The 148th Open Royal Portrush
The 148th Open
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Meet the Debutants

Who will win The Open

Every player who has held the Claret Jug aloft began a nervous debutant, standing on the precipice of one of the wildest rides in sport – their career at The Open.

Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Darren Clarke are likely to command much of the attention this week but there are no fewer than 32 players – a little more than 20% of the field – set to compete in golf’s original major for the first time.

With nationalities ranging from Chile to Japan, via Thailand and South Africa, they are a wide-ranging mix of players from across the world.

Let’s meet some:

Christiaan Bezuidenhout

He is yet to hit a tee shot yet but South Africa’s Christiaan Bezuidenhout already has a story you’d scarcely believe.

The 25-year-old won the Spanish Open last month to confirm his place but, for much of his young life, striking a ball at The Open has been a pipedream.

Aged just two, Bezuidenhout drank what he thought was Coca-Cola but turned out to be rat poison. He almost died and the impact that had took a long time to overcome.

He had his stomach pumped and just two years later, aged four, he was diagnosed with anxiety. Shy, he struggled to communicate with people and developed a stutter. Golf almost became his sole refuge.

A psychologist helped take his stutter away and, now concentrating fully and confidently on his game, the results speak for themselves.

He will tee off alongside Andy Sullivan and Alexander Levy at 6.57am on Thursday.

Kurt Kitayama

It’s unlikely even the rain will wipe the smile off Kurt Kitayama’s face this week, as the American reflects on what has been an incredible 12 months.

This time last year, as Francesco Molianri charged to victory at The 147th Open at Carnoustie, Kitayama was playing on the Asian Tour and it was only in November that he progressed through Q-School to gain a place on the European Tour.

Things have gone rather well since. On just his second start, he won the Mauritius Open and backed that up by claiming the Oman Open in March while he made his maiden major appearance at the PGA Championship eight weeks ago.

While most American players play on the PGA TOUR, Kitayama has travelled the world, played in more countries than he can name and gone through some intense “character building.”

Another man who did that is Brooks Koepka. If Kitayama can walk in his footsteps, then he’ll do rather well.

He tees off for his first ever round at The Open at 12.20pm alongside Erik van Rooyen and Jake McLeod.

Robert MacIntyre

Another man who only earned his European Tour card in November is Scotland’s Robert MacIntyre and, like Kitayama, he’s made quite the impression.

In December, he played alongside Ernie Els in both the South African Open and Alfred Dunhill Championship and the two-time Champion Golfer liked what saw.

"At the last hole in Jo'burg, Ernie just told me to keep doing what I'm doing," said MacIntyre. "I couldn't have really asked for a better year, other than getting a win under my belt, but that'll come.”

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A pair of runner-up finishes have since followed at the British Masters and Made in Denmark, while this week marks his first major – capping a rapid rise.

The 22-year-old was more focussed on the sport of shinty until four years ago and says his smooth swing comes from hitting shinty balls.

He tees off here alongside Kyle Stanley and Andrew Johnston at 8.36am on Thursday.

Brandon Wu

Amateur Brandon Wu has quite the reputation to uphold this week but if can emulate another Stanford graduate, then he will do just fine.

The American may not get to play alongside Tiger Woods but the fleeting glimpses he has shown of his game suggests he could well be joining the big boys soon.

Wu shot into the public’s consciousness with a T-35 finish at the US Open last month, skipping his graduation ceremony in order to play at Pebble Beach.

Off the back of that, he came to the UK – acclimatised by playing at Muirfield – and stormed through Final Qualifying to book his place at Royal Portrush.

He goes off at 7.08am on Thursday with Chan Kim and Zander Lombard.

Nate Lashley

In 2012, Nate Lashley had virtually given up on golf.

The American stopped playing and moved into real estate, only for his love of the game to tempt him back. Thank god it did.

Lashley, at 36, is enjoying the best season of his career and crowned his resurgence with a maiden PGA TOUR title at the Rocket Mortgage Classic last month, earning exemption to his second major.

The Nebraska native will be confident, even if this is his first time he has set foot in Europe, but he may have other things on his mind when he steps up to the first tee.

In 2004, Lashley’s parents and girlfriend died in a plane crash in Wyoming while flying back from watching him play a college tournament and he has admitted it will be an emotional moment when he strikes a ball at The Open.

He goes with Shugo Imahira and Benjamin Hebert at 10.53am.

Click here for a full list of debutants.

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