Funny how this weekend’s golf in both Europe and America was as much about Q School as it was about the two tournaments themselves. Lee Slattery and Bryce Molder won on the European and PGA Tours respectively yesterday (Sunday), but the discussion was littered with comments about those who would miss having to go to the School in a few weeks time. Lee Slattery is a good example of a man whose win means so much.
The Southport pro appears every bit like a model on the golf course with his smart clothes, hairstyle and good looks, but he double bogeyed the last in Madrid to win with nerves that were almost tangible. This knee-knocking finish happened for two reasons – one, it was his first win on Tour and would give him two years of picking and choosing his events and, second, because the thought of going to Q School for the ninth time in his 15 years as a pro was heavy in his mind.
I’ve spoken to Lee several times at the School and he is as positive as anyone about his ability and he has always talked and acted like a man who would enjoy ultimate success on Tour. Yet he was 136th in the Race To Dubai before this weekend and that was 20 places outside the number of players who are guaranteed their Tour Card for next year. The School was definitely on his mind in Madrid. As it was with Bryce Molder who had never won in almost a decade on Tour in America and, like Lee, he certainly wanted to win, but he wanted to avoid the School just as much.
And now that First Stage of Q School is over (the last two of eight tournaments ended last Friday), the focus turns to young men like Tom Lewis, the Walker Cup star. Tom’s amateur career meant he was exempt from Q School First Stage, but can he earn enough in seven autumn invitations to get a Tour Card? That’s such a tough ask and almost every young player in this situation will eventually head for the School. The last player to do what Lewis is trying to do? Not surprisingly, it was Rory McIlroy in 2008.
Tom has made his first two cuts as a pro, but he has earned only €24,000 and needs €200,000 more in just five events with relatively low purses. He has hope, though, because on the PGA Tour 21-year-old Bud Cauley – who only turned pro this summer – finished third in the Frys.com Open on Sunday, picked up a cheque for $340,000 and will be on Tour full time in 2012.
Four good rounds in one week, that’s all it takes and Tom knows it. The trick with Q School, however, is tougher – he’ll need 10 good rounds over the Second Stage and Final Stage tournaments when he will experience nervousness like he’s never felt before.
“The tears of disappointment water the fairways at Q School,” a spectator said to me last week at Frilford Heath where Dale Whitnell – Walker Cup player in 2009 – won the event. It’s taken Dale two years to get this far in his pro career, so it’s not easy out there, Tom. And you don’t just have to ask Dale. Chat with Lee Slattery or even Bryce Molder some time soon.
Ross Biddiscombe is the author of two books about the European Tour Qualifying School. For more details, go to golfontheedge.co.uk