Christiaan Bezuidenhout will return to the scene of the darkest moment of his career next month after earning a place in the field at The Open Championship.
The South African will be heading to Northern Ireland alongside Adri Arnaus and Mike Lorenzo-Vera after the three men qualified for the season's final Major Championship at the Estrella Damm N.A. Andalucía Masters hosted by the Sergio Garcia Foundation, but Bezuidenhout will not be making his first appearance at Royal Portrush.
It was at that venue during the 2014 Amateur Championship that Bezuidenhout failed a doping test that would put him out of the game for nine months.
He was taking beta blockers to help with the stutter he developed after mistakenly drinking rat poison as a child and, while he declared that fact during his test, the adverse finding resulted in a two year ban.
That was reduced to nine months after officials adjudged Bezuidenhout had not been seeking any advantage in his performance but the damage was already done as he had missed out on representing his country at the Eisenhower Trophy.
"I just broke down," he wrote in the European Tour's Player Blog ahead of finishing in a tie for second at the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters.
"It was awful. I had spent my whole amateur career working to get into that Eisenhower side to represent my nation, it was a huge goal of mine to be selected in the team. To be told two days before the event that I couldn’t go because of a two year drugs ban was simply too much for me to take in. It felt like my life was over."
Those dark days must seem a long way away after his victory at Real Club Valderrama, and the 25-year-old will now make his Major debut in three weeks.
"It’s amazing," he said. "It’s been my goal in this three week stretch to qualify for The Open and to do it in the first week is fantastic. I’m really looking forward to the tournament starting, it’s going to be special.
"I love to play in front of big crowds. The crowds here have been amazing and they will be even bigger there.
"It’s been a dream since I started playing golf to play in a Major Championship and to play The Open, which is my favourite Major, just makes it even more special."
Lorenzo-Vera made an excellent par save on the last to stay at four under and he will be playing his second Open and second Major of the year after finishing in the top 20 at the US PGA Championship.
"My objective at the beginning of the season was to play two Majors," he said. "I played the US PGA Championship and I absolutely needed this one. That could be great for my mind.
"I knew that to give myself a chance to make The Open I needed to make four on the last and I hooked that three wood which was not the best idea. I hit a good wedge but the green is an absolute rock so it just released a bit. I had to make it, I made it, that was cool."
Arnaus was one over for his round after ten holes but made four birdies in five from the 12th in a 69 to secure his Open debut and second Major appearance.
"All week the place in The Open is what I came here for," he said. "It’s just an incredible feeling to come out here on home soil, play well, and get one of those spots.
"It’s going to be packed and I’m really looking forward to playing links golf in front of those crowds and get another great experience under my belt."
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