Whilst those who have already gained access to the lucrative pots on offer on the European Tour pluck further rewards in the Far East or put their feet up in Ireland, a bunch of young hopefuls are trying to get their foot in the Tour door in Gerona in Northern Spain this week.
They are participating in the Tour qualifying school. After having got through all of the regional and national qualifying rounds they have gathered to play six rounds of medal play golf over two courses. Only the top 35 will be awarded the magic card that opens the door to automatic qualification for all European Tour events.
The young hopefuls are mixed in with the greats of yesteryear who, having slipped into the lower regions of the OM, have found themselves relegated. The has-beens group is made up of names that fluttered into prominence and lingered in the light before; as forty-somethings, they find themselves confronting reality. The list contains names like Paul Broadhurst and Steven Richardson, both Ryder Cup players and past-winners on the tour. Also in their ranks is 41-year-old Mark Mouland who, as recently as 2001, made over a quarter of a million pounds on the tour.
It is the amount of money on offer that brings the oldies back and spurs the efforts of the young hopefuls. And who can blame them? There is £60 million on offer in the European Tour coffers whilst the fledgling Challenge Tour - designed originally as a stepping-stone to the real thing, only has a fund of £3.5 million. You can make a very good living off the former, but in the latter you will be living with the frugality of a church mouse.
Hardly surprising, then, that so many who have enjoyed success at the highest level of amateur golf are prepared to lay their game on the line in Gerona. With the first two rounds shared between the Pals and Emparda Clubs and the last four rounds on the latter, qualification is hard work. When you consider that every golfing hard man in Europe is there and ready to kill for a place, it is also tough.
Money is a powerful driver. Quite apart from Goosen, Harrington, Montgomerie and Romero - who all made around 2 million Euros on the tour last year - young blades like Scott, Garcia and Rose all made over 1 million. Even if you make 25th place on the OM, like Thomas Levet of momentary Open fame, you stand to make near the million mark. David Gilford in 50th place made nearly half a million and Andrew Oldcorn in 100th spot made nearly 200K.
The young look to their contemporaries who have already made it onto the tour, many of whom they have trounced in their amateur days, and not surprisingly seek a piece of the pie too. But what of the not-so-young? What motivates them?
It is surely understandable that a player of Mark Mouland's calibre whose earnings have fallen through the floor in only a year should nurse the enthusiasm to turn back the clock. Consider his position, for he is certainly in something of a quandary. His sponsorship from Mizumo and Kartel is dependent upon his exposure on the European Tour. If he fails this qualifying school, and he surely will, he will be forced to play on the Challenge Tour where he cannot possibly earn enough to keep a wife and two children in the manner to which they have become accustomed.
Mouland's dilemma should be noted by all of the young aspirants. Here is a man who has represented his country, tasted the euphoria of success and the despair of failure whilst spending much of his career in that agonising nearly zone. Lawrence Donegan painted the picture of Ross Drummond's struggles well in his book 'Four Iron in the Soul'. Playing golf for a living is neither rocket science nor is it brain surgery, it is something much more difficult and unpredictable. Who, for instance, would have thought that Justin Rose would find a place in the sun with his game whilst the powerful Gordon Sherry would be left in the shade?
And of this years crop, Euan Little and Murray Urquart are the likely men to make it through to the Tour whilst Barry Hume and Gordon Sherry will have to come back another day. Golf is as fickle as the weather and a lot less predictable.
|| 19 - NOVEMBER 2002