With a trio of berths available, Joel Dahmen, Danny Lee and Keith Mitchell all booked their tickets to The 149th Open at the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard.
It is rare to see three players make it through an Open Qualifying Series event with a level par total for the tournament, but that is exactly what happened at Bay Hill as Dahmen, Lee and Mitchell all qualified with some determined play that will stand them in good stead at Royal St George’s.
During a final round where a fast and windy Bay Hill claimed a number of victims, all three players stood tall to finish at even par and in a tie for fifth place alongside former Open Champion Rory McIlroy, four shots behind eventual tournament winner Tyrrell Hatton.
Hatton, second-placed Marc Leishman, third-placed Sung-jae Im and fourth-placed Bryson DeChambeau were all previously exempt for The Open, allowing the three qualifiers to earn their spots.
“We hung out in the Harbour Bar all weekend and had a blast. I'm just really excited to get back over there.” Joel Dahmen on Royal Portrush in 2019
After a final-round 71 that helped him leapfrog a number of players, Dahmen showcased what his qualification meant with a big fist-pump after a superb long-range two-putt on the 72nd hole.
“Last year was my first Open and it was probably the best event I have ever played in, it was the most fun,” Dahmen said. “Obviously, The Open returning back to Portrush was an incredible experience. I didn’t play very well, but we hung out in the Harbour Bar all weekend and had a blast. I’m just really excited to get back over there."
The 32-year-old American, who was the highest-ranked of all three players heading into the week at 85th in the world, is excited to set foot on links land once more.
“You've got to play links golf on the ground a lot more,” Dahmen said of The Open. “We don’t do that often over here, although actually this week we had to play a lot on the ground with it blowing every day.
"The other thing is a lot of times you don’t have the sight lines off the tee. There’s no trees around, there’s no houses around a lot of the time so you have to get a little better at playing the course and there’s more prep work for sure than there is over here.”
“When I missed that last putt, I felt like I had put myself out of The Open position. I am very happy to have the opportunity to play in The Open.” Danny Lee
The second-highest-ranked player of the trio, Danny Lee, managed to qualify after a battling final-round 75, which included a short missed par putt on the final hole of play.
“When I missed that last putt,” Lee said, “I felt like I had put myself out of The Open position but I was still happy to finish on even par. I am very happy to have the opportunity to play in The Open.”
The 29-year-old from New Zealand has twice played in The Open before, but failed to make the cut on both occasions in 2015 and 2016. This year, the Kiwi will be hoping to have more success.
“I’ll try to go to Royal St George’s the week before to prepare and play some rounds,” Lee said. “The conditions and firmness of the links is different. I’m a very aggressive player and it seems like when I play links golf courses aggressively it just bites me back, so this year I’ll try to play a little bit smarter.”
Meanwhile, history repeated itself for Mitchell, as the 28-year-old American qualified for The Open at this event for the second year running.
Coming into the week ranked 116th, Mitchell recreated his previous year’s performance at the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard with a brilliant final round, including a crucial birdie on the last hole from outside of 10 feet.
“It’s pretty special,” Mitchell said. “I was standing here last year and that’s how I got into The Open. It’s probably one of my favourite weeks of the year. I’ve never been over to Royal St George’s and it’s going to be a true honour.
“It was tough last year. It was proper Open weather and it was a lot of fun because you don’t get to play like that much over here. Now that I’ve got one year under my belt hopefully I can capitalise.”