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Golf’s Longest Day also brought some of its most lasting memories.

On a balmy Tuesday at West Lancashire Golf Club, 72 players teed it up in a demanding 36-hole shoutout with the shared goal of reaching the 151st Open Championship at Royal Liverpool.

Here were guys chasing their dreams, not lawsuits or dollar signs, on a glorious Merseyside links just a short drive up the road from where the Claret Jug will soon be hoisted.

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For all the tiresome division and rancour forced upon us in the past 12 months, the visceral joy on the faces of five Open qualifiers was a reminder of why this sport is so great.

But first came the disappointment.

The crowds flocked to see Sergio Garcia, the LIV golfer who has slipped so far down the world rankings that Final Qualifying was his only shot of making it 25 straight years at the Open.

Garcia was a divisive figure even before turning his back on golf’s establishment and his reputation was seemingly torched with his aggravating actions during the sport’s great schism.

Walk 36 holes alongside an army of Garcia fans, however, and you quickly realise he is still loved in this part of the world as much as he ever was.

There was no time for talk of “mergers” or “framework agreements” here.

Instead, there were supporters who could scarcely believe they were at such close quarters with a former Masters champion, and better still, it hadn’t cost them a penny.

The muddled world ranking system made this arguably the strongest field we have seen at Final Qualifying but free entry for spectators is another reason why this remains one of golf’s greatest days.

Danny Drinkwater, the Premier League-winning midfielder, was among the hundreds following Garcia’s group in the afternoon and was in awe of the world class sport he was witnessing.

And for a fleeting moment Garcia was the outright leader in round two, destined to contend in the final major of the year. Three birdies in six holes after an opening round 67 left him out in front on eight-under.

But the 43-year-old found a tough lie in the rough on the par-4 seventh and a bogey completely killed his momentum.

Much to the frustration of the large galleries, he completely stalled thereafter and finished three shots shy in a tie for sixth.

To his credit, Garcia was generous with his time after falling short and told of his pride at being an ever-present at almost every major for a quarter of a century.

“I hope they enjoyed it, but I would just have loved to give them a couple more things to cheer for,” he said as he thanked the crowds for such impressive support.

On the opposite end of the spectrum was Richard Law, one of a number of club professionals in the field. Law prepared for this event by hitting balls at his local driving range when he was not too busy giving lessons.

And he spoke of how “surreal” it was that he had Europe’s all-time leading points scorer watching him hit shots on Monday’s practice round.

“It was nerve-wracking but you’ve got to realise that you’re good enough to perform against these guys,” Law, the head teaching pro at Normanton Golf Club, said as he reflected on the day after doing himself proud with a cumulative score of four-over-par.

Garcia’s playing partner, Matthew Jordan, could barely contain his excitement on the back of the 18th green with his spot in his home Open secure.

Jordan, who plays on the DP World Tour, has been a member at Hoylake since he was seven and is now ready to compete at his beloved venue in the greatest tournament of all.

Alex Fitzpatrick was the next man grinning from ear-to-ear by the scoring hut after shooting the round of his life to join his sibling Matt at his first ever major championship.

There were Open-level roars as the younger brother of the US Open champion holed an almost impossible bunker shot in his second round whilst knelt down outside of the sand.

That inspirational shot led Fitzpatrick to a closing 65 and it looked like he could barely believe what he had just achieved.

Fitzpatrick was keen not to get too carried away after signing his card though, conferring with Final Qualifying winner Matt Wallace over whether he was safe with players still to finish.

The humble Yorkshireman clearly was.

Wallace did not attract the hordes of supporters like Garcia but was the standout performer on the day as he matched Fitzpatrick’s afternoon 65 to finish 11-under.

He has much loftier ambitions though, with his Open spot improving his chances of making Luke Donald’s Ryder Cup team in Rome.

A fascinating subplot to the Alex Fitzpatrick storyline at West Lancs was the fact he was tearing it up alongside a man called Tiger.

Tiger Christensen, the German amateur who plays college golf in Arizona, has the innate belief of the great 15-time major champion he is partly named after.

“I don’t want to sound cocky, but I was pretty certain about qualifying,” he said after following up an opening 68 with a flawless 67 to make his own major debut at Hoylake.

Christensen’s caddie, a local part-time looper called Andrew Marsh, told us he was just enjoying the ride.

So Tiger will be in town at Hoylake after all.

The most heartwarming story of the day, however, was reserved for Kyle Barker, the unknown South African who had never played links golf before pitching up on Merseyside.

Barker, the world No.725, plays his golf on the Sunshine Tour and had only been to the UK once before his defining trip to the North West. His caddie had never left South Africa.

The 25-year-old shot 66 to put himself in the morning mix and thrived during the most important round of his life with a nerveless 68 in the afternoon.

Whatever happens at Hoylake later this month, Barker now has memories to last a lifetime after overcoming Garcia and co. to claim his spot at golf’s oldest major.

And as the sun set on a marathon day at West Lancs with hundreds of fans flooding out of the gates, Barker was still taking it all in.

“It’s the best thing I’ve ever achieved in all my life,” he beamed. “Honestly, it feels like I’m dreaming right now.”

This was golf in its purest, most captivating form.

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Ben Parsons joined bunkered as a Content Producer in 2023 and is the man to come to for all of the latest news, across both the professional and amateur games. Formerly of The Mirror and Press Association, he is a member at Halifax Golf Club and is a long-suffering fan of both Manchester United and the Wales rugby team.

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