England’s James Busby should give hope to aspiring Tour professionals for years to come. He’s living proof that if you can get into the final European Challenge Tour event of the year, then you can earn a Tour card.
Busby was last man into the field for the Apulia San Domenico Grand Final in Italy. He arrived 45th in the rankings, but departed with the 16th card out of the 21 offered for next year’s European Tour after finishing T-2 behind Norway’s Espen Kofstad.
Scores of 66-67-67-66 helped Busby to an 18-under 266 to tie Denmark’s Joachim B. Hansen, one shot behind Kofstad. The Englishman earned €29,425 to take his season’s earnings to €67,350 and jump 29 places on the Challenge Tour order of merit to earn a dream ticket to next year’s European Tour.
“What a great day,” Busby said. “It was a bogey-free round as well, which is very pleasing. That putt at the last just summed up how I was feeling for the entire back nine – absolutely petrified!
“I was very nervous standing over that and I couldn’t really feel anything. I was just very happy and very relieved to see it roll in.
“I said to my girlfriend – who’s caddying for me – at the start of the week that we’re just here to enjoy it and try to make a few quid (pounds). I’ve done that and come out with a European Tour card to boot. It’s the stuff of dreams really.
“Up until today I was thinking about preparing for the Qualifying School, so I can’t really put into words how delighted I am right now.”
Kofstad arrived in Italy 11th on the rankings, but rounds of 65- 66-67-67 gave him a 72-hole total of 265. He took the top prize of €56,650 to finish the season No. 1 on the Challenge Tour money list.
“It’s amazing,” Kofstad said. “Those last two rounds are probably the best I’ve ever played. I didn’t make a bogey in 36 holes. I felt like I was in complete control of everything, despite the pressure I was under.
“I didn’t know about the rankings until I finished, but I’ve tried not to think about it over the last few days. I knew what would happen was up to me, not anyone else.
“At the start of the season my coach and I decided the target would be three wins and a place in the top ten. I’ve only won twice, but I’ll take it.”
Former North Carolina State player Justin Walters finished T-5 to move from 23rd at the start of the week to take the 15th card. England’s Seve Benson also finished fifth and jumped from 28th to take the 20th card.
As always, amid the joy there was heartache. Scotland’s Raymond Russell, Austrian HP Bacher and Daniel Vancsik of Argentina slipped out of the qualifying spots they had occupied at the start of the week.
Former U.S. Amateur champion Peter Uihlein and three-time European Tour winner Nick Dougherty failed to get cards for next year. Uihlein finished 12th and ended the season 26th on the money list. Dougherty, meanwhile, ended the year 39th on the money list after a T-19 finish in Italy.