Regional Open qualifying: The hope and despair

Golf News

There were only five spots up for grabs in Regional Open Qualifying at Alwoodley. So why do so many players put themselves through the ordeal against a 78-strong field? Steve Carroll went along to find out.

It used to be different. Turner’s an old stager at this and remembers a time when it felt those taking part in Open qualifying had more of a chance to grab a spot in the big game.

As if to prove his point, just two days after he had hunkered down for his latest big effort, the R&A announced they were giving another three spots to high finishers in this week’s Open de France.

“Things have changed. It’s a contentious point. This is great but I don’t know how many spots we have got today – the next one is three or four.

“That’s the difficulty. If you publicise that, probably nobody would enter. It is chasing a dream for most of the lads, to be fair.”

So why do it?

“Stress-wise, that’s a question. It’s probably an imbalance – or a character flaw. I’m trying to have a go – putting myself up there and seeing where I am.”

A glimpse of the Claret Jug has tantalised amateur Damon Coulson before. The York Open champion played at Gailes Links four years ago, but only after sweating through a regional Open qualifying round.

“That was a long day,” he remembers. “I was first out so I had to wait until around 5pm. We hung round all day and stood watching the last group come off.

“When you know you’ve got in, all the pressure lifts off. But I prefer to be out early. Get it done with and, hopefully, it’s another long day.

“I know what I can do. I know if I play how I can I’ve got a pretty solid chance of getting to the next stage.

“I’ve played at Alwoodley a lot. It’s tough. I think it’s the best course in Yorkshire, to be honest. It’s brutal but, if you can keep it in play, then you are all right. I think it suits my game.”

If Turner is after one last dance and Coulson is the up-and-comer trying to make a name for himself, Liam O’Neill’s motivations are very different.

The Leeds Golf Centre-attached professional has his ambitions firmly fixed on a headline spot on the European Tour – and Alwoodley is just the next phase of the journey.

Birkdale

O’Neill has already sampled life at the highest level. He spent a year caddying for North Yorkshire pro John Parry – “I went everywhere you could think of” – and the experience only served to whet his appetite for a stab at the top.

“You learn a lot from caddying,” he explains. “You see things in a different perspective. You understand what you need to do well, and what you don’t need to do.

“You understand the travelling, that’s a big factor. It gave me an idea of the standards required and everything else that comes with it.

“The golf – as much as it is a big part – there’s much more to it than playing golf.”

So O’Neill isn’t taking a chance in regional qualification. Unlike Turner and Coulson, he’s not chasing anything. This is another golf tournament. And he wants to win.

“If you are good enough, you will give yourself a chance,” he says.

It’s a reality check that many of this field – 11 won’t even break 80 – are missing.

“If you don’t play well you move on and it is what it is. It’s a golf tournament and you just try and prepare and play your best.

“You are going out to try and win. You are there to try and shoot the lowest score you can possibly shoot.”

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