It’s not been the happiest of hunting grounds for Scots recently. The last two stagings have passed, in fact, without anyone from the game’s cradle passing the examination. With quality rather than quantity, though, hopes are high that the final of this season’s European Tour Qualifying School in Girona won’t be another sorry tartan tale.
Numerically, it could easily viewed as disappointing that seven Scots are in a field that includes no fewer than 38 English players. Without a shadow of doubt, though, the “Class of 2016” is the strongest Caledonian contingent for this event for many a year. Even better is the fact it comprises of a nice blend of youth – well sort of, anyway – and experience.
The biggest shot in the arm for Scottish golf would undoubtedly be if either – or both – Bradley Neil or Grant Forrest, 20 and 23 respectively, emerged from the six-round marathon with a main Tour card. Is that really possible? Yes. It’s been a tough start to life in the paid ranks for Neil, but all credit to the 2014 Amateur champion for showing tremendous resolve to come through the first two stages, winning his opening test in Austria, to give himself this opportunity. As for Forrest, he’s just getting started in the paid ranks, but seems to have taken to it like a duck to water. With a Challenge Tour spot secured for next season, anything better is a bonus. The former Scottish Amateur champion is playing with so much confidence, though, that a place in the top 25 is definitely achieveable.
The same applies to David Law, Ross Kellett and Scott Henry, the trio bidding to make the most of a second bite of the cherry after coming up short in the card battle on this season’s Challenge Tour. Law may have found his form too late to get in the mix for the second-tier circuit, but the two-time Scottish Amateur champion heads into this test in fine fettle. Winning one of the second-stage events elsewhere in Spain earlier this week was a timely boost.
Kellett also passed that test quite comfortably and returns to the final better equipped than 12 months ago, when he bowed out after four rounds. The Motherwell man has Davy Kenny, Paul Lawrie’s caddie on the bag, and his experience will be very useful indeed. As for Henry, who is paying his eighth visit to the final in nine years, he’s shown signs lately that his game is close to clicking. And, if it does, the 29-year-old has a great chance of being back on the stage where he got himself in the mix in the 2013 Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles.
Peter Whiteford and Craig Lee make up the “Tartan Army”. At 36 and 39 respectively, they may be in a different position in terms of where they are in their careers compared to the others. It wouldn’t be a “wasted” card, though, in either case. Whiteford, pictured, held one, after all, for five seasons in a row and came close to winning in Korea in 2013. The Fifer may not have coped too well being back on the Challenge Tour, but he’s not been alone in that respect. His career could easily take off again back on the top Tour.
Lee, meanwhile, is the strongest prospect of all the Scottish hopefuls to be among those card recipients next Thursday. The Stirling man, after all, fell just one spot short in the end in the Race to Dubai of avoiding a first visit back to the Qualifying School since 2010. He’s looked at home on the European Tour over the past five seasons, almost winning the European Masters in 2013.
“It’s been quite sombre since Portugal [where he narrowly missed the cut in the final regular event of the season],” admitted Lee. “The way I finished the season shows my game is good, but that only makes it more disappointing that I didn’t hold on to my card. I’d love to keep playing on the European Tour as I definitely feel there is a bit more to get out of my game.”
Looking ahead to a test starting tomorrow, he added: “People always think scoring at the Q School final is going to be ridiculously low, a bit like it is for Open qualifying. But that’s not the case. I’ve played at PGA Catalunya a few times, in the Spanish Open and a few pro-ams as well as Q School finals, so I know the courses. I’ve played a few tough courses over the past few years, so perhaps PGA Catalunya, which I used to think was tough, might be a bit easier in comparison.”
The strength of this year’s final field should be an eye-opener for young amateurs perhaps looking to switch to the paid ranks in the next few seasons. It includes a major winner, after all, in 2009 US PGA champion Y E Yang, as well as a number of European Tour winners, notably two former Scottish Open champions, Johan Edfors and Edoardo Molinari, and two Dunhill Links champions, Michael Hoey and Oliver Wilson.