IAN KEENAN emerged from the gathering gloom at Southport and Ainsdale with one of golf’s most treasured dates in his diary.
The Royal Liverpool player successfully survived a dramatic play-off at final qualifying and will now line up against Tiger Woods and Co in the Open at Royal Lytham in a fortnight.
It is a dream come true for a player who has doggedly pursued his ambition of playing golf at the highest level, despite numerous setbacks that have seen him ply much of his trade among the far less lucrative mini tours.
Keenan shot 70,68 at S&A in the one-day 36 hole competition which would see 72 starters whittled down to just three players who would make the first tee at the Open.
His second round was built on a run of three successive birdies from the seventh which saw him finish at six under, two behind winner Morten Madsen from Denmark.
It was enough to put him in a three-way decider for the remaining two spaces and a tee shot to ten feet on the par three first play-off hole set-up his successful progress along with Scotland’s Elliot Saltman.
Young son Archie galloped onto the green to congratulate dad, along with the many well-wishers who had been supporting him throughout the day.
But in his moment of success, Keenan was quick to acknowledge the support he has received from family and friends in chasing his golfing dream.
”It’s cost me a lot, this game,” said Keenan. “It’s almost ruined me. It’s been tough on my family too, I know that, but I hope, and think, they’ll be proud today, despite that.
“I owe Royal Liverpool Golf Club so much as well. They’ve stuck by me for 19 years. There have been times when I thought they wouldn’t but they always did. It’s been amazing.
“And today it worked out. I didn’t putt that well, but my iron play was superb. I took bogey out the question, that was the secret.”
A successful season on the EuroPro Tour in 2010 – which included winning the Castle Dargan Irish Masters – lifted Keenan onto the second-tier European Challenge Tour last year, but he was unable to build further.
However his determination remained undimmed and Keenan took part in qualifying for this year’s US Open – coming out top of a first qualifier at Lake Jovila G&CC in Orlando with a fine 67. However he missed out on his first major appearance at final international qualifying at Walton Heath.
While it will be the first time Keenan has qualified for a major, he has actually played in the Open before.
When the Open returned to Royal Liverpool in 2006, he was asked by the R&A to play alongside Paraguay’s Marco Ruiz as his marker after an uneven number of players made the weekend cut.
Keenan, who lives within a mile of the Hoylake links, shot a level par 72 and admitted the experience was a huge confidence boost.
However, now he will be there in his own right.
“I’m not sure I can quite believe this,” he added. “I have come close a few times so it’s great that I have finally managed to pull it off. I’m sure I will have lots of local support at Lytham.”
But there was disappointment for Liverpool’s Nick Dougherty, who missed out at the same venue after shooting 70 74 to finish on level par and in a share of 19th.
“I played quite nicely, but did not putt very well,” he said. “It was just one of those days. I played some good golf for 27 holes with very little problems, but had to push a bit on the last nine and that is not something I wanted to do on a course like this.”
Warrington golfer Phil Archer, on course to reclaim his European Tour card through the Challenge Tour rankings, missed out on a play-off place at St Annes Old Links by just a shot.