The 2011 European Tour Q School is now officially underway and it might surprise you that this fact is of interest to golfing stars of the stature of Nick Dougherty and Oliver Wilson. Why? Because in three months time, these two stars of the main Tour – who are having poor seasons by their own high standards – look odds-on to be teeing it up at Q School’s Final Stage in early December in an effort to secure their Tour Cards.

This is certain proof that the European Tour has become staggeringly competitive, especially when you realise that both Dougherty and Wilson were good enough to make the GB&I team in the Seve Trophy as recently as 2009. Yet right now their season’s will probably climax with the Final Stage Q School in December.

When I was writing the two Golf On The Edge books about the Q School, one of the most eloquent players I spoke to was Dougherty. He told me with almost a visible shudder during one interview how he never wanted to return to the School (he breezed through in 2001 on the wave of confidence from a successful Walker Cup appearance).

He said: “There are certain people who won’t get through (Q School). A lot of people are just not good enough or they have a full-time club pro’s job or other aspirations. But if you dedicate your life to it then it can happen. The people who are passionate about golf and who give it the time, they are the ones who should keep trying at Q School.”

Nick also said that he NEVER wanted to return. “[A return to Q School] is not something I’d cherish,” was how he put it then, but it’s on his mind now, for sure. The Liverpool lad made his first cut on the season in the Omega Masters in Switzerland earlier this month (and even led after a first-round 63), but he finished tied 45th and earned only a few thousand Euros.

Meanwhile, Oliver Wilson – who might have played in the Ryder Cup, but has yet to win a European Tour tournament – is another who cannot seem to find any consistent form this year. Oliver has at least made 10 cuts in 21 events this season, but he stands at 151st in the Race To Dubai with only the top 115 gaining Tour Cards. Both he and Dougherty have no more than 10 more tournaments to turn their seasons around.

In the opening two First Stage Q School events last week, Ireland’s Gary Murphy and the talented South Korean Jin Jeong were among those so far to have been eliminated while Northern Ireland’s former Walker Cup player Jonathan Caldwell – an amateur contemporary of Rory McIlroy – was one of the 45 lucky ones to have already won through to Second Stage. Two more First Stage events take place at Wychwood Park in Crewe, Cheshire, and Fleesensee in Germany this week.

But there is hope – the much-sought-after bounce-back capability from Q School, just ask Simon Khan who won the 2009 School and then took the PGA Championship title at Wentworth only six months later. Given the choice, of course, learning Khan-type lessons at Q School is something neither Dougherty nor Wilson wants to experience.

Ross Biddiscombe is the author of two books about the European Tour Qualifying School. For more details, go to golfontheedge.co.uk