Road to The Open participant and R&A employee Chris Lewis shares his thoughts on Regional and Final Qualifying, and what it was like to pursue his ambition of playing in The Open.
The Road to The Open is a journey many golfers dream about. It follows a process from Regional Qualifying, through to Final Qualifying, all the way to the hallowed event that is The Open Championship.
For Sam Forgan, Peter Finch, James Robinson and myself, that process this year was documented in The Road to The Open. And for Sam Forgan in particular, his road ended in fairytale fashion indeed.
We can only start with talking about Sam Forgan. When picking four players to follow throughout the entire process of trying to qualify for The Open, including Regional Qualifying, the chances of picking a winning horse, so to speak, are remarkably slim. Just four qualifiers for The Open played in Regional Qualifying, and only one of the 12 who made it to Royal St George’s has ever played in The Open before. And when one of your four players is a no-hoper (me), then your odds become even longer!
Yet Sam Forgan defied those odds and achieved something remarkable, particularly for a player who has long since tried to qualify for The Open, and a player who has come close on multiple occasions.
Sam's campaign for The 149th Open began in earnest at Prince’s on Sunday 27th June, where he produced a clinic across the way from Sandwich. A five-under-par 67 ensured Forgan moved on to Final Qualifying with a victory in the first stage.
Then, at Final Qualifying, a great performance over the first 35 holes left Forgan, the last man on the course, fully aware of his situation. Make a par on his final hole and he would be in The Open. However, this is obviously easier said than done when the pressure is on.
After missing the green at the ninth, his closing hole, it all came down to a 40-yard up-and-down. A decent chip left Forgan with a 12-foot putt to qualify for The Open, which he holed to spark a rapturous celebration. Having worked in a warehouse during the first COVID-19 lockdown, and as he prepares to become a father for the first time, years of hard work and paying his dues culminated in a stunning performance at Prince’s to qualify for The 149th Open across the Kentish dunes.
James Robinson at St Annes Old Links also made it to Final Qualifying, albeit not progressing to The Open, while myself and Peter Finch, the YouTube star, couldn’t quite make it to the final stage at St Annes and West Lancashire respectively.
What Qualifying feels like
The actual experience of trying to qualify is surreal. This year, both Regional and Final Qualifying were played behind closed doors, which meant the usual atmosphere of qualifying was unfortunately not quite the same, and big crowds who would normally follow players like Peter weren't present.
However, knowing what’s at stake, there is definitely a special feeling in the air. Everything from the moment you arrive, where you are given a package including a professional yardage book, pin sheet and rules hard card, to the moment you hole out on the 18th green with Open pin flags, adds to the experience.
The tee markers, digital clock, and countless other little touches constantly remind you where you’re playing, and for a player like myself who isn't used to the pomp and circumstance, even the one-ball rule in effect is exciting! Because of this, those who can hold their nerve the best usually are able to come close to qualifying.
I have never played in anything like Open Qualifying before. Four months of anticipation was certainly not in vain, as the day lived up to the billing. It’s easy to be overwhelmed by it all, but remembering that the round ahead of you was just a round of golf, like all your previous rounds, is as helpful a thought as can possibly be had.
My 74 in the end missed out by a couple of shots at St Annes' Regional Qualifying, with my approach play costing me, but I gained immeasurable confidence from the fact that, despite not quite playing my best, I had held my own against a high class of player.
Final Qualifying, however, is a different beast, and while even par from one round would have been enough for a play-off in Regional Qualifying at St Annes Old Links, 12 under par was the necessary total through two rounds in Final Qualifying to qualify for The Open.
After my round, I took to TheOpen.com's live blog, and so I was able to follow the journeys of countless other players, like me, all with the same shared goal over the entirety of the Qualifying process. Witnessing the likes of seven-time European Tour winner Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano effortlessly beat your total by 10 shots just makes you respect the quality required to qualify, and made me realise how much work I’d need to put in to try and get closer to that level.
Still, for myself, and I’m sure for all the other Road to the Open hopefuls, 2021 Qualifying was a brilliant experience. And for Sam, The Open itself is the reward. Good luck to him and roll on qualifying for The 150th Open!