English amateur Ashley Chester qualifies for back-to-back Opens

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Ashley Chesters is in esteemed company. By retaining his European Amateur title last August, the 25-year-old became the third amateur after Tiger Woods and Edoardo Molinari to qualify for back-to-back Opens. We caught up with him at his home club, Hawkstone Park in Shropshire, to get his thoughts on last year at Hoylake and the game plan for St Andrews.

Let’s go back to last year at Hoylake. You got off to a flier - two-under and tied 19th after round one…
Yeah I birdied the first! The weather was great that morning, no wind, sunny, perfect for scoring. I got in afterwards and looked at the scores on the SkySportsNews app and there was a big headline on me so that was a bit strange! I was playing well at the time and the weather wasn’t difficult so 70 didn’t shock me.

You missed the cut by one shot…
Yeah. The drive home wasn’t particularly nice and watching it on telly over the weekend was even worse. Hopefully I can go one better this year.

What did you take from the week?
Playing in front of the crowds was the best bit because when we play amateur stuff there’s barely anyone watching. I teed off at 7:30am on the first morning and had it in my head that there would be nobody there because it was so early, but when I got there the stand was absolutely rammed! I’ve never been great playing in strong winds but I’ve been working on that and it’s been getting a lot better. The other thing is short game. My putting from off the green is pretty good but improving my chipping off the tight lies was something I wanted to improve and I have.

You retained the European Amateur title to qualify for St Andrews…
It was a crazy week. I wasn’t even thinking about winning again but had a good third round to get into contention. We played eight holes and got called in for bad weather and I was a few behind. The next morning we went out to finish and the weather was lovely. I played quite well, thought I’d be a few behind and it turned out I was three ahead! Sunday afternoon was really strong winds but I didn’t do a lot wrong. I was relaxed until the last two holes.

So what happened on 17?
I stood there and saw on the leaderboard that I had a seven-shot lead. It’s a 200-yard par three, straight into a gale and uphill with the green sloping from back to front. I hit 3-wood to get it up there but absolutely killed it to the back edge so had a putt straight down the green. I was looking at it thinking, ‘It’s easy to knock this off the green’ and, looking back, that’s what I should have done because I wouldn’t have four-putted! I still had a good lead going up the last and I needed it because I chunked my 9-iron approach and took three more from the front edge! It wasn’t pretty but I got it done.

That was last August so what’s happened since?
I went to Tour School and didn’t do great but I wasn’t too fussed because I knew if I had I wouldn’t get to play in the Open again. I had the winter with England Golf, going to Peru for the South American Amateur with them, then playing the Portuguese and Spanish Amateurs and the Nations Cup. I finished in the top 10 in all of those and we won the Nations Cup so it’s been pretty good.

You had lots of travelling support from Hawkstone last year, same this time?
It’s a bit further so I don’t think they’ll be hiring a coach this time! But there will be lots of family with me. My caddie, coach, mum, dad, girlfriend, sister, her boyfriend and my aunt will all be there. We’re staying in a little cottage all week, about 20 minutes away from the course.

How does the Old Course set up for you?
I like it but everybody says how easy it is and I’m not convinced by that. It’s fairly wide but whenever I’ve played it the back nine has been straight into the wind. The last hole isn’t hard but holes 13 to 17 are really tough if it’s blowing. I like it because it’s different to anywhere else. I could play 1, 17 and 18 all day long - they’re probably my three favourite holes in golf.

What’s your record like around there?
Not great! In the Links Trophy last year I got the worst part of the draw which isn’t a great excuse but I was out when it was really wet. I think I’ve only made the cut once out of three or four times. A lot of it is hitting the right side of some of the slopes. It seems easy during practice because they put flags in the flat spots but when they start putting them behind some of the hills and things you have to really know where to miss it.

How will you feel on that first tee?
Everybody talks about the room left but that might make it worse! I’ll be pretty nervous and my legs were shaking at Liverpool. Last year I hadn’t got a clue but I know now that I can cope after shooting 70 first round last time.

Any special preparations?
One of the England lads, Jimmy Mullen, his caddie is a St Andrews caddie so at the Links Trophy I’ll play a practice round with him and get as much information as I possibly can (Chesters finished 30th of 144 competitors at the St Andrews Links Trophy in June). That could be invaluable. Last year a shot was the difference between making and missing the cut for me and he could save me that.

What’s the aim?
Just to play well. Last year I played well and holed a few putts. I remember getting one at 17 with a big stand behind the green and the cheers were incredible! I just want to play well and wherever that puts me is fine, if it makes the cut even better.

What does the future hold?
I want to play Walker Cup and then I’ll look at turning pro. I would like to do that pretty soon but if I have to wait it’s fine. People say I’m old at 25 and I guess I am compared to lots of amateurs but the average age on Tour is about 34 so I’m in no rush.