Tait’s Take: European Tour Qualifying School hopefuls face ultimate pressure

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Tait’s Take: European Tour Qualifying School hopefuls face ultimate pressure

Euro Tour

Tait’s Take: European Tour Qualifying School hopefuls face ultimate pressure

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There’s a lot of pressure riding on this week’s European Tour event. No, not the $7.5 million Nedbank Golf Challenge, but the European Tour Qualifying School.

There is no pressure in Sun City. These guys have made so much money this season even their caddies are probably looking forward to buying some nice Christmas presents for their loved ones.

Zander Lombard was the last man into the Nedbank field. He’s earned €516,066.22 this season, $586,671.44 on today’s dollar exchange rate. The guys playing the Final Qualifying Stage at Lumine Golf Club in Tarragona, Spain November 15-20 dream of earning that sort of money.

Most of them won’t get the chance.

There are just 25 European Tour cards on offer for the 156 competitors at final stage. Put another way, 131 are going to fail.

Most Q-School rookies will already have frayed nerves at the prospect of trying to get a ticket for the world’s second-best tour. It might not pay them to look around at who they’re competing against.

There are multiple tour winners, players who flirted with major glory, seemingly can’t miss kids who made big noises in the amateur game still trying to find a European Tour foothold, and even a Ryder Cup player in the field.

Jamie Donaldson is the Ryder Cup player in question. He earned the winning point in the 2014 match at Gleneagles when he defeated Keegan Bradley 4-and-3. Those were halcyon days for the Welshman. He picked up his third European Tour victory that year and finished fourth on the Race to Dubai to better his fifth place the previous year.

The closest the affable Welshman has come to Ryder Cup action since Gleneagles is acting as an on-course commentator. To be fair, the 44-year-old has been hampered by a wrist injury that required surgery at the end of last year. However, he’s a salutary lesson that success in this game is ephemeral if your last name isn’t Woods, McIlroy, Koepka or Mickelson.

Gonzalo Fdez-Castano, Matteo Manassero, Darren Fichardt, Michael Hoey, Marc Warren, Gregory Havret and Lee Slattery are among those joining Donaldson as multiple European Tour winners. Fdez-Castano has seven victories. Fichardt and Hoey have five and 2009 British Amateur champion Manassero four, including the 2013 BMW PGA Championship.

Three-time winner Havret finished runner-up to Graeme McDowell in the 2010 U.S. Open.

Pitting their talents against this experienced group is a plethora of young talent that includes Ireland’s Paul Dunne, Scott Gregory of England, South Africa’s Wilco Nienaber and Australian David Micheluzzi. Dunne won the 2017 British Masters, returning a closing 61 to hold off a charging Rory McIlroy. That was supposed to be Dunne’s stepping stone to more wins and a possible 2018 Ryder Cup spot.

Gregory, like Manassero, is a recent British Amateur champion who played on the 2017 Walker Cup alongside Robert Macintyre, the player he defeated to win the 2016 British Amateur. Micheluzzi reached world number two on the World Amateur Golf Ranking and is a player to watch out for. So is Nienaber. He qualified for the match play stages of the 2018 British Amateur as leading qualifier, and is arguably a better prospect than compatriot and that year’s champion Jovan Rebula.

The survival of the fittest contest that is the Qualifying School not only means only 25 and ties can qualify for the European Tour, but those who do probably won’t survive. Just seven of the 27 card earners at last year’s Q-School kept their cards this year. Seven players of the 33 graduates in 2017 kept their cards in 2018.

U.S. citizen Kurt Kitayama is a seminal lesson that Q-School persistence can pay off. He came through all three stages last year and has two European Tour wins to his name. His playoff loss in last week’s Turkish Airlines Open saw him move to 11th on the Race to Dubai with €1.67 in earnings, approximately $1.8 million.

It costs €2,030, or $2,235, to enter Q-School. Twenty-two hundred dollars for the chance to win $1.8 million might seem like a good investment. However, for most it will just be more money spent chasing a dream that probably won’t come true.

Pressure? The ultimate pressure can be found every year at the Qualifying School.

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