Open Qualifying: Where the princes play the paupers and dreams are made and dashed

Ronan MacNamara

Justin Rose (Photo by Luke Walker/R&A/R&A via Getty Images)

Ronan MacNamara

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The Open Championship Final Qualifying. For players you’ve never heard of looking to fulfil their dreams and for the veterans of 20 Opens still vying for a 21st tilt at the Claret Jug.

It seems remarkable to think that Justin Rose, a crucial cog in Europe’s winning team at last September’s Ryder Cup and ranked 66th in the Official World Golf Ranking having ended last year inside the top-40, had to tee it up in Final Qualifying on Tuesday.

For context, one would not be surprised to see Rosey with a chance to win the Open Championship at Royal Troon on the Sunday.

The Englishman was part of a big hitting duo with Sergio Garcia looking to secure their place in the field for the final major of the year and while major championship qualifiers are becoming a regular occurrence for Garcia due to his tumbling world ranking while playing on LIV, this was an extreme rarity for Rose.

Rose has a US Open trophy, an Olympic Gold Medal – which he makes sure everybody knows about – eleven PGA Tour wins, as recently as last year, eleven DP World Tour wins, 20 top-10 finishes in major championships – including T6 at this year’s PGA Championship – three top-10s in the Open and is a former world number one.

Yet here he was at Burnham and Berrow in Somerset, sharing top spot after 36 holes with Amateur Championship runner-up Dominic Clemons on eight-under-par.

Rose, who finished fourth as an amateur on his 1998 debut and in a tie for second in 2018, has played in every Open since 2007 when fit.

Qualifying for the Open Championship works in stages, first there is regional qualifying then final qualifying.

For many, just progressing through the regionals is like winning the Open in itself. For many others, just qualifying for the Open is enough.

Open qualifying doesn’t just represent a chance to play in a major championship. For some PGA professionals, journeyman touring pros and some who are struggling to make ends meet in the pro ranks, the chance to compete for the Claret Jug could represent an all important pay day that keeps you in the sport for another year.

For others it’s the dream and for amateurs it’s a chance to compete against the world’s best.

Twelve amateurs will compete in the Open later this month including Galway’s Liam Nolan who held par putts of five and six feet on his last two holes to secure his spot at Dundonald Links.

“It’s hard to process the fact that I’m actually going to the Open but the crowds, I’m looking forward to everything. Being in Scotland the home of golf and yeah, I just can’t wait to go,” said the 24-year-old who brings the Irish quota up to five.

What’s also great about Final Qualifying for the Open is that relative nobodies can get a lucky draw and spend 36 holes clipping alongside golfing royalty. That was the case for Laytown & Bettystown’s Alex Maguire who played alongside Sergio Garcia at West Lancs.

It doesn’t seem like Garcia has taken to having to qualify for major championships very well.

The same can’t be said for his former Ryder Cup teammate Rose, who showed his true colours yesterday. The 43-year-old exudes class. There was no sense of entitlement despite what he has achieved in the last twelve months. In fact, he reflected on his performance as an example of how far he has come in the game and still how special it feels to be playing in the Open.

“Sometimes you take it for granted – you’re exempt, you turn up and play for many years, but as you get older, things get a little harder so in some ways it’s good to have to qualify because it makes you appreciate The Open a little more and how special it is. Coming back to Burnham & Berrow was also special – first time back here since ’97. I was grateful to be back here and walk down memory lane.”

I watched Portugal vs Slovenia in the European Championships the other night and I was also at the Ryder Cup in Rome. Cristiano Ronaldo and Justin Rose, both players of seniority in their respective teams but are vastly different in leadership qualities.

Ronaldo, 39, did not cry for Portugal after he missed that penalty, he cried for himself. He took on ridiculous free kicks and shots like the greedy player we all played with at U-10 level.

He was a disgrace and while he is no longer a top class International footballer he is still Ronaldo and unfortunately he is playing more and more to the character he has developed for himself as the years go on in what is sport’s most boring soap opera.

Then there is Rose, a walking frame of humility and grace. Who was a perfect mentor for Robert MacIntyre in Rome who stepped up to help a young European team two years after being left out by Pádraig Harrington.

We hear a lot about LIV players having to qualify for major championships for reasons that we all know at this stage, but it was bonkers to see Rose, a player who is still relevant at the top level of professional golf, teeing it up with with 67 other golfers who for 36 holes at least were the same as him.

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