Philip Walton, Europe’s Ryder Cup match-winning hero in 1995, and 1999 runner-up Jean Van de Velde are among 12 players to have come through the 36-hole final qualifying for next week’s Open Championship.
Irishman Walton, who last held a European Tour card three years ago and is now 46, was a three-stroke winner at West Lancashire, a course he described as “the best links I’ve played”.
Van de Velde made it through with a last-hole birdie at Hillside, a year after falling ill and pulling out of the qualifying to undergo a series of tests, including one for bone cancer. It turned out to be just a virus.
“It means a lot to be playing in it again,” commented the 42-year-old. “There are only two tournaments a year I want to play in and play good in – the French Open and The Open.
“I qualified in 1999 and played quite well I seem to remember.” He did, of course, lead by three with one to play at Carnoustie, but crashed to a nightmare triple-bogey seven and lost the play-off to Paul Lawrie, Britain’s last winner of the Claret Jug.
Jamie Elson, whose father Pip was Europe’s Rookie of the Year in 1973, won at Hillside and in his first Open will be reunited with his 2001 Walker Cup team-mates Luke Donald, Graeme McDowell and Nick Dougherty.
Amateurs Chris Wood and Rohan Blizard, the former from Bristol and the latter from Australia, took the other spots on the course, but the amateur who did best was Tom Sherreard.
The 20-year-old from Kent, runner-up in the British boys championship four years ago, shared top spot at Southport and Ainsdale with Weymouth club professional Jon Bevan, for whom it was the third successive year he had earned a place.
Four more British pros made it through in play-offs – ex-Tour winner Jonathan Lomas and Peter Appleyard at West Lancashire and Gary Boyd and Jamie Howarth at Southport and Ainsdale.
Howarth, from Stockport, is from a famous sporting family. Uncle David Herd was an Arsenal and Manchester United star, scoring more than 100 goals for both clubs, and grandfather Alec Herd did the same for Manchester City. They were both Scottish internationals.
“It’s a dream come true,” he said after a four iron to 15 feet and two putts on the first extra hole won him an Open debut.
“They don’t come any bigger than this and I was shaking inside.”