Golf star Paul Nessling is one stage away from playing in The 146th Open at Royal Birkdale.
The Cooden Beach Golf Club professional came through regional qualifying yesterday (Monday) to book his place in final qualifying, which in turn leads into the event proper.
Hastings-based Nessling bagged one of the eight final qualifying places on offer in the regional qualifying event at Wildernesse Golf Club in Sevenoaks from a field of 111.
The 27-year-old finished in a four-way tie for sixth after carding a two-under-par 70 in regulation play. His round contained birdies at the sixth, eighth, 10th, 11th and, crucially, the 18th, and bogeys at the seventh, ninth and 17th (after his ball ended up in a divot).
Those four players then went into a play-off to decide which three would advance to final qualifying and Nessling was among those who made it, along with Chris Croucher (Singing Hills GC) and Daniel Brown, an amateur from Littlestone GC.
It was all sorted out at the first play-off hole - the par four 14th - when amateur Bradley Bawden (Rochford 100) made a bogey, which meant that Nessling, who struck his approach to six feet, had the luxury of two putts to progress.
“I think I waited four hours until the play-off and then I actually hit really good shots,” he said. “It’s always a little bit nerve-racking, but there was quite a lot of people watching, which was nice because it made it feel more like a tour event.”
Final qualifying will take the form of five 36-hole final qualifying events - at Gailes Links, Hillside, Notts (Hollinwell), Royal Cinque Ports and Woburn - on Tuesday when 15 places in the final field at Royal Birkdale will be available to a total of 360 golfers.
Nessling will be playing at Royal Cinque Ports, a traditional links course in the Kent town of Deal, and has been drawn in the group behind three-time major champion Vijay Singh.
Only the top three at Royal Cinque Ports will join the sport’s elite, including Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson and defending champion Henrik Stenson, at Royal Birkdale from July 20-23.
“I’m definitely looking forward to it,” said Nessling. “I feel like I’ve got a bit more of a chance next week because I’ve been there before and know what it’s all about. Anyone can do it on one day and if you play your best, you’ve got a good chance.”
The winning score at Wildernesse, incidentally, was the four-under 68 posted by Michael Saunders (unattached) and only 14 players broke par.
Michael Farrier-Twist (James Andrews School of Golf) was tied 15th on level par after an up-and-down round featuring five birdies and five bogeys. The left-hander was two-under after 13 before bogeying three of the next four holes.
Mat Andrews, of Highwoods, carded a four-over-par 76 containing two birdies, four bogeys and a double bogey. Colton Alleyne-Davis, from Cooden Beach, had an 84.
Wildernesse was one of 13 venues across Britain and Ireland used for regional qualifying as more than 1,200 golfers endeavoured to take one step closer to securing a place at The Open.