Curtis Knipes, an 18-year-old amateur from Chelmsford, enjoyed the day of his golfing life to qualify for The 148th Open at Royal Portrush at his first attempt today.
Twelve players from a starting field of 288 at four venues across the country qualified for golf’s original championship through Final Qualifying as part of The Open Qualifying Series.
The England Boys International Knipes had scores of 67 and 68 for a nine-under-par total of 135 to share top spot in Final Qualifying at Prince’s with Callum Shinkwin, the pair finishing one ahead of Canadian Austin Connelly.
Three birdies in a row to end the front nine in the afternoon put Knipes into contention and then two more at the 15th and 16th got him to 10 under par. He dropped a shot at the short 17th before driving into a bunker at the last, but he showed his nerve in getting up and down for a par from 100 yards.
Shinkwin, 26, runner-up at the Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open two years ago, had planned to spend the day playing with friends at Royal St George’s, but was glad he remembered he was due to play next door as he qualified for his third Open. After an opening 70, he birdied five of the first seven holes in the afternoon on the way to a best-of-the-day 65.
Connelly, 22, got through a playoff two years ago at nearby Royal Cinque Ports before finishing 14th at Royal Birkdale on his debut in The Open. An eagle at the 15th, his sixth, with a hybrid from 208 yards into the wind to a foot, set up an afternoon 66, which also included four birdies in a row on his second nine. Connelly thought a dropped shot at his last hole would mean a playoff again but he sneaked through by a shot.
American Julian Suri, a winner on the European Tour in 2017, had led after the first round with a 66 but was left one short after a 71 with his putt at the last, just shaving the edge of the hole. Former Ryder Cup player David Howell also missed out on a playoff by one stroke after three-putting the 18th in a 68.
Brandon Wu, a 22-year-old American amateur, maintained his fairytale spell by producing a polished performance to claim top spot at Fairmont St Andrews, where he followed a brilliant 64 in the morning with a 67 to finish three shots clear of the field on nine under par.
The success came hot on the heels of the Californian helping Stanford win the NCAA Championship in his senior year before being presented with his graduation diploma as he came off the 18th green at Pebble Beach after playing with Dustin Johnson in the final round of last month’s US Open. Wu carded seven birdies in his opening effort, which earned him a three-shot lead at the halfway stage before the world No 6-ranked amateur added four more in the afternoon.
The two other spots on the Fife coast were claimed by young Scots Connor Syme and Sam Locke as they both passed the test for a second time in recent years. Syme, who shared top spot with American Julian Suri at Gailes Links in 2017 to make his major debut at Royal Birkdale, finished second on this occasion after two 67s while Locke, last year’s Silver Medal winner at Carnoustie, won a tight battle for the third and final spot with rounds of 69 and 67.
A winner on the Challenge Tour in Turkey this season, Syme started his second circuit with a burst of three straight birdies while Locke, who turned professional straight after last year’s event in Angus, lit up his afternoon round with an eagle three at the 11th — his second — before getting up and down over a wall to save par at the last.
Jack Senior made it to The Open for the second year in a row when he finished alongside Garrick Porteous at St Annes Old Links on 10-under-par 134, with Matthew Baldwin the third qualifier a stroke behind.
Senior, from Heysham just up the Lancashire coast, added his second 67 of the day to finish alongside Newcastle-on-Tyne’s Porteous, who had earlier set the mark of 134, also with a matching pair of 67s. Senior bagged five birdies in a row from the second to move to ten under, then birdied the 10th and 12th to storm clear only to drop shots at the 13th and 15th holes before parring home. Porteous, The Amateur champion in 2013, had a mixed bag of eight birdies and three bogeys, clinching his place with birdies at the two closing par fives.
Baldwin, from Southport, led after an opening 65 then added an afternoon 70, breaking away from the pack on eight under with a birdie at the par-five 18th, when he got up and down from 40 feet from just off the green to seal the final qualifying place.
Andrew Wilson carded rounds of 69 and 67 to take top spot at Notts Hollinwell on seven-under-par 137. He was five under par through 17 holes of his morning round before carding a double-bogey six on the 18th, but then bounced back in the second round with five birdies in an opening-nine half of 31. The 25-year-old former English international went on to birdie the 14th but then dropped his first shots of the round on the 15th and 16th before regaining his composure to bag two closing pars.
It also turned out to be a very good day for the reigning English Amateur champion, Thomas Thurloway from Crawley, who carded two rounds of 69 to finish one shot behind Wilson on six-under-par 138. Thurloway, who is about to go into his senior year at the University of Toledo, had what can only be described as a rollercoaster finish to his second round during which he drove the green on the 346-yard par-four 16th, but then left his eagle putt in the jaws of the hole before watching as his drive on the long 17th clip a tree and drop into the rough no more than 100 yards from the tee. From there he did well to escape with a par five before completing the job with his fifth birdie of the round on the closing hole.
The third player to qualify at Notts was English professional Ashton Turner. He led Final Qualifying last year but this time he had to do it the hard way by carding rounds of 67 and 72 and then beating David Coupland at the third hole of a tense playoff with a bogey five after both players had driven into a fairway bunker off the tee.
Curtis Knipes said: ‘I’m lost for words. It’s huge to get into The Open, the best competition in the world. I wasn’t that nervous, I had nothing to lose. It didn’t feel any different from normal but a few putts started dropping but I must thank my caddie, without him I would not have got in. I played at Royal Portrush last year in the Boys Amateur and got to the last 16. It’s unreal, so tough, but spectacular.’
Callum Shinkwin added: ‘I was going to play with some mates at Royal St George’s today so I’m glad I remembered I was due to play here. It’s great to get back in The Open. I’ve had two poor experiences when I’ve missed the cut but hopefully this time I’ll perform well. I had to save par on 16 and 17 and then had a 15-footer at the last, and knew birdie would guarantee a spot so it was great when it went in.’