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- English golfer
Having achieved his St Andrews mission by qualifying for the 150th Open Championship, Ashley Chesters now finds himself stranded in South Africa and facing a battle against the coronavirus restrictions to get home in time for his wedding.
Chesters, 31, finished third in the shortened Joburg Open on Saturday to grab one of the places on offer for next year’s British major. These spots are more coveted than usual as the 2022 edition at the Home of Golf will be the Open’s 150th staging.
It will be the first major as a pro for Chesters and will have added resonance for the Shropshire golfer because he finished in a tie for 12th as an amateur when the Old Course last hosted the battle for the Claret Jug in 2015.
Clearly, it was a fine start to the European Tour season for Chesters, particularly as he lost his full card last campaign, and it is just as well he got plenty out of his week at the Randpark Golf because now he is left with a nightmarish scenario. He does not know when he can fly back to Britain and accepts that when he does he will have to undertake a 10-day quarantine in a hotel. Which makes it touch-and-go whether he will make the altar on Dec 18.
“I was supposed to be on a flight to Dubai today, but it was cancelled because of this new variant,” Chesters said on Sunday from South Africa’s largest city. “I am booked on a flight direct to London on Wednesday but I have no idea if that will actually leave. I’m hoping when they have the hotel quarantine situation sorted they will allow direct flights but I fear that is me being hopeful.
“The [European] Tour are working on something but it’s not looking great. Hayley is waiting patiently at home. She doesn’t sound as though she’s annoyed at me, but she may have told me differently to how she is really thinking!”
The second round of the tournament was under way on Friday when Sajid Javid, the Health Secretary, announced that six countries, including South Africa, had been added to the red list. Any British or Irish resident arriving from those countries later than Sunday would be forced to quarantine in a hotel, with those returning prior being instructed to isolate at home.
The news quickly filtered around the course and 15 British and Irish pros immediately decided to withdraw. After an opening 66, Chesters elected to play on and take his chances.
“Yeah, because of where I am in my career, having lost my full status last season, I didn’t really think withdrawing was an option,” he said. “Plus, there was the chance to get in the Open and it will be a special one, with the Old Course having great memories for me.
“It would have been nice for the event to go its full course, but it did seem a bit doomed. I’m happy with how I played and, although I heard that most of the boys who did withdraw have got home in time, I don’t have any regrets. People have been in far, far worse situations because of this pandemic and I’ll do the 10 days, no problem.
“I just hope I get back to London to do them before I’m supposed to be at the church!”
The Tour reduced the event to 54 holes to give the competitors as much time as possible to sort out their travel, but then with the third round already in motion, play was called off because of the threat of thunderstorms. That meant the scores reverting to the 36-hole leaderboard with South African Thirston Lawrence declared the winner on 12 under, with countryman Zander Lombard in second four behind and Chesters a further stroke away on seven under par, earning almost £40,000.
The Joburg Open was supposed to be the first of a three-week South African swing, but the escalating crisis has led to the European Tour to downgrade the South African Open to an unofficial event, while the Alfred Dunhill Championship the following week has been cancelled “due to the adverse effect the travel restrictions will have on the field”. The Tour will, thus, have seven weeks off and resume in Abu Dhabi on Jan 20.