YOU only have to look at some of the names competing in the ongoing final stage of the European Tour Qualifying School to realise that, perhaps more than ever, past glories count for little in professional golf these days.
Johan Edfors, who won the Scottish Open at Loch Lomond in 2006, is among the hopefuls in Girona, as are several others who have tasted victory on the European Tour, including Alastair Forsyth, Peter Hedblom, Kenny Ferrie, Nickm Dougherty, Bradley Dredge, James Morrison, Rhys Davies, Ross McGowan, Scott Drummond and Ignacio Garrido. Two former Ryder Cup players, Philip Price and Oliver Wilson, are also taking part in the current card scramble.
Three years ago, Marc Warren was in exactly the same position. The gloss from two eye-catching victories – in the Scandinavian Masters then the Johnnie Walker Championship – plus a World Cup triumph in tandem with Colin Montgomerie, had gone along with his main Tour card.
Failing to make the final two rounds in the Qualifying School left the Rutherglen man back on the Challenge Tour, an experience he found hard to swallow yet, at the same time, was almost a necessary evil at that stage in his career.
He’d just made some swing changes with coach Pete Cowen, having linked up with the Englishman after splitting from Bob Torrance, and his belief in that process has been vindicated by the encouraging position the 32-year-old now finds himself in.
He’s just eight places away from breaking into the world’s top 100 and, lying 32nd heading into the season-ending DP World Tour Championship, is also on course to record a career-best finish in the Race to Dubai, having been 42nd on the money-list in both 2006 and 2007.
“The whole reason I went to Pete Cowen and making all the changes, essentially taking a step backwards, was to get better and get into these positions,” Warren told The Scotsman. “I felt I was capable of it and I don’t want to stop now. I want to keep improving and get better and better.
“I’ve got all the trust in the world in Pete and I feel as though I have learned so much more about my game under his guidance. He has so much knowledge from working with guys who’ve won umpteen tournaments out here.
“Even weeks like Turkey last week, when things didn’t feel quite right in the practice rounds, having an understanding of what I need to do was great. I was able to focus on getting back to what I need to do to play well rather than worrying about technique and swing.
“Coming down the last in the final round, I hit two perfect shots. I had a tough lie for my second shot with a 3-wood. It was way above my feet from 266 yards. All I was thinking about was starting it on the right edge of the green with a high type of hook and it was nice to pull off that shot.”
It helped Warren sign off with weekend rounds of 65 and 66 in the inaugural Turkish Airlines Open to finish joint seventh – his best performance since losing out to Matteo Manassero in a play-off at the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth in May. “Massively so, yes,” he replied to being asked if he felt a better player now than when he made the breakthrough on the main Tour seven years ago. “I’ve never been this high up on the Order of Merit so that alone says it. But there’s definitely way more to my game now.
“I’ve won events where my short game is great but now the stats prove that I’m longer and straighter. The results are there, too. I now just want to keep working hard and improving, Turkey was a nice boost towards the end of the year after the last couple of months had been a case of me going backwards in the Race to Dubai. Hopefully, it sets me up for another great week in Dubai.”
Warren shared the lead with eventual winner Rory McIlroy and Luke Donald in last year’s event on the Greg Norman- designed Earth Course at Jumeirah Estates before eventually finishing joint 26th.
“I opened with three good rounds here last year and probably just ran out of steam more than anything else. I didn’t get off to the best of starts in the final round and felt a bit subdued in the last round,” he recalled. “I’d played with Luke Donald on the Friday and Rory McIlroy on the Saturday and I remember feeling a bit flat on the Sunday. Now I’m really looking forward to this year’s event, especially after a good week in Turkey.”
Happiness off the course has also played its part in Warren’s resurgence. He’s enjoyed having wife Laura and their baby son, Archie, travelling with him a bit this year. Dubai, though, is the last stop on the Warren family’s journey.
“It’s Archie’s first Christmas so I think I’ll be taking time off in the run up to that rather than going to South Africa [for the start of the 2014 schedule],” he declared. “So I’ll be gearing up to start my new season in Abu Dhabi in January.”
Stephen Gallacher, bidding for a Dubai double after winning the Desert Classic back in February, Scott Jamieson and Craig Lee are the three other Scots in this week’s $8 million event.