TWO friends are hoping to tee off together in the final qualifying round for the Open - but first up the duo have to get through the regional stages.
Amateur Mark Ashworth has fulfilled a lifetime ambition after getting his handicap down to scratch and making it to the regional qualifier at Alwoodley, Leeds, on Monday 7 July. And Accrington's assistant professional Mark Harling is hoping it is third time lucky when he takes part in the regional qualifier at Stockport on the same day.
Both are eyeing the chance to get through to the final qualifying on 13 and 14 July when more than 400 players will battle it out over 36 holes for the remaining Open places.
Then the dream - although almost impossible to achieve -- is to line up alongside the big guns of Tiger Woods and Ernie Els at Royal St George's from 17-20 July.
Mark Ashworth is treating it all as an Open adventure - although he hopes it is one he can repeat. The 35-year-old owns Lee Valley Driving Range in Rishton which he opened more than four years ago and he got down to scratch thanks to the golf environment he has been working in.
"I just seem to have improved over the last few years," said Ashworth, who lost out in a close finish to Nelson's Nick Uttley in the Harold Ryden Trophy played at Accrington Golf Club this week.
"You need to get down to scratch to be an amateur in the Open and once I did, I applied straight away. I will be looking at the Alwoodley course with my friend Stuart Andrew from Clitheroe but for me there is no pressure. I have wanted to do this for many years and now I just want to enjoy it. If I get through, I will have a drink and if I don't, I still will. It is an honour and a lifetime ambition which I may never repeat."
Mark Harling, also 35, has had a couple of goes at getting into the final qualifying round. He suffered play-off heartbreak last year on the same Stockport course when he missed out by a shot in the regional round. And it was a case of déjà vu as he also missed out by one shot three years ago at Wilmslow. This time he wants to make sure he putts that shot to reach the final qualifying round.
His aim is to follow Trevor Foster from Accrington GC who famously led the Open briefly at Royal Lytham in 1988 but didn't make the cut.
"It is still early days in the event yet and it is difficult as there aren't many spots available," said Harling, whose dad is pro at Accrington and whose sons, Jamie and Aidan, are getting into the swing of golf.
"I think there will be around 130 of us at Stockport but there are only around six or eight places so there is a lot of pressure. And it is only over 18 holes. But I was gutted to miss out in the play-off last year, there were eight of us going for two spots and I missed by a shot.
"The worst thing was I had dropped a shot on the final hole. I made a mistake and used an iron off the tee - I was being over-cautious - otherwise I would have been through. Instead it was the play-offs and it was agony coming so close. Trevor (Foster) was walking round with me and he said how unlucky I was.
"However, I have learned a lesson. I now know the course well, it is a good course and I am confident about this year. I have been practising hard. t would obviously be great to get to the final qualifying where I could line up alongside major winners. That would be a big step up. Hopefully it will be third time lucky."