The grey skies of Ayrshire were the background for Gary Wolstenholmes professional debut on Day One of the First Stage tournament at Dundonald in Scotland. Over 200 England amateur caps and 48-years-old, Gary joined the paid ranks on one of the most miserable of weather days. We amateurs can decide not to play of lousy days like this, but Garys a pro now and bad weather or not, hes got to be out there and battling for the cash. Like the 116 others at Dundonald, Gary has paid £1,250 to enter Q School, its absolutely chucking it down with rain and, unless he makes the cut after day three, it will mean this experience will have cost him £400 a round. Welcome to professional golf.
Normally, I dont turn a hair, but I was a bit more nervous today. It was a bit like when I played my first amateur event 25 years ago, said Gary after his 77 which puts him in the middle of the pack for one of the 26 places on offer in Scotland for Second Stage. This is a man who gives some hope to all the hackers in their 30s who have wet dreams about the Seniors Tour. Gary was a 23-handicapper at 18-years-old; five years later he was off scratch and only won his first amateur title at 31. Now hes one of the most decorated amateur players Britain has ever produced and could well make a fortune on the Seniors Tour in a couple of years time; thats his real goal although he wouldnt say no to Q School success this week or even at Final Stage in November (if he gets that far).
Gary started his pro career on a very difficult day where wind and rain sent scores rocketing. There was a 93 (21 over par) and even one no result from young South African amateur Brad van Eden who was 26 over par after only 14 holes. Yes, Q School is that tough.
Gary faces the same problem as all fortysomethings in the pros: hes teeing it up with players old enough to be his children and they all hit it a country mile. One such opponent was 33-year-old Craig Goodfellow, a former PGA National Assistants champion from Carlisle. Craigs remarkable 69 was three shots better than any of the morning starters at Dundonald and, even with a bit of afternoon sunshine, not a single other player broke par and got within three shots of him.
Craig was one of three outstanding performers on Day One of First Stage. Over in Germany at Fleesensee, Philip Jacobsen of Denmark had a similarly exceptional round, a 62 which put him into a four shot lead there. Also in Germany, Englands Danny Willett (former world amateur No 1 and a star of the future in the eyes of many observers) began his Q School attempt with a solid 68 and is well in contention. While at Chart Hills in Kent, Swedens Oskar Henningsson leads with an opening 63 from Englands Andy Smith (65) who is enjoying Q School on his home course.
But the torture of Q School is no better illustrated than at Dundonald where rounds were taking as long as five and a half hours its because every putt means so much and no one wants to fail and shatter their dreams. But only 25% of the field will progress to Second Stage when the three tournaments end on Friday evening. Its a whole heap of disappointed golfers, but thats Q School for you.
Q School First Stage Leaders
Dundonald Craig Goodfellow, 69; selected Gary Wolstenholme 77
Fleesensee Philip Jacobsen, 62; selected Danny Willett 68
Chart Hills – Oskar Henningsson, 63
Click on the link for more on Ross’ book Click on the link for more on Ross’ book Golf On The Edge: Triumphs & Tragedies Of Q School