WITH the Challenge Tour almost certainly about to come up dry for just the second time in the past 12 years, it will now be left to the Qualifying School to see if the Scottish contingent, currently standing at eight, can be bolstered on the European Tour next season.
Stage two of that gruelling annual test gets under way at four venues in Spain today, with 17 Scots setting out in the middle phase of three as they bid to join Stephen Gallacher, Paul Lawrie, Marc Warren, Richie Ramsay, Scott Jamieson, Chris Doak, David Drysdale and Craig Lee at the top table in European golf for the 2015 schedule.
Those card contenders have arrived at El Saler in Valencia, Las Colinas in Alicante, Panoramica in Castellon and Lumine in Tarragona through a variety of different routes, some feeling excited about the opportunity after stepping up to the plate at the first stage but others probably dreading it at the end of confidence-sapping campaigns.
Jamie McLeary, for example, is fighting for his future just four months after playing in the Open Championship at Royal Liverpool. A Challenge Tour graduate 12 months ago, the Bonnyrigg-based player finished 153rd on this season’s Race to Dubai to lose his top-tier status along with Peter Whiteford (145th), Alastair Forsyth (158th) and Jack Doherty (176th).
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Finding himself returning to Q-School for the first time since 2008, Whiteford just managed to avoid this tricky test and will instead start his quest to bounce back without having to drop down to the Challenge Tour at the six-round final stage, which gets under way in Girona on Saturday week.
Forsyth is in the same boat – in his case on the strength of a ten-year exemption through winning the Madeira Islands Open in 2008 – with both Andrew McArthur and Scott Henry also set to be in the final stage field if, as now seems likely, they are unable to climb into the top 15 on the Challenge Tour money -list once its Grand Final ends in Dubai tomorrow.
For McLeary and Doherty, though, it’s a ten-round test to see if they have the resolve to be back in the big league when the 2015 schedule tees off with the Alfred Dunhill Championship in South Africa in just over a month’s time.
The road to Leopard Creek starts for both of them at El Saler – McLeary will be hoping that is a lucky omen, having won the same event there two years ago – and joining them there are Wallace Booth, David Law and Elliot Saltman.
Booth, Law and George Murray, who is in the field at Lumine along with Neil Fenwick, have arrived in Spain after failing to make the Challenge Tour finale but, compared to some of their fellow countryman, at least they shouldn’t have to worry about ring rust being a problem over the next four days.
It’s now almost two months since Scott Borrowman (Dollar) and Zander Culverwell (Dunbar) passed their first-stage test at The Roxburghe – an event won by Fenwick – and, as much as though the amateur duo have tried to keep their games ticking over, they are bound to be disadvantaged by a lack of competition in the build-up to this potential date with destiny.
“I’ve been trying to keep my game as sharp as possible by playing at home with the likes of Jamie McLeary as well as in the Fife & Lothians Winter League, the East Lothian Winter League and also the Alliance,” reported Culverwell, last year’s Scottish Amateur champion.
Chris Robb, the current holder of that title, is also among the hopefuls, the Meldrum House man, who came through one of two first-stage events at Frilford Heath, finishing the best of the amateur trio in a warm-up event on the Evolve Pro Tour earlier this week.
“I’ve come here feeling no pressure, really,” insisted Culverwell, who is keeping his options open until he see where this journey ends. “Most probably,” he replied to being asked if he’d be staying in the amateur ranks for next season if a card wasn’t forthcoming on this occasion. “I’ve still to fully decide and will weigh up all my options after Q-School is finished.”
Joining both Culverwell and Robb at Las Colinas are two former European Tour winners in Scott Drummond and Raymond Russell, as well as Kirkhill’s Paul Shields, while Borrowman has Lloyd Saltman, Ross Kellett, Doug McGuigan and Duncan Stewart for company at Panoramica.
Not since 2006 has the Challenge Tour failed to see a single Scot earn a step up to the main circuit, the successful graduates in that time having included three players still there, namely Ramsay, Lee and Doak. That’s not a disaster, of course, but the onus is now on the Q-School Class of 2015 to try to ensure that the home of golf has a double-digit representation once again on the European Tour next season.
Other hopefuls at a stage that has become just as tough as the final one in recent years include former Ryder Cup player Jarmo Sandelin, 2013 Amateur champion Garrick Porteous and David Booth, who won the Scottish Youths’ Championship six years ago and also had a spell at Stirling University.
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