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A ticket for the gravy train
Secure in the knowledge that their places in Europe are secure next year, Brian Davies, Alan McLean, Greg Owen and Philip Price have all secured places in the finals of the US Tour qualifying next month. The task that they have set themselves is not easy but failure to qualify hardly signals penury. There is pressure enough but it is as nothing compered to the pressure experienced by the 168 hopefuls who reached the final qualifying stage for a place on the European Tour in 2005.

Roger Chapman said that the qualifying school's final was like playing 108 first holes in the Open. Certainly it must be a nerve-wracking experience and the 39 who finally won through to a ticket for the European Tour gravy train will sleep well tonight in Cadiz.

The six rounds of golf played over the Old and New courses at San Roque, between the 11th and 16th November are a stern test of golf by any standard. Knowing that the reward for success is a place on the Tour must surely test the faint-of-heart and hone an edge of steel on the soul of those that survive it. The top-35 out of a final stage sporting field of 168 players must be tough guys, physically and mentally, and must suffer from some sort of compulsive desperation disorder to put themselves through it - despite the money.

Of this starting 168, 78 gained exemption to this stage through regular and Challenge Tour performances. The other 90 had already been through hell as well as a great deal of money to get this far. For those guys, qualifying began some time ago in the first of three stages.

Qualifying to progress through stage one requires that you are in the top bracket at one of five venues - Chart Hills (Kent), De Vere Garden Park (Cheshire), Lytham St Anne's New Course (Lancs), Golf de Moliets (France) and Golf-Und Land-Club Koln (Germany). Having made your mark in stage one you progress to stage two in Spain.

Gerona and Valencia host stage two of 72 holes of golf. From stage two, the top 180 progress to stage three at San Roque where you have to prepare yourself for six consecutive days' play over two courses. Now is not the time to buy new shoes although you may require a lot of clean linen. You will not only be competing against the almost men of yesteryear but also against the best of the seasoned so-called amateurs from all corners of the continent. You will need luck, but you will also need machine like consistency and a putting touch that stays with you for a whole week.

Peter Gustafsson was the qualifying leader at San Roque after a final round of 68 - iron man stuff after six rounds. His name will be familiar to those who follow the Challenge Tour and those same few will be pleased for the young Swede. Peter took 16th place on the Tour, with the top-15 gaining automatic entry to the big time without having to go through the rigors of San Roque.

Simon Wakefield took second place, three shots behind and one shot ahead of another anticipated qualifier, Francois Delamantagne from France. Four players, all of whom get on the gravy train, shared 35th place, at seven over par.

Among the golfing household names that will be reappearing next year are the Scot Dean Robertson who took 29th place, the German, Sven Struver, who took 11th and Jarred Moseley from Australia who came in 25th. Had Moseley not made next year's Tour it would have been unjust for he missed out on automatic re-entry by less than £10 in the order of merit.

Of those who failed to make it, Peter Baker and Mark Mouland will be sadly missed. Baker won twice on the tour in '93 and unforgettably took three out of four points in his one Ryder Cup appearance when the US Team won at the Belfry. Mark Mouland has left a rich store of memories from his hell-raising days. His 22 years on the Tour must have taken a toll and subjecting himself to the young blades on the Challenge Tour last year could not have helped.

When Noel Coward recommended to Mrs Worthington that she should not put her daughter on the stage he was not referring to the girl's lack of talent but more to the costs incurred and the risks of moral jeopardy. Fathers should think hard about similarly indulging their sons in pro golf. Qualifying school must, of course, be a costly business but if anything is likely to drive a lad to perdition, the qualifying school must rank high on the risky scale. Those that fail after that much golf must surely wonder why they subjected themselves to it.

The annual qualifying in Spain ranks high on the punters excitement index of the Tour's year. Spotting a rookie year winner could seriously damage your bookie's health, as would targeting the newcomer for the Rookie of the Year title.

Pete Oakley, an American, is this year's Rookie of the Year. Pete Who, you may well ask. But remember that not so long ago another young American came to cut his teeth in Europe, Todd Hamilton, and many said 'Todd Who?' back then.

©    17 - NOVEMBER 2004

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