Local heroes

A total of 288 players were vying for a mere 12 spots in four 36-hole Local Final Qualifying tournaments staged at courses surrounding Royal St. George's. Bad weather forced play to be extended to two days.


Mark Laskey had to survive a playoff in Local Qualifying to punch his ticket to the Open. (Getty Images)

SANDWICH, England -- Andy Smith overcame a substantial lack of practice and played with a set of borrowed clubs Tuesday and Wednesday to secure his place in next month's British Open at Royal St. George's, near his hometown of Kent.

Smith's playing time over the past few months has been severely restricted by an operation on a twisted bowel last year, and he admits he only entered Local Final Qualifying because of the proximity of the events to his home.

However, he wasn’t hampered by having to borrow a set of clubs from a member at Maidstone's Tudor Park golf club, where he is attached, because his irons did not comply with new regulations as he topped the rain-delayed 36-hole qualifier at Littlestone with a 4-under total of 138.

"I've not really been playing much since my operation and I haven't got much money at the moment," said Smith. "I have been doing all kinds of part-time jobs to keep myself going -- laboring, landscape gardening for one of my friends, and a bit of work as a carpenter's mate.

"I'm even using borrowed clubs this week, with one wedge that I found in my garage at home and another wedge that was in the lost property room at Tudor Park,” he explained. "My own irons are older and non-conforming to the regulations, so I've had to borrow a set from a member at Tudor Park.

"I only used them for the first time in practice last week but it's just like everything has been meant to be,” he said. "It's incredible. I'm in a daze."

A total of 288 players were vying for a mere 12 spots in four 36-hole Local Final Qualifying tournaments staged at courses surrounding Royal St. George’s, the host venue for the Open in two weeks. But only six players earned their way in on Tuesday as bad weather forced play to be extended to Wednesday.

In a five-way playoff for the two remaining spots on Wednesday, European Tour professional Markus Brier of Austria and Burnham and Barrow's Lee Corfield made it through.

Extra holes were also required to determine places at two other venues after qualifying was carried over to a second day by bad weather.

Englishmen Simon Lilly and Andrew Johnston both came through at Royal Cinque Ports to book their first British Open appearances.

"It is an amazing feeling knowing I am going to be playing in my first Open," said the 34-year-old Lilly, who lives in Kettering and is attached to Wellingborough Golf Club.

Johnston, who is attached to North Middlesex and turned professional two years ago, added: "It does not feel real yet."

Mark Laskey, from Welwyn Garden City, won a playoff against Holland's Inder Van Weerelt to claim the final qualifying spot at Rye.

On Tusday, former U.S. Open champion Michael Campbell and former Ryder Cup player Jarmo Sandelin of Sweden missed out. Campbell failed to finish in the top three at Prince's after shooting rounds of 68 and 72 to finish 4-under 140. Sandelin missed out by two shots at Rye.

Six players, including English amateurs Craig Hinton and Tom Lewis, qualified Tuesday.

"This is a very humbling experience for me," said Campbell, who pushed Tiger Woods into second place at Pinehurst in 2005 to become his country's first major champion since Bob Charles 42 years earlier.

"Having won a major and enjoying the exemptions that go with it for the past few years, well there's a danger of taking all that for granted,” added Campbell, who is onw down at 728th in the world. "But this experience certainly focuses your attention and gets your mind back on the job."

He now heads to Paris for the Alstom French Open starting on Thursday, knowing he can still qualify for the British Open. He would have to be the leading player not already eligible among the top five at the French Open and the upcoming Scottish Open.

Lake District professional Simon Edwards won at Prince's on 7 under and also through were Thomas Shadbolt and Francis McGuirk on 5 under. McGuirk was playing on his home course.

At Rye, England amateur international Tom Lewis, from Sir Nick Faldo's club Welwyn Garden City, had brilliant rounds of 63 and 65 to win by three on 8 under par over Oxford professional Adam Wootton.

Another amateur to win was Oxfordshire's Hinton at Royal Cinque Ports. He shot 5 under, leaving four players on 4 under to play off. They included former Rookie of the Year Scott Henderson.

Prince's was the only course not to spill into a second day. There were playoffs to come at Royal Cinque Ports and Rye, while Littlestone still has over half the field to finish the second round.

England's ex-Ryder Cup player Paul Broadhurst, whose 63 at St. Andrews in 1990 still stands as the joint best round ever in a major, missed out by three at Cinque Ports.