European Tour Q School – what's it all about?
We take a look inside probably the strangest week on the golfing calendar as 156 hopefuls prepare for Q School and a possible place on the European Tour.
The European Tour’s Qualifying School has been causing joy and pain in unequal measure since 1976. Over the years we’ve seen the likes of Justin Rose, Colin Montgomerie, Jose Maria Olazabal, Padraig Harrington and Sandy Lyle have all been through its doors, others like Ian Woosnam, Ian Poulter and Miguel Angel Jimenez have been regular visitors. In total there have been 22 major champions who have been to the School.
It’s a numbers game; nobody remembers the winner at the end of the six rounds rather the brave 25 who have punched their tickets to next year’s European Tour with that all-important Category 16 membership.
For the last nine years the School has been to PGA Catalunya, this year it is Lumine, south of Barcelona and one of the Second Qualifying Stages in previous years, that provides the setting. There are two courses here, the Lakes and the Hills.
How many started out?
Something like 1,000 hopefuls will have teed it up, beginning in Asia on September 5. There are four First Qualifying Stages in Europe in which a record 838 competitors, from 45 different nations, played across the eight venues.
Then last week there were four Second Qualifying Stages in Spain with around 21 spots available in each.
And now the Final Qualifying Stage. A player who comes through all three stages will have played 252 holes.
Who else makes it to Final Qualifying?
Those ranked 101-145th on the 2017 European Tour Race to Dubai rankings
Those outside the top 15 (16-45) on the Challenge Tour rankings
European Tour winners whose eligibility has now run out
The winner of last year’s Q School and last year’s Challenge Tour
Those ranked 41-75th on the European Tour’s Career Money List
Five players from the Asian Tour Order of Merit not otherwise eligible (up to 15th place)
The three leading players not otherwise eligible on the PGA Tour of Australasia, Japan Golf Tour and Sunshine Tour (up to 15th place)
Who gets a card for the European Tour?
Twenty-five players (and ties) will be awarded their card for 2018. Those players who finish outside the top 25 but make the cut after four rounds will receive a lower-ranking membership (and fewer starts) and those who don’t make the cut will be eligible to play on the Challenge Tour for 2018.
And there is little likelihood that they won’t get the six rounds in as two extra days have been pencilled in in case of any bad weather. Who are the big names this year?
Every one of the 156 players in Spain will have their own story of why they’re back at School or here for the first time and, come Thursday night, there will be tears of one sort or another as a last-hole birdie or bogey will have a huge influence on their 2018.
Then again it’s worth providing a note of caution; 20 of last year’s 20 success stories are back again this year. On the flip side Julian Suri missed out by a shot and then won the Made In Denmark in August.
One of the biggest names is Gonzalo Fernandez-Castaño and he wins the prize for having the best-known caddie in Alvaro Quiros – the pair have 14 wins between them.
The 37-year-old Spaniard has spent the past few years in the States and he is making his second appearance at the School, the first coming in 2004. The following season he was the Rookie of the Year.
“I’ve probably got the most overqualified caddie here. It’s been part of my plans since the beginning of the year because I want to go back to being a European Tour member. Even though I’m mainly living and playing more in the USA, it now makes sense with the new regulations of only having to play four tournaments,” he said.
“Having Alvaro on the bag, not just for being such an experienced player and knowledgeable guy but also having a friend on the bag for such an important week, where patience is going to be key, I think that’s going to help a lot and make it as fun as playing Q School can be.
“I remember before when I played, I checked the leaderboards after four rounds and I saw my name within the top 30 but there were still two days to go! And it’s not just two days, it’s probably the two most important days in your golfing career.”