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  • Alistair Tait

Where Golf Dreams Die?

Updated: Nov 21, 2022

The former Ryder Cup player played the 18th hole at San Roque the way I might have played it. Badly. Obviously not because of lack of talent, but due to a more insidious intangible: bottle.

That last word is key at the European Tour Qualifying School, which ends today at the Infinitum Club in Tarragona, Spain. Those 25 players who earn cards for next year’s European Tour are the ones who’ve had the ability to make pars when it matters, not birdies. As anyone who’s been around professional golf knows, turning 78s into 72s is what really counts, what separates successful tour pros from unsuccessful ones.

Needing just a bogey to regain his European Tour card, the two-time European Tour winner sensibly hit a 3-iron off San Roque’s 18th tee to try to find the generous fairway. The Englishman had hit thousands of 3-irons in his life, 99% of them finding the short grass. This one didn’t. He missed his target by 20 yards, the ball nestling down into lush rough. A hack with wedge to get the ball back into play resulted in a smothered hook that saw his ball end up in the water hazard to the left of the fairway. He dropped under penalty, hit his fourth shot to 25 feet and watched as his bogey putt came up six inches short of the hole.

He tapped the ball into the hole and headed for the scorer’s hut and an uncertain future.

“Bad luck at the last to find that lie,” a colleague suggested when the player had signed his card.
“Nothing to do with bad luck, just bad golf,” he replied. “I’ve never been so nervous on one hole as I was on the 18th. It was a horrible feeling.”

Fair play to him, no attempt to sugar coat things: he openly admitted he’d bottled it. Others aren’t so honest, but the former Ryder Cupper wasn’t alone in losing his bottle when it mattered. Many have done before him, as many did this week, and many will do in future. That Q School trip brought the former Ryder Cup player’s European Tour career to a close.

They say there are two forms of golf for tour pros, ordinary tournament golf and major championship golf, the latter carrying far more pressure. Having covered enough Qualifying Schools in my time, I’d say the Q School carries the most pressure – six rounds of sheer hell.

Dreams die at the Q School.

Former European Tour professional David Jones played the Qualifying School towards the end of his career. The Northern Irishman said you could line up all 156 players in the field the night before and be able to tell which ones had a chance of getting their card just by looking into their eyes. Many, he believed, didn’t have the bottle to get through the ordeal.

Another two-time European Tour winner was in dire need of a morale boost at San Roque a few years after the Ryder Cup player had brought his European Tour to an end. Unlike his English compatriot, he didn’t blow up on the last. He just hadn’t played well enough over the six rounds. When he questioned his future, we tried to cheer him by saying as a two-time winner he'd get his fair share of tournament invites the following season. Enough to have a chance of regaining his card.

“No I won’t,” he replied. “You’re soon forgotten in this game.”

He was right. Just one invite came his way the following year. He’s now a long-time club professional at a well-respected golf club.

At least the above two players enjoyed European Tour success. Others in this week’s field at Infinitum can say the same: Ryder Cup stars Stephen Gallacher, Jarmo Sandelin and David Howell didn’t even make the four round cut along with a slew of fellow tournament winners like Alvaro Quiros, Simon Dyson, Gregory Bourdy, Gregory Havret, Kristoffer Broberg, Paul Dunne, Lucas Bjerregaard, Jonathan Caldwell and others.

Reputation counts for nothing at the Q School.

Those who gain cards today will be celebrating getting the chance to compete on next year’s European Tour gravy train. However, as past results prove, earning a European Tour card is no guarantee of keeping one. The attrition rate for Q School grads is high. Of the class of 2018, just six of the 26 players finished inside the top 115 of the 2019 Race to Dubai. Spain’s Alejandro Canizares took the first card at the 2018 school but promptly lost it the following season when he placed 138th on the order of merit from 21 appearances.

Talk about the School of Hard Knocks…

#JustSaying: “Golf is not a game of good shots, it’s a game of bad shots.” Ben Hogan

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