Martin Dempster: Challenge of gaining Tour card

Paisley's Alastair Forsyth has won back his place on the European Tour but knows that the real battle is just beginning. Picture: Getty
Paisley's Alastair Forsyth has won back his place on the European Tour but knows that the real battle is just beginning. Picture: Getty
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JOB half done. That was Alastair Forsyth’s own summing up of his achievement in winning back a place on the European Tour after a three-year absence via last week’s Qualifying School in Girona.

For someone less experienced, the feat would have been cause for cartwheels and, at one time, securing a coveted card at the end of what, effectively, is a 14-round test, was akin to being handed a golden key.

Of course, Forsyth, a two-times European Tour winner, is delighted to be back on that stage. Along with fellow Scot Jack Doherty, he succeeded last week where the likes of Oliver Wilson, Oliver Fisher, Bradley Dredge, Richard Finch and Johan Edfors all failed.

Forsyth, though, is long enough in the tooth to know that a Qualifying School card is no longer what it is cracked up to be, especially when you finish in 20-something spot, as both he and Doherty did at PGA Catalunya.

They will not get in any of the three Middle East events in January or February. Co-sanctioned affairs in the Far East will also be a no go, as probably will the run of big-money summer tournaments – the Irish Open, the BMW International Open, the French Open and the Scottish Open.

Where Forsyth and Doherty will get to play, in the early part of a 2014 schedule that starts on Thursday, is in South Africa, though, even then, there are no guarantees. Forsyth, for example, was second reserve on Sunday night for this week’s South African Open and faced a frantic dash halfway round the world yesterday after he got in the field in Gauteng.

He is not the first player to find himself in that position, of course, and certainly won’t be the last. However, it’s easy to see why Andrew Coltart, a European Tour player himself for two decades, believes Qualifying School graduates now have little or no chance of holding on to their card and securing that vital foothold on the ladder.

“I fear qualifying from Tour School doesn’t give you a real crack at the whip,” said the former Ryder Cup player who is now a valued member of the Sky Sports golf team. “You just have to look at the money available in the opportunities that the likes of Alastair Forsyth and Jack Doherty have got. It’s more opportunity to spend more but not make more headway or compete.

“The disparity between top-end events and bottom-end events on European Tour is now vast – nearly insurmountable, in fact. While everyone is focusing on how great these top-end events are, the remainder of the Tour has suffered almost beyond repair. It is harder than it has ever been and nobody is paying attention.”

With more limited-field events than ever before, Coltart likens a Tour card these days as entry to a secondary circuit. “While it seems every effort is made to accommodate the top players, there seems less focus on the main structure of the Tour,” he added. “The gap in prize money between these events must be closed to preserve the European Tour. Where we used to compete with the top players who played four majors, they now have to compete with players allowed to count earnings and rankings in prize-money equivalent to 11 majors! It’s self-perpetuating.”

The statistics back him up. Of the 28 players to earn cards through the Qualifying School 12 months ago, only six – John Parry, Eduardo De La Riva, Matthew Nixon, Andy Sullivan, Morten Orum Madsen and Alexander Levy – held on to them by finishing in the top 110 in the Race to Dubai at the end of the regular season. All but Levy, who transformed his year with one good finish – third behind Ernie Els in the BMW International Open – and Madsen also secured tickets inside the top ten at the Qualifying School.

Coltart, a Queen of the South fan, used a football analogy to highlight how difficult he feels it has become to cement a place at European golf’s top table. “It’s like allowing the teams in the Champions League to add their points to the Premier League while trying to get into Europe,” he said. “It will never be a level playing field but, at the moment, it’s Everest.”

Forsyth will take being back at base camp for the time being. He is grateful that so many people, including those holding the purse strings on a national tabloid that carries his weekly column, retained their belief in him. He is also confident that his game is well and truly on the up again thanks to Ian Rae. It is, indeed, only a job half done, but it’s great to see Forsyth back on the European Tour and Doherty there for the first time, the Ayrshireman having gone about his business quietly and efficiently since first giving a glimpse of his potential when being crowned as Australian Amateur champion a decade ago.

Walker Cup still a stepping-stone for US stars

DID Great Britain & Ireland really win the 2011 Walker Cup at Royal Aberdeen? The reason I ask is because the defeated United States team was, as we suspected at the time, full of potential major winners.

Harris English has just claimed his second PGA Tour title in 14 events after storming to a four-stroke victory in the OHL Classic in Mexico – the only player other than Rory McIlroy currently under 25 with two or more wins on the US circuit.

Jordan Spieth, this season’s Rookie of the Year, and Russell Henley have also recorded PGA Tour triumphs in the wake of that Granite City disappointment while another member of the visiting team there, Peter Uihlein, won on the

European Tour this year en route to finishing 14th in the Race to Dubai.

I’ve heard it said more than once in recent years, especially on this side of the Atlantic, that the Walker Cup isn’t the be all and end all. It’s not and the likes of Ian Poulter and Paul Lawrie didn’t need to go down that route to achieve the phenomenal success both of them have enjoyed in the paid ranks.

Add in the fact that Webb Simpson, Dustin Johnson, Rickie Fowler, Billy Horschel, Kyle Stanley and Chris Kirk all played in the 2007 match at Royal County Down, though, and there’s no doubt the

biennial event is still the main breeding ground for America’s stars of the future.