be honest,” he said. “I’ve never played in Europe before so I’m really looking forward to playing in The Open. It’s a dream come true to be playing in a Major Championship.”
Redman, the 2017 US Amateur Champion, will also make his first appearance in The Open after closing out the inaugural Rocket Mortgage Classic with a 67 to finish runner-up.
He only made it into the starting field through a qualifying event on the Monday, with the 21-year-old sinking a birdie on the penultimate hole for his best PGA Tour finish.
“It feels awesome to have qualified for The Open, it’s going to be an absolute blast,” he said. “It’s going to be a unique challenge for me and I’m excited to give a shot.”
Amateur Wu continues upward trajectory
It has been a memorable few weeks for American amateur Brandon Wu, who will now contest his very first Open after coming through Final Qualifying at Fairmont St Andrews.
The Stanford graduate went 3-0 in match play to help the Cardinal win its ninth national championship before teeing it up at the US Open at Pebble Beach last month.
Having come through US Open Sectional Qualifying, the 22-year-old proceeded to finish T35 at the third major of the year as he was forced to skip his college graduation.
Wu then went overseas to take a shot at Final Qualifying for The Open, setting his sights on one of the three spots on offer at Fairmont St Andrews through the 36-hole showdown.
And rounds of 64 and 67 meant he finished three shots clear at the top of the leaderboard, with his nine-under total seeing him comfortably earn his berth at Royal Portrush.
“It has been a crazy run, and it was fantastic playing on a beautiful course with beautiful views,” he said. “It is like a dream come true to qualify for The Open having watched all the greats play in it.”
Welcome Open returns Ancer and Hadwin
Abraham Ancer will be eager to improve on his Open debut at Carnoustie last year after earning his place at Portrush with his victory at the Emirates Australian Open.
Born in Texas but raised in Reynosa, Mexico, Ancer holds dual American-Mexican citizenship – competing under the flag of the latter due to his parents both being natives of the country.
The University of Oklahoma graduate enjoyed a steep learning curve in his first season on the PGA TOUR last year but sealed his place at Carnoustie at the Quicken Loans National.
But while the 28-year-old enjoyed his experience at The 147th Open, Carnoustie certainly provided a challenging test as Ancer shot rounds of 71 and 78 to miss the cut.
He now has a chance to learn from his mistakes last year after securing a second qualification at the first time of asking by winning the Australian Open by five shots.
“I’ve never been to Northern Ireland before so I’m really looking forward to that. It’s going to be incredible,” said Ancer after etching his name on the Stonehaven Cup.
He will be joined at Portrush by Adam Hadwin after he took one of three places available at the RBC Canadian Open by finishing sixth at Hamilton Golf and Country Club.
That meant Canadian Hadwin took the first of The Open exemption spots and he will now contest for the Claret Jug for the third year running after previously qualifying for Royal Birkdale and Carnoustie.
“I’ve heard the Irish fans are absolutely incredible and that they love their golf,” said Hadwin, a two-time winner on the PGA TOUR who finished T35 at last year’s Open.
“The fans have been so supportive during the previous two times I’ve played in The Open. They really appreciate good golf so I’m really looking forward to it."
Next Up: The 149th Open at Royal St George’s
It might feel early to be thinking about next year but tickets are already on sale for The Open at Royal St George’s.
The Open returns to the closest venue to London in July 2020 and fans wishing to book their place at Royal St. George’s next year still have time to do so by signing up to The One Club and selecting the tickets they wish to purchase. Demand continues to be high and fans are urged to move quickly to secure their preferred tickets and avoid disappointment.