Golf: Hepworth’s relishing bid to reach the Open

James Hepworth.
James Hepworth.
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James Hepworth says he has nothing to lose as he prepares for one more shot at reaching the Open Championship.

The 39-year-old former European Tour player from Burley- in-Wharfedale topped the leaderboard at regional qualifying at Moortown on Monday, and heads to final qualifying next week hoping to once again rub shoulders with the game’s elite.

He is expecting to play at Hillside in local final qualifying, when as one of more than 70 players he will vie for just three places in the Open field at Royal Liverpool from July 17-20.

Across the four sites at local final qualifying, there are just 12 spots available in the Open field.

That is the size of the task facing Hepworth, who at least heads to the last stage buoyed by the fact that of the 99 players who posted scores at Moortown on Monday, his was the best.

“Moortown is a great course and it was set up very well on Monday,” said Hepworth, who carded a two-under-par 69.

“The pins were difficult, so much so that you couldn’t really attack them. I think that’s why you saw so many high scores.”

Hepworth led home 10 players who progressed to local final qualifying, among them promising Yorkshire amateurs Daniel Wasteney and Joe Dean, and Oulton Hall professional Daniel Gavins.

Of those moving on, Hepworth is the most experienced having played on the European Tour in 2004 and again three years later.

He also has a number of near-misses in Open qualifying to fall back on next week.

“I’ve lost in numerous play-offs before to get to the Open,” said Hepworth.

“I remember one time at an international final qualifier at Sunningdale when I was in a play-off alongside Graeme McDowell, Simon Dyson and Robert Rock. Dyson knocked me out with a birdie.

“So I know what to expect. And I go to Hillside, or wherever I’m sent, thinking that qualification is certainly do-able.

“If it is Hillside, it’s a course I’ve not played that often but I know I’ll have to hit it pretty straight. I’m really looking forward to it, wherever it is.”

Hepworth continues to represent Ilkley Golf Club, and also works as a teaching professional at Shay Grange in Bradford.

Despite approaching his 40th birthday, his performance at Moortown on Monday gave a snapshot of a career renaissance that he hopes will end with a return to the European Tour.

“I’ve been playing well recently,” he added. “The idea is to keep going and give qualifying school another shot.

“I’m 39, so I’ll be older than most at the qualifier next week, and probably at Tour school, but that’s the beauty of golf, it’s not like other sports like football and tennis.

“There’s no time limit. If you’re still dedicated and you still enjoy it then you can keep going.”

Gavins prevailed in an eight-man play-off for the final four spots at Moortown.

That accomplishment, and the chance to reach the Open, offsets a difficult maiden campaign on the Challenge Tour for the 23-year-old. Moortown amateur David Houlding is among the reserves after shooting a 73.

Other scores: 73 - Nick Ludwell (Selby); 74 - Danny Wilkes (Headingley), Duncan McCarthy (Moortown), 75 - Joe Heraty (Moor Allerton), 76 - Oliver Ripley (Selby), 78 - Nick McCarthy (Moortown), 79 - John Green (Alwoodley), 80 - Richard Law (Low Laithes).