By Kent Gray
What do provocative Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee, the eldest son of 18-time major champion Jack Nicklaus and 52-year-old Dubai amateur Steven Kelbrick all suddenly have in common?
The glorious answer to this random pub quiz-style question is that all three have squeezed into the 144-man field for this week’s 33rd Senior Open Championship at Royal Lytham & St Annes via final qualifying.
It’s a dream come true for Trump International Golf Club Dubai club member Kelbrick who like Gary Nicklaus advanced at Hillside Golf Club in Southport, also host venue of the recent British Masters, on Monday. Kelbrick, who has won the Emirates Golf Federation’s season-long Order-of-Merit title two times in the last three years, qualified with a two-over-par round of 74, a shot worse than the Golden Bear’s oldest son who is giving professional golf one last shot.
Chamblee, who worked behind the cameras as Shane Lowry captured last week’s 148th Open Championship at Royal Portrush, was one of 14 successful qualifiers from Fairhaven as he carded a one-under-par round of 72.
More than 500 starters chased the 49 remaining spots for Royal Lytham & St Annes at Monday qualifiers held at Hillside, Fairhaven, Southport & Ainsdale and St Annes Old Links.
Spaniard Miguel Ángel Jiménez will defend the senior claret jug from Thursday in a field overflowing with former major (main and senior circuit) champions.
Kelbrick will be especially excited about the opportunity to join the same fabled fairways as his boyhood hero Tom Watson who has three Senior Opens to go with his five Open Championship wins in 1975, 1977, 1980, 1982 and 1983.
After going within a stroke of qualifying for the 2017 Senior Open at Royal Porthcawl, Kelbrick set his heart on qualifying last year after being promised a practice round with the eight-time major champion if he could qualify for last year’s Senior Open at St. Andrews. He couldn’t quite achieve that – missing by two – but may yet achieve that dream on Wednesday.
“I set out to do this not knowing if it was possible but to say to my children that I have played in the same tournament as Mr Watson,” Kelbrick told Golf Digest Middle East. “It’s a dream realised. I could possibly even play a practice round with him [Watson] on Wednesday but we shall see.”
Kelbrick’s outlined his dream of playing alongside Watson in an interview with Golf Digest Middle East last year.
“I first saw him play at Royal Troon in ’82 when he beat Nick Price [to hoist the Claret Jug for the fourth times] and from that day on…it’s just the way he’s lived his life, conducted himself,” Kelbrick said of Watson. “I’ve had the chance to meet him twice but I’ve never played with him. He’s a hero as man and as for his golf, his record speaks for itself.”
Interestingly, Watson has never won on the famous Lancashire links of Royal Lytham & St Annes.
“My record at Lytham could use some polishing but I would love nothing more than to play well with a chance to win at this iconic and historic venue. I am looking forward to this Major Championship with great anticipation,” Watson told the Staysure Tour.
“Royal Lytham is one of the premier links courses in the world and it always presents the players with a tough but fair challenge,” said the two-time Ryder Cup Captain who has collected wins at Carnoustie, Turnberry, Muirfield, Royal Troon, Royal Birkdale and Royal Aberdeen.
It will be interesting to see if Kelbrick gets his dream practice round and who the Dubai Trophy mainstay is grouped with for the opening two rounds on Thursday and Friday.
Bernhard Langer (1985 and 1993 Masters), who like Watson has won the Senior Open three times, and Fred Couples (1992 Masters) have seven Senior Open titles between them.
Other major champions confirmed for Royal Lytham & St Annes include Michael Campbell (2005 U.S. Open), Retief Goosen (2001 and 2004 U.S. Open), Paul Lawrie (1999 Open), Sandy Lyle (1985 Open, 1988 Masters), Larry Mize (1987 Masters), José María Olazabal (1994 and 1999 Masters), Ian Woosnam (1991 Masters) and Darren Clarke (2011 Open) who hit the opening tee shot at last week’s Open at Royal Portrush.
Perhaps the most dangerous major champion competing this week will be Tom Lehman. The American won the 1996 Open at Royal Lytham and St Annes by two strokes from Ernie Els and Mark McCumber.
Other names to watch this week are Ryder Cup-winning player and captain Paul McGinley, 2016 Senior Open champion Paul Broadhurst and eight-time European Tour Order of Merit winner Colin Montgomerie, who is chasing his fourth senior major title but first on British soil.