A mix of rookie and experienced professionals, the nine-strong Scottish contingent heading into the golfing marathon that is the final of the European Tour Qualifying School is probably the most exciting group of hopefuls to be flying the Saltire in the event.
Hot on the heels of 21-year-old Bradley Neil earning a step up to the main circuit as a Challenge Tour graduate, the likes of Grant Forrest, Connor Syme, Robert MacIntyre and Ewen Ferguson will be aiming to do likewise at a similarly early stage in their professional careers.
Forrest heads into the six-round test at Lumine Golf Club in Tarragona on the back of an encouraging first full season on the Challenge Tour; Syme and MacIntyre have both hit the ground running in the paid ranks since they bowed out as an amateurs at the Walker Cup in September while Ferguson received a big boost as he finished runner-up in one of the second-stage events at El Saler.
On the back of Neil’s achievement, it really would be fantastic for Scottish golf if, at the very least, another player under 25 earned a coveted card and that quartet will be relishing this test, even though, Forrest apart, it will be a first taste of the final stage.
While most eyes, understandably, will probably be on Syme and MacIntyre on the strength that they seem to have made the transition from amateur to pro without breaking their stride, it could just as easily be Scott Henry, Duncan Stewart, Chris Doak, David Law or Ross Kellett getting in the card mix when the event reaches the business end next Thursday.
Henry, who finished joint-second behind Englishman Nathan Kimsey at a different venue, PGA Catalunya, 12 months ago, is trying to regain his playing privileges, as are Stewart and Doak, while Law and Kellett have been here before so know what is required in one of the toughtest tests in golf.
No-one needs to tell Henry that is disappointing to see him back among the 256 hopefuls. The 30-year-old had a real spring in his step after securing such a good card last year, yet, despite getting into 21 events, he ended up 200th in this season’s Race to Dubai.
“I definitely feel that my game belongs playing on the European Tour, but I really struggled with my game this year. I lost my confidence after starting poorly and it was hard to get it back,” said the Clydebank man. “I still managed a top 10 (in the Czech Masters) and also had good week in Germany (finishing 12th in the BMW International Open). When my game is decent to good, I can put in good results. But it has been frustrating that I’ve only been able to do it a couple of times and have struggled the rest of the time.”
It was encouraging, therefore, that he felt his game was “coming back” as he successfully negotiated the tricky second stage along with Doak, Ferguson, Kellett, Law, MacIntyre and Syme. “Like last year, hopefully these six days will be the best week of my year to then set me up for next year,” added Henry. It has got to be the most intense pressure I have played under. Not just final day. You feel the pressure mounting as the days go on.
“I felt like I was thriving on it last year. Maybe I need to put myself under pressure like that a bit more. You certainly feel going into the last couple of days that you see guys on edge. I find it fun to watch and to be part of, to be honest.”
Law is hoping he might have an edge on some of the other hopefuls, having triumphed at this venue when it hosted a second-stage event last year, when Kellett also gave a good account of himself by finishing third.
“It’s been a tough year, to be honest,” admitted Law, a two-time Scottish Amateur champion from Aberdeen. “There have been a couple of things going on, but it can all change pretty quickly and this would be a good week for that to happen.
“I’ve started playing nicely the last few events, so I am hopeful for the week. Two years ago I missed out by two shots then had a poor last round last year. I can draw on experiences like that and hopefully I can be in same position going into last day then cope with it better.”
Law, who posted a 12-under-par 272 total over 72 holes in that second-stage success a year ago, added: “There are chances out there, but you need to be patient if it is breezy and that’s what is forecast. You don’t need to shoot lights out; you just need to plod along. You know that over four or six days you are not going to have your best game. It’s about getting most out of each day. You might need to ground out level or one-over and be happy with that.”
Featuring players who have won a combined 30 European Tour titles, the hopefuls in an event that has a four-round cut and sees the top 25 and ties secure cards also include Gonzalo Fernandez-Castaño, who has fellow Spaniard and this year’s Rocco Forte Open winner Alvaro Quiros caddying for him, Simon Dyson, Anders Hansen, Niclas Fasth and Kristoffer Broberg.