There’s a popular belief that the ultimate pressure in professional golf comes in the major championships.
The greatest pressure for tournament professionals is when careers are on the line. Ask almost anyone who’s been to through the nightmare of Qualifying School and they’ll tell you it’s an experience they only want to go through once.
True golf fans should attend at least one Qualifying School in their lives. That’s when they’ll see what tournament pros are really made of. Former European Tour pro David Jones once said you could tell who was going to have a chance at Q School just by staring into their eyes the night before the opening round.
A look at the final results of the LPGA Q–Series makes for fascinating reading. To no one’s surprise, Nan Rin An took the first of 46 cards on offer: Korean golfers excelling on the LPGA stopped being a surprise years ago. She shot a closing 6-under-par 66 to pip former World Amateur Ranking number one Pauline Roussin-Bouchard by one shot.
Ladies European Tour number one Atthaya Thitikul, also a former WAGR number one, took the number three card. Emily Kristine Pedersen of Denmark, the 2020 LET number one and a member of this year’s victorious European Solheim Cup team, finished T14.
Scotland’s Gemma Dryburgh will play on next year’s LPGA Tour. She finished T22.
These are the success stories from eight pressure packed rounds. There were plenty of tales of woe too.
Ann Van Dam (pictured) was a member of the victorious 2019 European Solheim Cup team at Gleneagles. The Dutch player, one of the longest hitters in the women’s game, has won five times on the Ladies European Tour. Yet Van Dam missed getting a card by three strokes after finishing on one over par.
Fellow Woburn member Meghan MacLaren, who came close to joining Van Dam at Gleneagles, also missed out by three shots. She shot a final round, 3-over-par 75.
American Kristen Gillman also finished on plus one to miss out. The 2018 U.S. Women’s Amateur champion returned a closing 76.
All three are obviously good enough to play on the LPGA. It will be interesting to see how they bounce back from this setback. Fingers crossed they do so with panache.
Many tour pros never recover from their Q School experience. I’ve found that out by attending more than a few European Tour Qualifying Schools in my time.
Former English Amateur champion Steve Richardson needed a bogey on the final hole at San Roque Golf Club in the 2002 Q School to regain his playing rights. Richardson was a three-time European Tour winner. A Ryder Cup player. He won two points out of three in the 1991 match at Kiawah Island. He was well used to pressure.
He made a double bogey on San Roque’s 18th hole.
The affable Englishman fronted up to the few journalists in attendance. He calmy stood and answered all our questions. I shook his hand after the interview and told him he’d been unlucky on the last hole. His response said it all about the pressure of playing for your living:
“We both know it wasn’t unlucky,” Richardson replied before walking off.
That was Richardson’s last tilt at Q School hell.
Two years earlier, myself and former PA golf correspondent Mark Garrod found ourselves playing motivators to Jim Payne after he failed to regain his card at the school. Payne was a two-time European Tour winner and 1991 European Tour Rookie of the Year. As he stood dejected afterwards, Mark and I tried to reassure him that he would receive plenty of invites to tournaments the following season, enough to try to regain his playing rights. His response was a sad reminder that this game breaks hearts.
“No I won’t. You’re soon forgotten in this game,” Payne replied.
Payne is now the club professional at Southport & Ainsdale. Trying to fix members’ slices is far less stressful than the school of broken dreams that is the Qualifying School.
#JustSaying: “This game makes cry babies out of all of us at one time or another.” Tom Kite
Photograph courtesy of the Ladies European Tour