After travels, Pinckney closes in on Euro Tour card

Scott Pinckney was a childhood friend of Rory McIlroy.

Scott Pinckney was a childhood friend of Rory McIlroy.

Scott Pinckney is feeling relatively comfortable outside his comfort zone. He’s hoping that will help earn him a ticket to the 2012 European Tour.

Pinckney is one of five Americans who will tee it up at the Final Stage of European Tour Qualifying School on Saturday at PGA Catalunya Resort in Girona, Spain, to try to earn one of 30 cards for next year’s European Tour. However, Pinckney might just have the inside track on countrymen Patrick Reed, Anthony Kang, Jason Knutzon and Trent Leon.

A crash course in European culture has helped the former Arizona State player transition from the United States to Europe.

Pinckney graduated this year as ASU’s leading player, with a 71.84 scoring average and a college career-best five top-10 finishes. He then qualified for the U.S. Open, missed the cut and headed for Europe.

Why Europe? Rory McIlroy.

The World No. 2 has had a big influence on Pinckney’s life. The two met at the Doral-Publix Junior Golf Classic in Miami when they were 11. They bonded so well that McIlroy, from Northern Ireland, later spent a summer with the Pinckney family, playing alongside Scott in Utah Junior Golf Association events.

“We met up again at the U.S. Open this year and re-established our friendship,” Pinckney said. “Obviously Rory’s someone I respect, so that’s one of the reasons I thought I’d give Europe a try. I doubt I’d be here if I hadn’t met Rory.”

Pinckney turned pro immediately after the U.S. Open. He signed with Chubby Chandler’s International Sports Management group, McIlroy’s then-management team, and said goodbye to his Arizona lifestyle.

Pinckney has spent the summer on the European Challenge Tour. He finished 146th on the money list, with just less than €4,000 in earnings from five events. His travels have taken him to Ireland, Norway, Denmark, Kazakhstan, Russia, Italy and Switzerland. It’s been quite an eye-opener for an all-American boy.

“You can’t really put a price on the experience of traveling to different countries," Pinckney said. "It’s been an invaluable education that a lot of players don’t get. The Europeans take it for granted, yet for Americans it’s a big deal. I think playing in different courses, on different grasses against European opposition has really benefited my game.

“It’s totally different because you’re dealing with different languages, money, food. I’m eating stuff I never knew existed. I got food poisoning in Kazakhstan from eating chicken and was sick for about two weeks. In Italy, I thought I ordered a pepperoni pizza and the pizza came with peppers, which I hate. So I’ve had some funny experiences.”

Getting used to the cost of living hasn’t been easy, either. “Everything is ridiculously expensive. I think in the States, the most I’ve spent at McDonald’s is $8. In Switzerland, I got a little less than I normally order, and it was $23!”

“But it’s a lot of fun because I’m interacting with players from a lot of different cultures. The European Tour really is a big melting pot.”

Pinckney has some experience of interacting with players from different nationalities. He played with and against Europeans while at ASU. Indeed, Pinckney counts Scotland’s James Byrne as one of his best friends. Pinckney spent the summer of 2009 with Byrne in Banchory, Scotland, and played many of the big British amateur events.

Moreover, the college game has grown so cosmopolitan that Pinckney bumps into former college teammates and opponents whenever he tees it up in Europe. “Every event I’ve played, I’ve either had a teammate or someone I played against while at ASU.

“It would have been tough if I was just by myself and didn’t know anyone, but I almost feel at home over here now, I know so many guys.”

Pinckney’s ultimate goal is to play the PGA Tour. He made it to the second stage of PGA Tour Q-School but didn’t advancing to the final stage.

“I tried both Q-Schools because I want to try to get as much experience as possible, but I would be completely happy to get a European Tour card or even a Challenge Tour card because I feel pretty comfortable over here. Besides, when I do get my PGA Tour card, traveling around the States should be no big deal after what I’ve learned over here.”

The European Tour Final Qualifying Stage is held over six rounds on Dec. 10-15.

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