The boundless optimism of players going through Open championship Regional and Final Qualifying has always been an equal source of amazement and amusement for me.
So many enter Open Qualifying, which proceeds today with Final Qualifying at four venues for spots into Royal St George's, with dreams of competing in the game’s oldest and best major championship.
So many have no hope of ever getting into the championship proper.
Whether to celebrate these competitors for their boundless optimism or pity them for having delusions of grandeur I suppose depends on whether you look at life through the prism of a glass half full or half empty.
A look at scores from Regional Qualifying at Prince’s (pictured), Hollinwell, West Lancs and St Anne’s Old Links reveals many scores in the 80s. There were 34 at Prince’s, and one in the 90s. Nine players either retired, had a no return or didn’t even show up. The same dynamic played out over the other three venues.
Have to admit to a strange fascination with Regional and Final Qualifying over the years, and I’ve covered more than few. While I didn’t witness Maurice Flitcroft in action, there were times when I felt I was watching Maurice’s offspring.
The guy who turned up at Ashridge dressed completely in white with a pencil bag containing seven clubs. No umbrella, no waterproofs. Guess what? It rained. I think he shot 48 for the front nine, and hit more provisional balls in that round than I do in an entire month. I felt sorry for my young friend who was in the Walker Cup squad at the time. He missed by shot from going through to Final Qualifying, his campaign not helped by the man in white taking forever to locate wild tee shots.
The ex-boxer, also at Ashridge, who was convinced he would one day play in The Open. He stood out from the pack with his boxing glove head covers. I don’t think he broke 90, but he certainly talked a great game. I’ve been on the lookout for a Open Championship competitor with a bag of clubs with boxing head covers ever since. No luck. I have a feeling golf’s version of Rocky Balboa has given up on his Open dream, content to bore fellow golfers with his exploits in trying to qualify for The Open and coming ooooh so close.
Regional Qualifying is full of club pros and assistant professionals taking a punt on playing in The Open. Many have no chance after spending all day every day on the range teaching high handicap golfers, or working long hours in the pro shop. Club pro life is not conducive to qualifying for the game’s greatest championship.
Often the club or assistant pro is drawn with elite amateurs who spends every minute of their time honing their game in preparation for the European Tour. I remember one England amateur international playing with a club pro friend. The amateur was so dialled in he had a wee laminated card on his bag listing the calibrated yardages for each of his wedges with half, three-quarter and full swings. My club pro pal was lucky if he got to spend 20 minutes on his wedge game during his busy week serving members.
Yes, the amateur made it through to Final Qualifying; my pal didn’t.
Yet the dreamers persist, paying their annual entry fee to the R&A – £150 this year – to try to take their place among the game’s greats, the majority failing to play more than the 18 holes of Regional Qualifying.
And why not? Where we would we be if not for that wee Walter Mitty figure on our left shoulder doing its utmost to silence the wee golf gnaff on the other one, and failing more times than not?
Here’s to the glass half full dreamers. I hope at least one of them makes it through Final Qualifying today and gets a place at Royal St George's in golf’s greatest championship.
#JustSaying: “Man’s sole gesture of defiance
at a hostile or indifferent universe
is standing outside at night
after the requisite number of beers
and with a graceful enormous parabola
trying to piss on the stars
failing magnificently” Al Purdy