The Open road to St Andrews

The story of how the field made it into this year’s Open Championship

The Claret Jug
The Claret Jug
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Most people who arrive in St Andrews do so on one key road – the A91 from Cupar via Guardbridge. But the players who will start in the 144th Open Championship at the Home of Golf have earned their place via a plethora of routes. Here we take a look at the many paths to St Andrews.

The story begins at Carnoustie back in 1975 when a 25-year-old from Kansas called Tom Watson teed it up in his first Open Championship and won. As a former champion, Tom is in the field this week. Well, with one small caveat. All former Open champions under the age of 60 are exempt to play. A new exemption category had to be invented for Watson after his near-miracle at Turnberry in 2009, he’s in via the category – “The Open champions finishing in the first 10 and ties in the championships from 2009-2014.”

Tom Watson in 1975

Tom Watson in 1975

Open champions from the 1980s in the field tis week include Sandy Lyle, Sir Nick Faldo and Mark Calcavecchia. From the 90s we have John Daly, Faldo again, Tom Lehman, Justin Leonard, Mark O’Meara and Paul Lawrie.

All of the champions from this century (save for Rory McIlroy after his withdrawal through injury) will play at St Andrews.

Now we have to think back to the last five winners of each of the other Major championships. All but one of those who have claimed victory in one of the big four events since the 2010 USPGA Championship, qualify for St Andrews through a number of different categories, the “but one” is 2013 USPGA winner Jason Dufner.

Jason Dufner

Jason Dufner

Winners of the BMW PGA Championships and Players Championships of 2013 to 2015 get in, so too the first 30 in the 2014 Race to Dubai and the top-50 on the Official World Golf Ranking as of 24th May.

There are various other professional exemption categories allowing leading players from the PGA, Asian, Japan, Australasian and Sunshine Tours to qualify.

Last year’s US Amateur champion Gunn Yang, this year’s Amateur champion Romain Langasque, The European Amateur champion Ashley Chesters and the leading amateur on the World Amateur Golf Ranking at the end of 2014 Oliver Schniederjans will all tee it up.

Now, thinking back to Hoylake last year – the top 10 and ties from Royal Liverpool get a start. Marc Leishman and Edoardo Molinari make it solely by that category.

Moving on to the Qualifying events. These kicked off with the Emirates Australian Open last November where Rod Pampling, Brett Rumford and Greg Chalmers earned their spots.

Four men gained places in St Andrews at the Thailand Golf Championship in December. They were: Marcus Fraser, Scott Hend, Jonathan Moore and Anirban Lahiri.

Into March of this year and Andy Sullivan, Anthony Wall and David Howell got in from their performances at the Joburg Open. They were joined by four players from the Mizuno Open in Japan in May: Taichi Teshima, Scott Strange, Tadahiro Takayama and Shinji Tomimura.

Howell, Sullivan and Wall

Howell, Sullivan and Wall

From the PGA Tour Brian Harman, Graham DeLaet, Carl Pettersson and Luke Donald qualified in the Travelers Championship and David Hearn, Danny Lee, James Hahn and Greg Owen came through at The Greenbrier Classic. One more has the chance to earn a spot at the John Deere Classic this week.

On the European Tour, Soren Kjeldsen, Eddie Pepperell and Tyrrell Hatton gained places in the Irish Open and James Morrison, Jaco Van Zyl and Rafa Cabrera-Bello made it from the French Open. Three more players not otherwise exempt could get in from the Scottish Open, provided they finish in the top 10 and ties.

And what about those who came through the old-fashioned route of regional and then final qualifying?

A total of 93 players came through the 13 Regional Qualifying events to join the fields for the four Final Qualifying events at Gailes Links, Hillside, Royal Cinque Ports and Woburn.

Mark Young, Paul Kinnear (amateur) and Ryan Fox made it through at Gailes. Scott Arnold, Jordan Niebrugge (amateur) and Pelle Edberg gained their places at Hillside. Alister Balcombe (amateur,) Benjamin Taylor (amateur) and Gary Boyd got through at Royal Cinque Ports. Paul Dunne (amateur,) Robert Dinwiddie and two-time US Open champion Retief Goosen were successful at Woburn.

Retief Goosen at Woburn

Retief Goosen at Woburn

All these names give some indication of the range of players and strength in depth of talent at the qualifiers for St Andrews. Upcoming young amateurs, experienced journeymen pros and Major champions competing to make it to the greatest tournament in golf.

Fergus Bisset
Contributing Editor

Fergus is Golf Monthly's resident expert on the history of the game and has written extensively on that subject. He is a golf obsessive and 1-handicapper. Growing up in the North East of Scotland, golf runs through his veins and his passion for the sport was bolstered during his time at St Andrews university studying history. He went on to earn a post graduate diploma from the London School of Journalism. Fergus has worked for Golf Monthly since 2004 and has written two books on the game; "Great Golf Debates" together with Jezz Ellwood of Golf Monthly and the history section of "The Ultimate Golf Book" together with Neil Tappin , also of Golf Monthly. 

Fergus once shanked a ball from just over Granny Clark's Wynd on the 18th of the Old Course that struck the St Andrews Golf Club and rebounded into the Valley of Sin, from where he saved par. Who says there's no golfing god?