The reactions of Sam Forgan and Daniel Croft as play drew to a close on Tuesday evening neatly summed up just how much was on the line at Final Qualifying for The Open.
More than 300 miles apart at Prince’s and West Lancashire, two of the four venues in use for Regional and Final Qualifying, Forgan and Croft each experienced elation and relief on their final holes as they converted putts that sealed their places at The 149th Open.
Forgan, a star of our Road To The Open series that has followed four players’ attempts to qualify for Royal St George's, showed immense mettle in avoiding what would have been a nerve-jangling play-off.
Playing in the final group at Prince’s and needing to finish on two under or better to secure one of the three Open spots available at the venue, he was strongly placed on four under with three to play before an unfortunate double-bogey at the 7th, his 16th hole, threatened to derail his hopes.
Forgan ultimately got the job done, though, parring the eighth and then pulling off a gutsy up-and-down for the four he needed on the ninth.
The Felixstowe Ferry professional is not given to flamboyant displays of emotion, but it was nevertheless clear what qualifying for The Open meant to a player who narrowly missed out via the same route in 2019.
After embracing his brother and caddie, Jack, a delighted Forgan said: “I’m absolutely buzzing. It’s obviously always been a dream and to play The Open in a couple of weeks is going to be amazing.”
Forgan’s participation in the Road To The Open series meant virtually his every move at Regional and Final Qualifying was tracked by a camera crew, yet it was a different story for Croft, a 24-year-old from Mersey Valley Golf Club who sneaked under the radar at West Lancashire.
The only footage of Croft’s progress was captured on his final hole as he closed in on the total he needed to qualify alongside Nicholas Poppleton and Louis de Jager.
It would soon become clear that Croft could have afforded a bogey on his final hole, the ninth, but he certainly did not know that as he put all the focus he could into two-putting for a closing par.
Having concentrated so hard during a superb finish to his round, which included crucial birdies at his 14th, 15th and 16th holes to vault into the qualifying places, Croft was at last able to release all the nervous energy he had bottled up when his final putt dropped.
For much of the next hour he appeared stunned by his achievement, frequently bending down on to his haunches and taking deep breaths as the magnitude of what lies ahead became clear.
In an interview with TheOpen.com, Croft later revealed that he and his father had each burst into tears during a jubilant phone call in which news of the youngster’s qualification for Royal St George’s was shared.
“My dad’s my best mate,” said Croft. “I rang him and we were both just crying to bits, just because it means that much.”
Asked what his father had said to him, he replied: “Not a lot, there was just a lot of crying.”
Along with Croft and Forgan, nine other players broke new ground on Tuesday by qualifying for The Open for the first time.
The aforementioned Poppleton and De Jager were the top two finishers at West Lancashire, the latter even overcoming a nine on the 11th hole of his second round in a fantastic show of character.
At Prince’s, Forgan was joined in the top three by Deyen Lawson and Connor Worsdall, while Daniel Hillier, Jonathan Thomson and Richard Mansell led the way at Hollinwell.
Ben Hutchinson and amateur Sam Bairstow will also make their Open debuts after coming through Final Qualifying at St Annes Old Links, the only venue where a player with past experience of the Championship progressed.
That man was Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano, a veteran of six Open appearances who was nevertheless just as happy as Forgan and Croft with his success.
“It means a lot to me to qualify for The Open, especially as I haven’t played a major since 2014,” said the Spaniard. “I’m really looking forward to The Open, going back and playing in the biggest event in the world on a stage like Royal St George’s, which is the only course on the Open rota that I have never played.
“I love playing links golf. It’s my favourite way of playing golf. It’s the real deal. Overall I am delighted.”
Fernandez-Castano, Forgan and Croft could all be justifiably proud of their efforts, with 288 players having started Final Qualifying and only 12 achieving their aim. Forgan and Croft even had to work to reach Tuesday’s decisive stage as they came through Regional Qualifying over the weekend, along with Poppleton, Hutchinson and Worsdall.
Those that progressed from Final Qualifying now have only a short wait until they get to compete at Royal St George’s with the world’s best.
For Fernandez-Castano and the 11 qualifiers competing in The Open for the very first time, it promises to be a week to remember.