Every Open Championship is special. Of course they are. But 2019 is certainly true. For the first time since 1951 and for only the second time in his (now) 159-year history, the oldest and most important championship of golf returns to the glorious links of Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland.
In other words, the Open is played outside Britain, which will be a bit of a shock to those who mistakenly refer to the championship as the "British Open." Although Northern Ireland is a component of the United Kingdom, GB only consists of Scotland, England and Wales. Geography lesson about.
Either way, 68 years after the two-shot victory of Englishman Max Faulkner on second runner Antonio Cerda of Argentina (fixed for the 6th place, Bill Shankland and Peter Thomson were the leading Australians), the iconic Claret Jug will again be challenged the Irish Sea in the small province that has produced three Open champions – Fred Daly in 1947, Darren Clarke in 2011 and Rory McIlroy in 2014.
As a result of their finish in the 103rd Australian Open at The Lakes, Abraham Ancer, Dimitrios Papadatos and Jake McLeod will each have the opportunity to add their names to an honors list with just about every great player in the history of the game. In the first of the "Open Qualifying Series" – 16 events to play in the PGA Tour, European Tour, PGA Tour or Australasia, the Asian Tour, the Sunshine Tour and the Japan Tour which will identify 46 players in the next few months – the lucky trio was the leading three competitors in the top ten who were not already exempt from Portrush.
So good. But it is to be hoped that all three will do better than their immediate predecessors. Last year champion of Australian Open, Cameron Davis, ended earlier this year with T-39 in Carnoustie, while both Jonas Blixt and Matt Jones missed halfway through the match comfortably. Indeed, since the "OQS" started in 2013, no player identified by the Australian Open has achieved the top 25 finish. Eight did not manage to make it as far as the weekend, with Aaron Baddley's T-27 finish at Royal Birkdale in 2016 the best result recorded by one of the 15 previous qualifying matches.
Ancer in particular hopes to be able to perform much better in Portrush, which will be his first trip to Grand Slam-at least for the time being. The 27-year-old Mexico-born Mexican is now broken in 18 of his 20 last rounds, in which he has recorded a series of top 5 finishes on the PGA Tour. When the WGC Mexico was played in his home country in February, the graduate of the University of Oklahoma stood at 255 in the world. This week, even before the biggest win in his career to date, he was up to 96. In many ways he is a man on the rise.
The same can be said of McLeod. The recent winner of the New South Wales Open, the 27-year-old Queenslander, has shown that he is well able to go too low several times. His victory last week was marked by a record record 62 and last year on the Victorian Open he shot 61 on the 13th beach. That kind of song might be unrealistic in Portrush – one of the toughest tests of golf – but the Queenslander clearly does not have the guts to make multiple birdies.
Also for Papadatos, the 2019 Open will represent its debut at the highest championship (unless it soon qualifies for one of the other). The 27-year-old Australian, winner of the 2014 New Zealand Open, the 2017 Victorian Open and, this year on the European Challenge Tour, the Open de Portugal, is a proven winner at lower levels, this will be his chance to shine a bigger stage.
One more thing. Records are unclear, but it is a safe assumption that Papadatos will be the first Dimitrios ever to play in an Open. In case you were wondering.