Are European Tour Q-School grads getting a raw deal?

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Are European Tour Q-School grads getting a raw deal?

Euro Tour

Are European Tour Q-School grads getting a raw deal?

Editor’s note: A version of this column originally appeared in the Oct. 23, 2017 digital edition of Golfweek Magazine.

The European Tour’s lucrative Rolex Series may have made many tour pros richer, but the eight tournaments appear to have made it harder for European Tour Qualifying School grads to keep their cards.

The numbers following the Andalucia Valderrama Masters, the last counting event for most of the Qualifying School grads, prove just how difficult it is to survive on the European circuit for those at the bottom of the food chain. It’s nearly impossible.

Qualifying School grads had to earn E140,698 (approx. $163,000) more than last season to keep their cards. Those eight Rolex Series events worth a minimum of $7 million each have raised the bar considerably for the tour minnows.

England’s Graeme Storm finished 111th on last year’s European Race to Dubai to take the last card for this season. (Storm got the last spot despite finishing outside the cut off 110 spot because Patrick Reed didn’t play enough tournaments to keep his membership.) Storm earned E247,647 (approx. $292,000).

Players had to finish inside the top 100 this season to retain cards for 2018. Marcel Siem is in the 101st spot with E388,345 (approx. $450,000) after the Andalucia Valderrama Masters. (The mark goes to 101st because 20th-ranked Hideto Tanihara is not a full member of the Tour).

The comparison between last year’s Qualifying School graduates and this year’s shows a stark difference in success rates. Twenty-seven players (the top 25 and ties) earned European Tour cards at the 2015 Qualifying School. Nine made enough money in 2016 to keep their cards for this year. Twelve kept their cards in 2015, nine the previous year, and six in 2012.

Only three of the 30 players who earned cards at last year’s Qualifying School earned enough money this season to keep their playing rights for 2018. That’s an all-time low. Eddie Pepperell, 2010 Ryder Cup player Edoardo Molinari and England’s Ashley Chesters are the only success stories.

PASSAU, GERMANY – AUGUST 18: Edoardo Molinari of Italy is seen during day two of the Saltire Energy Paul Lawrie Matchplay at Golf Resort Bad Griesbach on August 18, 2017 in Passau, Germany. (Photo by Thomas Niedermueller/Getty Images)

Chesters got his spot as one of the top 10 players on the new Access List, a ranking which excludes money from the most lucrative events with restrictive entry (Rolex Series, the Masters, PGA Championship and the four World Golf Championships). It was specially designed to counteract limited entry to the big events, yet Chesters is the only Q-School grad to emerge from it.

Moreover, main tour starts seem harder to come by this year. Qualifying School grads averaged 20 starts in 2016 compared to 19 this year. As for the chance to play in those Rolex Series events, that’s a pipe dream for most. Just nine of the 30 made Rolex Series starts.

You don’t need a PhD in advanced mathematics to realize it’s harder to keep a card for those who only play in low-purse tournaments. Last-place money in the $7 million tournaments is $13,000 compared to $2,000 in, say, the Joburg Open. It drops to $1,000 in the bottom-of-the-food-chain Portugal Open, an event worth just $590,000. Joburg, Portugal, the SA Open, Tshwane Open, Lyoness Open and other low-purse tournaments are the starts most Qualifying School grads get.

Players pay $2,100 to enter Qualifying School. Exactly 838 players teed it up at first stage this year, with the Tour hoping that figure will increase to 1,000 for all three stages to break the previous record of 969. Do the math: that’s a bonus of $2.1 million for the European Tour’s coffers. Nice cash if you can get it, but is it a wise investment for players considering the numbers this year?

“It’s almost a waste of money,” said one European Tour player who did not wish to be identified. “When you get your card you’re on a high, but it quickly becomes a downer when you realize you’re going to struggle to get enough starts to keep it. You can go weeks without a start on the main tour, so it’s hard to get into any kind of rhythm, and then the pressure is on to play well every time you tee it up. And most of us don’t play the Rolex events. You end up getting caught in no man’s land between the main tour and Challenge Tour, and you have to make decision on which one to focus on.”

He’s right. Most players bounce back and forth between the main tour and Challenge Tour. The top 15 on the Challenge Tour gain cards for the next season.

There’s obviously a simple answer to the problem facing Qualifying School graduates: play better. Golf was never meant to be fair and professional golf is a straightforward example of Darwin’s survival of the fittest theory. However, it seems those guys who stump up $2,100 for 10 rounds of hell hoping to get a Tour card aren’t getting as fair a deal as previous competitors.

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