This week I was taking my first steps towards earning a European tour Card. For those who don’t know, there are many various routes to playing on the European Tour. You have the European Tour, which is like the Premier league, the crème of the crop. Below that tier you have the Challenge tour, which boasts very good players biding their time on the stepping-stone to the some of the best tournaments in the world. Below the Challenge tour you have the Mini-tours (MENA, Europro, Alps), which provides a feeder for players to learn the trade of tour golf whilst also competing at a good standard. You can work your way up the tiers by finishing on top of each order of merits of those tours. Finish in the top 5 on the Europro or the Alps Tour and you punch your ticket to the Challenge tour, or a category at least. The Mena Tour doesn’t give you any Challenge Tour status. Finish on top of the MENA order of merit and you earn 4 European Tour invitations, a league up. These invitations are into some of biggest events on the European Tour. The MENA tour also provides Sunshine Tour Cards, which entitles you to play in South Africa, another route to the European Tour, the route Shwartzel and Oousthoiusen took. Unless you’ve signed to a management group or had a successful amateur career (Mcilroy had 7 european tour invites when he first turned pro to earn enough money to earn a card, he did it after 4 invites I believe), or the other option, you can go to Qualifying School. European Q-school is a tournament broken down into 3 stages, to filter the best from the best. Stage 1 is held at numerous venues across the globe 4 rounds of golf and 20% of the fields make it through to the next stage. Stage 2 is held over 4 venues in Spain and again, after another 4 rounds its usually 20% of the fields who make it through to final stage of qualifying. The final stage also in Spain, is 6 rounds of 130 hopefuls; if you make the cut here after 4 rounds you guarantee yourself a Challenge tour card. For those who finish in the top 25 you earn yourself European Tour status.
With the hefty price of £1500 just for the entry fee, I entered Q school this year to not only try get through but also to see what all the fuss was about. First stage for me was held at Stoke-by-Nayland (Stoke-by-nowhere) down near Colchester. The course is very similar to my home club in Leeds, Moor Allerton; Undulating holes, large sloping greens and some sneaky water. It suited my game great and after the practice rounds I felt comfortable and confident.
I’ve been to other Qualifying schools but never experienced a tournament like this before, so it was all-new to me. The atmosphere was mega tense, almost uncomfortable. Conversations with the other players seemed reserved as they were out to beat you just as much as you were out to beat them. Its not like normal touring events where you get paid at the end of the week. You have to finish in to top 20 players (of 108) or you go home with nothing. It doesn’t sound like a difficult task but nobody can understand until they feel the pressure of this environment. You only get this opportunity once a year, 365 day until the next one, better play well!
I played very solid. Probably the most solid tournament I have ever played. I had full control of my ball and we plotted our way round the course to give ourselves as many opportunities as possible. My focus for the week was to have no fear, play with full commitment to my decisions and to express myself through my golf ball. With my mate Brad on the bag we proved a solid team and worked together great, he kept me in the present and took my mind off the pressure of the situation as much as possible. We tried to have fun and I had a reminder in my course planner for whenever I looked at it I had to smile.
Before the tournament I asked a good friend Simon Hurd for some words of wisdom as he’s been and qualified before. He nailed it on the head when he said, you’ve got to go there and think you’re the best golfer in the field, you own the golf course, your in full control and are more than capable to get through the first stage easy.
Round 1 and 2, my playing partners and their caddies said it was a pleasure to watch me play. I played great and composed myself even better! After getting off to an uneasy start I was 3 over through 4 holes. Shocking! I believed there’s plenty of holes and opportunities to get back in it. I chipped in for eagle on the par 5 14th hole (I started on the back 9) and then pitched in from 55 yards on the tight par 4 15th when I took a ballsy move, and crushed a drive to get close to green. My work with Graham my coach was proving dividends so I pushed on. I hit the green in two on the 16th par 5 and agonizingly hit the lip of the hole to give me a tap in birdie. I wasn’t amazed that I just made back-to-back eagles, I was gutted that I didn’t make back to back to back eagles! I finished round 1 sloppy with missed par save for 70 -1.
