This golfer has spent decades trying to qualify for the Open. Now, he's playing the biggest one yet

    Ford during the Monaghan Irish Challenge event in Castleblaney, Ireland, on October 6, 2018.

    (CNN)If at first you don't succeed, try again. Then try 23 more times.

    The Claret Jug won't be lifted in St Andrews, Scotland, till Sunday, but English golfer Matt Ford has already secured the victory of a lifetime: qualifying for the Open Championship.
    The 44-year-old has struck tens of thousands of shots in over 280 tournaments, but when he drives from the opening tee of the Old Course Thursday, it will mark his first swing at a major, in a professional career spanning almost two decades.
      Ford turned professional in 2003, but his efforts to reach The Open began as an amateur. They included a qualifying playoff defeat to future Masters winner Trevor Immelman, and he has since made it to final qualifying numerous times.
        "I tried to work it out the other day actually, how many times I've tried," Ford told CNN, settling on an estimate of 24 attempts without success until now.
        The son of a professional footballer, Ford grew up in the English town of Swindon wanting to follow in his father's footsteps. Having only picked up a club for the first time aged 10, it wasn't until he had finished school at 18 he threw himself into pursuing golf full-time.
        "I loved football but it was also so frustrating, whereas golf is just down to yourself," Ford said.
          "Although the game of golf is anything but control, you still can control a lot more in an individual sport."
          Ford plays out of the bunker during the Srixon PGA Playoff in October, 2009.
          Turning professional at age 25, Ford made a strong start, competing at the 2005 BMW PGA Championship (formerly the British PGA Championship) in Wentworth.
          Competing on a European Tour event gave the Englishman a huge confidence boost, but by 2013 he was close to walking away from the sport. Despite a handful of further appearances on the European Tour (now the DP World Tour), Ford has spent the vast majority of his career on its feeder series, the Challenge Tour.

          Challenge Tour challenges

          Five runner-up finishes have been highlights, but constant long hauls around the world to courses far less luxurious than the European and PGA Tours have taken their toll mentally and, above all, financially.
          Only the top 10 finishers of the Challenge Tour's 156 player field "realistically" earn enough prize money to subsidize the cost of playing the event, with Ford estimating more than half the remaining players lose over $1,000 a week.
          By Ford's own reckoning he's lost money more often than he's won it, and with wife Suzie and two young children to support, the pressure of quite literally 'playing to live' has been challenging.
          "The amount of times I've thought about giving up this game and as a lot of people say, 'get a proper job', it's been tough," he said.
          "It's emotional because of the way my family has supported me. I haven't necessarily made as much money as I'd like to make this comfortable."
          Ford shoots from the tee during the Challenge de Espana in Cadiz, Spain, in May.