The first-place check and trophy wasn’t the only reward up for grabs this week at the Travelers Championship — and it didn’t mandate a win. Sought-after spots in next month’s Open Championship at the famed St. Andrews, otherwise known as the Home of Golf, were granted to the highest-finishing four players who aren’t already qualified that placed T12 or better at TPC River Highlands.
It’s the first time the Travelers Championship has been part of the Open Qualifying Series, which includes three events on the PGA Tour, with the others being the Greenbrier (four spots to T12 finishers) and the John Deere Classic (one spot with T5 finish or better).
The R&A even sent a representative to the tournament with the Claret Jug in tow. That’s right. The actual Claret Jug that is like a gazillion years old and perhaps one of Scotland’s most prized possessions (not a replica!). So, it was kind of a big deal.
What was also cool was that the PGA Tour leaderboard had “Claret Jug” icons next to a player’s name if they had already qualified for the Open Championship.
Well, the four lucky guys, who earned their way into the third major of the year (and the best of all, especially when it’s at St Andrews), are Brian Harman (3), Graham DeLaet (4), Carl Pettersson (5) and Luke Donald (T7).
Donald, the former world no. 1, has dropped down to no. 68 in the official rankings, which also prevented him from already securing a spot. He shot a final-round four-under 66, finishing tied for 7th with Bo Van Pelt and Mark Wilson, to sneak his way into the Open field. Donald got the nod instead of Van Pelt or Wilson because his world ranking is the better of the three. The Englishman seems to be getting his starts at major the hard way in 2015, with Donald needing to go through the 36-hole sectional qualifier to punch his ticket to the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay.
Donald was concerned that a late bogey on the 72nd hole would come back and haunt him (so he wasn’t that pumped to take this picture before it was a sure thing), but turned out, 11-under was enough to get him into the Open.
“The Claret Jug brings up a lot of great memories, watching The Open as a kid, and obviously some memories playing it as a professional,” said Donald. “It’s the Major I would love to win the most, coming from the UK.
“Overall it was a good solid week. I played some good golf and really minimized any mistakes. There are a lot of good positives coming from these last four days.”
Harman will be returning to the Open after making his first start at the major at Royal Liverpool last year when he won the John Deere Classic, which also earned him a spot in the field. Harman finished a respectable T26 in his Open debut.
“I’m excited about playing at The Open,” said Harman. “I have been thinking about it for a long time and really trying to look at a way to get in. I love that style of golf and I will be really excited to get over there.”
DeLaet will be making his third straight start at the Open. He got off to a rough start on Sunday, with a double-bogey on the first hole, but he managed to bounce back to post a one-under 69, 14-under for the championship.
“I was standing on the 18th tee knowing that I had the third spot in The Open,” said DeLaet. “When I hit my tee shot in the bunker all I could think was, ‘I really hope this doesn’t cost me my spot’. But it ended up being just enough.
“It’s an awesome Championship and it’s at the home of golf so I can still leave here with a smile on my face.”
Pettersson will return to the Open for the eighth time, but it will be his first start at St Andrews for the championship. He’s excited, obviously.
“Any time you get to play an Open Championship it’s special,” said Pettersson. “I have played in several of them but being at St Andrews, the home of golf, it’s going to be a really special week.
“I have played St Andrews before but I’ve never played there in an Open, so I’m looking forward to that. My kids are here this week and I was talking to them earlier saying I would love to take them over to Scotland if I got in. They are 11 and 8 so I think it will be a really cool experience for them.”
Six more players also punched their tickets to The Open this past weekend. Charley Hoffman, Robert Streb, Kevin Kisner and Steven Bowditch earned their spots into the field as “non-exempt players in the top 20 of the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup points list” at the completion of the Travelers Championship. Meanwhile, following the end of the BMW International Open, Kiradech Aphibarnrat and Alex Noren also secured places under the same category on the European Tour’s edition.
As mentioned above, there are still opportunities left for players to get into the Open. The Open Qualifying Series carries on next week at the Greenbrier and the Alstom Open de France.
TRUST ME, YOU WANT TO PLAY — OR BE AT IN ANY CAPACITY — IN THE OPEN AT ST ANDREWS.