The Droitwich golfer is relishing the biggest stage of all. Ged Scott reports.
As a measure of the quality of the field for tomorrow's Open Championship, one has to look only at John Bickerton.
The Worcestershire golfer has been a model of consistency on the European Tour over the past eight years - nearly 30 top ten finishes, six of them in second place, two victories and an end of year ranking ranging anywhere between his best of 20th in 1999 and last year's 84th.
After claiming his second Tour victory in nine months with his French Open win in Paris a fortnight ago, Bicker-ton, up to sixth on the Order of Merit, now looks set to complete his best year yet. Yet, when it comes to playing in the most important date of any golfing year in this country, Bickerton's Open record is remarkably uneventful.
When he made the final two rounds last year at St Andrew's, it was the first time the man from Droitwich had even made the cut. But then, having first tried to qualify as far as back as 1993, this will be only Bickerton's sixth Open. And, given that three of the Opens he has qualified for have been at the home of golf, Royal Liverpool will only be his fourth Open venue.
"You don't realise just how tough it is to get in," said Bickerton. "You have to be top 20 every year to earn your place, but not many guys do that.
"Only a handful get in regularly and you only have to look at some of the names from our Tour stuck at home this week to realise what a privilege it is to be there.
"Like all the majors, there's so much history attached to the Open and you just enjoy being part of it."
Two missed cuts in successive weekends since Paris is not the sort of form Bickerton was looking for going into Hoylake. But he is the first to admit that his game has hit a few glitches, and he remained at Loch Lomond over the weekend to work on ironing out his swing.
Unlike his past Open experiences playing the Old Course (1995, 2000 and 2005), Royal Lytham (2001) and Muirfield (2002), Bickerton steps out onto a course he has played before.
"It was in the Brazbazon Trophy many years ago, when I was still an amateur playing for Worcestershire, and I'm looking forward to going down and having another look," he said.
"But the one thing I can remember is that, just like on any links course, any Open is always going to be too dependant on the weather.
"As a professional, I don't get to play as much links golf as I did when I was an amateur and that's a shame.
Apart from the Open, w e only get them now occasionally in Ireland, but I love playing them."
It will be a world away from the Paris course - Le Golf National - on which he nailed down his place at Hoylake by winning the French.
That also earned one or two other prestigious invites, including two trips to the heart of the United States next month for the USPGA in Illinois and the WGC event in Akron, Ohio. And it may yet help claim his biggest prize of all, a place in Europe's Ryder Cup team if he can enjoy one more big week before the team is named after the BMW Championship in Munich on September 3.
But, at a time when his mother is struggling to cope with a life-threatening illness, having developed Motor Neurone Disease, most of all, it reminded him of the place he has in her heart.
"It didn't half cheer my mum up," he said. "My parents had gone over to the States when I won in Paris. In fact, they didn't realise I was playing that week because after I went down to Sunningdale for the Open qualifier, they thought I was having the week off. But they were over the moon and it was nice to make her happy.
"I enjoyed it and I enjoyed the feeling. There's a lot of great names on that trophy and I probably haven't had the best out of it yet.
"But it does put things in perspective. Especially when you think one big win like that, once all the tax has been paid, still only pays for a couple of years' golfing."
After a messy broken marriage that sees Bickerton, now based in Bavaria when he is not on his worldwide travels, trying to also make time where he can with his six-year-old son George, he is a man clearly with demands on his time. And the £500,000 cheque banked for that win in France has, in a nice sort of way, rather complicated matters.
"It puts me in a strong position on the Order of Merit and it's opened a few doors," said Bickerton. "Not just the Open, but the USPGA, Firestone for the WGC event and possibly the one over here too at The Grove.
"All of a sudden I'm thinking I've got to get my schedule together, as I'm still going to want to see George through all this and I don't want to let him down. It's still too soon for him to come to events, but I want him to play as many sports as he can and I've already taken him round the pitch and putt at home.
"Really it's just a case of rescheduling. The one thing I do know, from past experience, is that you have to plan. You do need your time off. But, then again, George is the one who keeps me going.
"It's a fact of life now that 50 per cent of marriages break down these days and, when you've got kids, it's tough. But I know the better I do the more George benefits from all this."