Matt Ford has been trying to qualify for the Open for decades. Now he’s playing the biggest game

The claret jug does not rise. St. AndrewsScotland, until Sunday, but English golfer Matt Ford has already won a victory in life: qualifying for Open Championship.

The 44-year-old has landed tens of thousands of shots in more than 280 tournaments, but when he starts from the tee at the Old Course on Thursday, it will be his first major shot in nearly two decades of professional career. .

Ford turned professional in 2003, but his attempts at The Open began as an amateur. They included a playoff qualifier for the future. Masters the winner is Trevor Immelman, and has reached the qualifying final numerous times since then.

“I was trying to figure this out the other day, how many times have I tried,” Ford told CNN, settling on an estimate of 24 unsuccessful attempts so far.

The son of a professional footballer, Ford grew up in the English town of Swindon wanting to follow in his father’s footsteps. Picking up a golf club for the first time at the age of 10, he only finished school at the age of 18 and devoted himself entirely to golf.

“I liked football, but it also disappointed me, while golf is up to you,” Ford said.

“Although golf is anything but control, you can still control a lot more in an individual sport.”

Ford playing outside the bunker during the October 2009 Srixon PGA playoffs

Turning pro at the age of 25, Ford made a strong start by competing in the 2005 BMW PGA Championship (formerly the British PGA Championship) at Wentworth.

Participation in the European Tour gave the Englishman a huge boost of confidence, but by 2013 he was close to retiring from the sport. Despite several subsequent performances on the European tour (now DP world tour), Ford spent most of his career on his feeder Challenge Tour series.

Challenge Tour Tests

The five medal winners were the highlights, but constant long trips around the world to circuits much less luxurious than the European and PGA tours took their toll on the psychological and, above all, financial level.

Only the top 10 finishers out of 156 Challenge Tour players “really” earn enough prize money to subsidize the cost of attending the event, with Ford estimating that more than half of the remaining players are losing more than $1,000 a week.

By Ford’s own calculations, he lost money more often than he won, and with a wife, Susie, and two young children to support, the pressure to literally “play to live” was hard.

“How many times I thought about quitting this game, and, as many people say, “get a normal job,” it was hard,” he said.

“It’s emotional because of how my family supported me. I didn’t necessarily make as much money as I would like to be comfortable with.”

Ford tees during the Espana Challenge in Cadiz, Spain in May.

The big break came at the end of 2014 when Ford received his European Tour Qualifying School card, which opened the door for him to compete in nearly 60 European Tour events over the next two years.

He lost his card ahead of the 2017 season but kept going until he found himself playing in the final qualifier for the Open at Prince’s Golf Club in Kent, England, in July.

A brilliant start in the second round put Ford in a 5-under lead in the last 10 holes of qualifying before four shots across the next four holes looked set to write a familiar chapter in his Open qualifying history.

“You start to wonder, ‘Did I mess it up? What I’ve done? You’re an idiot,” he recalled.

However, when Susie and the two kids arrived for the last six holes after school, they saw Ford soar to an impressive finish. He shot the eagle en route to picking up those four missed strikes, finishing in the bottom five and qualifying as the winner of the tournament, two shots ahead of second place.

Ford makes a strike on pitch 14 during the Italian Challenge Open in Viterbo, Italy in July.

“The biggest ever”

Ford not only fulfilled his childhood dream of playing the Open, the historic 150th tournament on the legendary Old Course, but is equally excited to share the experience with his family.

“Sorry teachers,” his kids made their own by taking days off to watch their father compete in Scotland. And desperate to meet Tiger WoodsFord has already made good on his promise by tweeting a photo of his daughter with the three-time Open champion.

“They are just as happy and excited as I am,” he said. “The tournaments they went through with me, they could watch every shot and there weren’t too many people around.

“It’s just going to drive St. Andrews crazy with so many people … it’s going to be such a big event, people say it’s going to be one of the biggest in history.”

Experience, salary potential and the opportunities it may open up for future DP World Tour events; Ford gives plenty of reasons to be excited about this week. However, when the goal of life was simply to get to the first tee, what is the ultimate goal now that he is going to be there?

“Am I thinking about winning the tournament? No, not really,” Ford said. “But there is no reason why I can’t have a great week and who knows what might happen. It’s golf, and if I can start running, you just don’t know.”

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“I don’t really set too many specific goals for myself other than keeping a smile on my face and enjoying the week. If I do that, I hope I get good points.”

Whatever the result, it certainly will not be from a lack of effort.

Ford is due to start its first round at 11:15 am Moscow time (6:15 am ET) on Thursday.