Round 2 I was in full control, I didn’t hit one bad shot! I hit it where I wanted, I didn’t play aggressive, I played smart and played to the safe spots of the pins and left myself with plenty of chances for birdies. With a infuriating 3 putt finish after playing great for a 69 -2, I was outside the top 10 looking promising; in full control. I didn’t hole many putts both days but I had faith that putter would warm up with two rounds to go and hole some bombs!
Round 3 the wind blew hard and with an afternoon tee time, it began to swirl in hills of the golf course, which made judging it difficult. I hit it good but not great, I wasn’t as confident as the first two days but my misses were still ok. Aside one destructive shot that cost me a double bogey I battled away. The putter didn’t warm up, it stayed cold, ice cold. The greens were so pure, running about 12 on the stimp meter, with the slick undulations and the sneaky little breaks here and there I couldn’t get my head around them! When you read a putt from one side and it looks like it breaks from left to right, and then look at it from the other side it breaks right to left, the brain becomes confused and trust and vision is lost. I believed in my routine and trusted my process and stuck with it not deviating in trying to change my putting technique. I 3-putted the last two greens to shoot +3 74 to bring me back to Level for the tournament and sitting T23rd. I came off furious, I asked Brad “how the F**k am I level par for this tournament!?) With 1 round to go and still in touching distance I headed to the practice putting green and stayed until I couldn’t see the balls in the dark. We were still in it
Round 4 I was determined and motivated. Round 3 was possibly a little sloppy in focus and I was maybe a little too chatty and not switched on. The last round I was so deep in the zone I rarely spoke, the odd laugh with brad to lighten the pressure kept me in good stead. Being in the zone is kind of one of the reasons I play golf, everything’s so effortless and flows. I was cool, calm and collective, almost spaced out and I loved it. I hit the ball f**king awesome, better than the first three days combined. Unfortunately, the ball just didn’t go in the hole for me, it wasn’t like I didn’t hit good putts, it seemed like an invisible barrier was protecting the hole. Looking back, the first two holes sealed the fate of the day, I didn’t let it rule the rest of the round, but if they went in the hole I think I would be writing this blog a little happier. On the first hole my putt from 12 feet for birdie was swinging with momentum and gravity into the center of the cup but the golfing gods said not today son. It shaved the edge and I looked at Brad in pure disbelief! The second hole I hit the perfect drive and second shot into a difficult par 5 green. I hit a great 40ft putt up and across a tiered slope to 1 and a half-foot. You know what’s coming next. I even double read it. It didn’t even hit the hole and I smashed the 3ft return in with a calm rage. 4th hole another missed 15ft for birdie, 5th hole missed 6ft for birdie and the story goes on… I 3 putted 12 and then 16, an easy birdie Par 5. The last hole summed the day up. A 195yard par 3 with a flag tucked away that far it was basically off the green. I said to Brad on the tee I could hole this (this is how confident I was). It pitched a foot away from the hole and rolled to 5 ft, Yep you guessed it, I missed it. We all shook hands and I threw the ball as far as I could into the lake below. Feeling physically sick I signed for 72, +1 for the Tournament and on a day where it was out there to shoot low I went backwards on the leaderboard and fell to 33rd. Completely and utterly gutted. I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t hit one bad shot. I had 11 three putts for the week. I missed qualifying by 4 shots. Ive played on better and faster greens, but I’m putting it down to inexperience on greens of that caliber. My green reading skills need to improve if that’s the standard week in week out on the main Tour.
Aside the sheer disappointment, things happen for a reason, and there are so many positives to take from the week. It’s a tough pill to swallow and 2017 feels like failure after failure. Golf can truly beat you down but I see light at the end of the tunnel so it’s not going to stop me. Maybe I wasn’t ready; maybe I’ve failed for a greater reason. If this is what it takes to become a world-beater then so be it. I’ve learnt so much more about myself as a person and in my potential. I feel my game is in one of the best places it can be and with a few more tournaments coming up, on greens I know, I think I can be deadly in the coming weeks. I’m back in Abu Dhabi for the Abu Dhabi GOLF CITIZEN Open at Yas Links, I finished 4th here last year. Good things are coming, Watch this space!
I hope you all have a great week and see you soon
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