Joost Luiten, Rikard Karlberg, Soomin Lee and Andrew Johnston have qualified for The 145TH Open at Royal Troon by virtue of being placed in the top 20 of the European Tour Race to Dubai following the BMW International Open.
They are joined in the field by the Americans William McGirt and Smylie Kaufman who booked their place through the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup rankings. All six will compete for the title Champion Golfer of the Year at the Ayrshire links from 14-17 July 2016.
For Englishman Andrew Johnston it continues a fairytale summer which began when he won his maiden tour title, the Open de Espana in mid-April. The victory thrust him into the media spotlight and his naturally bubbly personality immediately captured the public’s attention.
During the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth the approachable Londoner, now known across the world by his childhood nickname ‘Beef’, was besieged by requests for autographs and photographs – and enjoyed every one of them as much as the fans themselves did.
After qualifying for the U.S. Open he was astonished to discover his reputation had crossed the Atlantic. ‘It was crazy,’ he says of the attention from the American fans at Oakmont. ‘I could never dream of it and it was so much fun, I absolutely loved it. I thought a couple of people might know me, but it was ten people a hole shouting ‘Beef!’ and I waved at every one of them.’
As he prepares for a second appearance in The Open Championship he knows how far he has travelled since his debut, five years ago at Royal St Georges.
‘I was so nervous,’ says the 27-year-old. ‘I’d only played once on the European Tour and eight times on the Challenge Tour so I wasn’t very experienced. There were so many people and so many grandstands. I missed the cut with ease.’
In the mean time he has won (and lost) his European Tour card, topped the 2014 Challenge Tour rankings and then claimed that first title at Valderrama.
‘You just learn,’ he says of the last five years . ‘You play with better players, you see them close up, you see how they handle stuff. Getting into final groups, playing the weekend – it really helps.’
Knowing that he has crossed the winning line is also vital. ‘What it does, if I’m a bit nervous, I can say to myself: I’ve won out here, against a good field, on a tough golf course, come on man, you know you’ve got this, you’ve done it before.’
Like Johnston Soomin Lee is a first-time winner on the European Tour this year. The 23-year-old Korean won the Shenzhen International and will make his major championship debut at Royal Troon.
Karlberg, from Sweden, earns his spot largely thanks to a superb final round in the BMW PGA Championship. The 29-year-old’s seven-under-par 65 at Wentworth tore through the field and left him alone in second. Added to another three top ten finishes this year it grants him a second start in The Open after missing the cut last year.
Dutchman Luiten will be teeing it up for a fifth time in The Open and will be keen to improve on a best of tied-45th in 2012 at Royal Lytham & St Annes. He’s enjoyed a relentless 2016 season, with no fewer than ten top 16 finishes and is ranked highest of those to qualify, at 11th in the Race to Dubai.
27-year-old McGirt, who became a first-time winner on the PGA Tour at the Memorial Tournament earlier this month, will be making his debut in The Open.
So, too, will 29-year-old Kaufman, who claimed the Shriners Hospital for Children Open at the start of the 2016 season and then found himself alone in second after 54-holes of his Masters debut in April. A final round 81 did for his chances, but he’s clearly not afraid of making a name for himself on first appearances.