ANYONE from the North-East who has travelled to Belfast via the Cairnryan ferries route will know how draining it can be. While the actual journey across the Irish Sea may be an enjoyable experience, getting to the port can be a right headache.

To add to that, try doing that drive across the A75 via Dumfries less than 24 hours after arriving back from a week-long break in Ibiza before playing in a first major tournament. No wonder Andrew Wilson felt a bit tired after finally arriving in County Antrim on Monday afternoon.

Don’t worry, he soon got over it.

This week has already seen him step up to a different level for the Darlington golfer. Only six months ago he was about to make the decision to turn professional to see if his talent would be good enough to hit the big stage.

This morning, after a couple of rounds of practice, Wilson will have arrived on one of the biggest sporting stages of them all: The Open Championship.

The 25-year-old, attached to Rockliffe Hall, has already had a taste of what Royal Portrush has to offer, and at 4.05pm on Thursday he will tee off alongside Japan’s Yoshinori Fujimoto and Korean Doyeob Mun for real.

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“It’s the biggest week of my life in terms of my golf,” said Wilson. “I have got used to the travelling over the years because I have had to do that for every event I have played this year. I wasn’t that nervous playing my first practice round. I just wanted to get out and play. I am happy to be here.”

Make no mistake about it, Wilson’s appearance at Royal Portrush alongside Tiger Woods et al this week is a complete bonus. He emerged from 36-hole final qualifying at Notts Hollinwell on July 2 with rounds of 69 and 67 to secure a place ahead of English amateur champion Thomas Thurloway.

The former England international then went straight up to Morpeth to win his first EuroPro Tour event at Linden Hall, before heading to the Spanish island of Ibiza to relax before the big showpiece.

The Open will be his European Tour debut and he has only ever appeared in one Challenge Tour event, having previously boasted winning the North of England Youth Championships and the Lee Westwood Trophy as an amateur.

Wilson said: “I’m 1,000-1 (2,000-1 in places) with the bookies for a reason! I have changed my outlook entirely this year though after the last few weeks. If I’d had a bad year then I might have had to have second thoughts about playing against next year.

“It has gone a lot better than planned. On the EuroPro Tour, there are 150 guys, probably 40 or so people can win it and it is a lot different thinking you can win, the one event I won I didn’t think I would win.

“I was tired after qualifying the day before. During my amateur career I only won two events, that’s not a great return. But I am very prepared out of that because I competed a lot. I played for England for four years, it has set up my game nicely and I am now very confident going forward.”

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When Wilson embarks on his Open debut, he will have plenty friends and family walking the fairways with him. There will, though, be one man looking down on him from above who would have loved to have been walking the Dunluce Links with him. His dad, Brian, died in 2015 after a short battle with cancer.

“I lost my dad on Father’s Day four years ago,” said Wilson. “When I was younger he used to go to all my events. I played football for Darlington Allstars before I started to take golf seriously and he used to take me to those too. He took me round everywhere. He didn’t play a lot of golf himself. He was fishing all the time.

“He didn’t expect to be hit with cancer when he was, none of us did. He went in to hospital one day and seven weeks later … I was 21 at the time, studying at University. It was horrible.

“It would be nice if he was here with me, but that’s why it’s really nice to have my mum, Carole, coming out here to watch with my girlfriend Lucy. That’s what is important for me now. Even my sister, Joanna, she is on holiday at the minute, but she might be coming out when she gets back if I’m still playing.”

Wilson only started to play golf because a group of his friends at Darlington’s Education Village – then Haughton School - decided to take advantage of an offer to join Darlington Golf Club.

“Ten or 15 of us joined at the time!” he said. “I am 6ft 3in now but I was short for my age then, it was a case of football outgrowing me.

“I have never been the hardest worker out here on the course, but I am quite natural and have always played to my strengths. I started to score well straight away. I remember in my first year in a men’s comp at Darlington I shot two over.”

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What a road he has had since then. Wilson, who graduated from Northumbria University with a Bachelors and Masters, is relaxed and ready to make the most of his Royal Portrush appearance.

“It was a long journey over by ferry, the roads to Stranraer were a nightmare, four hours it took,” said Wilson, who will have Darlington tiler-cum-caddie Lewis Rowley on his bag.

“Registration was at 5pm on Monday, so I wanted to do that so I could just play and get used to everything on Tuesday. It was all worth it to be here.

“When I have been out on the (Royal Portrush) course I have been focused on my game, if you focus on the people around you it can be overwhelming if you notice all the other golfers, big names, so you have to focus on yourself.

“I have said to my friends and family it’s win-win. Hopefully I will go and make the cut because I know I can deliver, but even if I don’t I can go round and watch the weekend’s play with my friends.

“It seems quite a fair course. You do need to drive well round here. I don’t say that too often. I see a lot of courses and I can say these greens are very undulating, many links are flat. Your strategy has to be spot on because of those greens.” And he hasn’t done too bad so far.