Former soccer star Stephen Grant is just three rounds away from achieving the goal of a lifetime - a place in the Open Championship.

The Birr native will be in the 96-man field at County Louth on Monday for an 18 hole local qualifier for the season’s third major at Hoylake.

And if he comes through that one, the former Sunderland and Shamrock Rovers striker will get to tee it up in Local Final Qualifying near the Liverpool and bid for one of 12 places in the Open.

It’s been an incredible journey in golf for Grant, 29, who only took up the game five years ago and now plays off plus two.

But he’s realistic about his chances of making it into the greatest tournament in the world from July 20-23.

Grant said: “I’ve never tried to qualify for the Open before and thought I may as well. Even if you come nowhere it is a good experience and you get the idea of what it is like trying to qualify for something.

“I don’t have grand ideas about making the Open, it is about getting experience. When I started I didn’t think experience meant that much but now I realise that in golf, experience is everything.”

Grant  fell in love with golf as he neared the end of a ten-year career as a professional footballer and now he says he enjoys holing a long putt as much as he ever enjoyed a 25 yard volley into the top corner.

He said: “I retired from soccer when I was 27 and I had been a professional since I was 17. I started off a Sunderland and I was there for two seasons.

“Then I was at Stockport County for two seasons, then Burnley for half a season and Boston in America for a season.

“I was at Shelbourne for a short period and then spent the last four years of my career at Shamrock Rovers where I retired two years ago.”

The golf bug bit Grant big time back in 2001 when he started playing with his pal Michael Horan, a plus one handicapper who owns a driving range near Birr.

He explained: “I was thinking of hanging up my boots in soccer and Michael got me out to play. He is a great player and the funny thing is, I thought that everyone played like Michael, that that was the standard you had to be at right away.

“I am really dedicated at anything I do and I worked really hard at the game. In my first year I dropped from about 16 to a four handicap. It took me three and half years to go from four to plus two and now I just want to get it down as low as I can.”

Grant does not rule out having a go at tackling one of the professional tour schools in the future.

But right now he is trying to gain as much experience as he can and improve his mental game after years in the emotionally charged world of soccer.

He is close friends with fellow Birr man Richie Coughlan, who played on the PGA Tour a few years ago and is currently battling his way back.

But he also regularly tees it up at The Heritage with his former Sunderland team mate Niall Quinn, a handy three-handicapper.

He explained: “Niall Quinn is a good buddie of mine and Dave Whelan who works with the Dublin football team are always trying to help me out with the mental side of the game.

“Trying to accept bad rounds and bad breaks is the hard bit for me. The discipline part I find pretty easy because I was used to abstaining from alcohol and staying in. When you are a pro soccer player it is almost like being back at school. So that part is pretty easy.

“But the mental side is very difficult. In soccer it is dead emotional and the manager is used to trying to stir you up in the dressing room and get you to play on your emotions. But in golf it is about burying your emotions and that is the hardest bit for me.

“As a sport, golf is just so different. When I played football there was no better feeling than scoring a goal and now there is nothing better than holing a putt.

“I played professional football for 10 years and felt like I had had enough and I had achieved what I was going to achieve in football and I didn’t want to commit to a new contract.

“So I fell in love with golf instead and I have a good business in property and spend a lot of the winter in Florida, playing with Richie on one of the mini tours down there to get experience.

“So really I am putting the work in to see how I get on for the next couple of years and I’ve been working hard on my game with the national coach, Neil Manchip.”

Grant is a regular in all the big amateur events in Ireland and this season reached the second round of the Irish Close at the European Club, where he lost by 5 and 4 to eventual champion Rory McIlroy.

Grant said: “What I learned from playing Rory McIlroy is that he has the complete game. And even when he does make a mistake, he keeps the number as low as possible.

“I never lost a hole to Rory that I hit the ball on the fairway. Every hole I lost came where I was in the rough and Rory made sure he did what he had to do to win the hole with a par or whatever was needed

“He hits the ball great as well and off the tee he is so straight. He was under par on a day when it was blowing 30 mph in the European Club. It was some achievement.”

Grant has been working hard on his driving since then and with a bit of luck, he could take a giant step towards playing in a Major championship.