Having negotiated the first stage in style with a win in France just under a month ago, Sam Locke is feeling quietly confident as the young Scot prepares to resume his bid to secure a European Tour card for next season.
The second stage of the circuit’s Qualifying School gets under way at four venues in Spain on Thursday, with Locke, the Silver Medal winner in last year’s Open Championship at Carnoustie last year, among 13 Scots hoping to keep their hopes alive in the annual card battle.
By his own admission, Locke’s first full season in the professional ranks has not been what he wouldd have liked in terms of results, having managed only one top-ten finish on the third-tier PGA EuroPro Tour as he missed out on the end-of-season Tour Championship in Spain last week.
However, his patience and hard work were rewarded as he shot rounds of 69-72-66-65 for a 12-under-par total as he recorded a two-shot win at Golf d’Hardelot in France in one of nine first-stage events for a record 842 entries in this year’s Qualifying School.
“I don’t actually feel I have played badly this season,” said Locke, who is both managed and mentored by Paul Lawrie. “It’s been very much a nearly season. Things just haven’t happened, so it was nice to play well and get a good result in the first stage.
“I played at Frilford Heath last year and that tends to be a place I struggle. I wanted to go somewhere fresh and different and, thankfully, it worked out for me at Golf d’Hardelot. The first three days especially were really tough with showers and wind. It was gusting about 45mph in the third round. I was five under that day, having played well in the tough conditions.”
Locke’s second-stage test is at Club de Golf Bonmont in Tarragona, where the field also includes Sam Saunders, the grandson of Arnold Palmer, and Manuel Ballesteros, nephew of Seve Ballesteros, as well as two fellow Scots, Ryan Lumsden and John Henry.
“It is supposed to be a nice track and I am looking forward to it,” added 21-year-old Locke. “You just have to take it one step at a time. The final stage is the week after, so I am looking to get there and go all the way. But I have to focus on the second stage first.
“Paul has encouraged me to stay patient and keep working hard. In this game, it’s not all going to go well all the time. I know how close it is and, if I keep chipping away, I know it will come.
“This season I don’t feel I have necessarily been playing worse than when I did really well in the Open last year and then also did well in the Portugal Masters. It’s just been one bad round here and there that has been holding me back.
“Based purely on results, it doesn’t look like the best of seasons, but I know how close it is. I’ve just been trying to stay patient, keeping my head down and getting on with it. Hopefully it will all come right at the right time. Everyone has an equal chance. It’s about trying to play your best golf and, if I play like I did in France, I believe that will be good enough to get me through to the final.”
Since that first-stage success, Locke has been practising hard at the Paul Lawrie Golf Centre on the outskirts of Aberdeen and also playing competitive matches with friends at both Banchory and Royal Aberdeen to try to keep his game as sharp as possible.
“I’ve learned a lot since turning pro and I feel as though I’ve become a much better player in that time. Hopefully I can start making my results show that,” he said.
“Patience and perseverance are two things I have learned a lot about this year while I have also learned how to figure out things for myself and how to score with a bad game. As a pro, you just have to get on with it. Your mistakes are punished more due to the fact you are playing against better players.
“Sometimes as an amateur if I was struggling I would find it harder to score. But now I feel like my bad shots are starting to get a little bit better. It’s about learning how to do well with a B game as you are not going to play well all the time.”
Other Scottish players taking part in the second stage include recent professional recruit Euan Walker, pictured left, who is in the field at Las Colinas along with Duncan Stewart, Craig Ross and Craig Howie, as well as former Amateur champion Bradley Neil, who lines up at Alenda Golf along with Chris Doak, Scott Henry and Kris Nicol.
Paul Ferrier, who finished joint second in his first-stage event at Bom Sucesso in Portugal, is bidding to progress at Desert Springs, where Daniel Young will be hoping to benefit from also playing there last week in the PGA EuroPro Tour Championship.