It was either going to be two weeks of dreading what lies ahead or a fortnight of building up some positive energy for Liam Johnston after losing his European Tour card at the end of an exhausting rookie season.
Encouragingly, the 26-year-old Dumfries man has used that time between the end of the regular campaign in Portugal and a first visit to the Qualifying School final in Spain to good effect, insisting he is feeling “upbeat” as he prepares to join five fellow Scots in the gruelling six-round card battle.
“I have been reflecting a lot in the time I’ve had off and I came to the conclusion that you can have a good year on the main tour yet still lose your card,” said Johnston, who finished 148th – 33 spots outside the safety zone – in the Race to Dubai. “Looking back over the season, I think I made more cuts this season than I did on the Challenge Tour the season before, but I just didn’t have that killing edge from the year before.”
That was reference to him winning twice on the 2018 Challenge Tour as he secured a step up to the main circuit along with Grant Forrest, David Law and Bob MacIntrye. In 30 events this season, Johnston’s best finish was a share of fifth in the D+D Real Czech Masters in August, and he also claimed a top-10 spot in the Magical Kenya Open in March.
“I got off to a kind of poor start from November through to Christmas [missing the cut in three of his first four events],” added the former Scottish Stroke-Play and African Amateur champion. “I was finding my feet a bit and finding it a bit overwhelming. But the further I got into the season my attitude changed in that respect. It wasn’t a case of me thinking, ‘wow, there’s Rory McIlroy or whoever’ and suddenly feeling intimidated.
“I felt more comfortable and, as a result of that, recorded a few good results. I just missed that decent result in a Rolex Series event [his best finish in three of those being joint-64th in the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open]. That was a bit of a killer. If I’d been able to post a couple of top-20s in them, I’d have been well on the way to keeping my card. It was a massive learning experience and I am still upbeat about how the year went.”
Joining Johnston among the card hopefuls at Lumine Golf Club in Tarragona, where the marathon test gets underway on Friday is Marc Warren, who also came up short in the Race to Dubai, as well as Ewen Ferguson, Craig Howie, Euan Walker and Daniel Young, the latter three having already passed second-stage examinations in Spain.
“Everyone is saying that the Qualifying School final is a gruelling test, but I’m just looking at it as an opportunity by playing six rounds of golf to try and get my card back,” declared Johnston, who has been playing at Southerness to try and keep his game from going rusty while, at the same time, trying to re-charge his batteries after being one of the marathon men on the circuit this season.
“With the experience I’ve had this year, if I achieve that then I will be going into next season with a lot more confidence. It is just golf and this particular event is all about framing it the way you want to see it. I think people might go into it thinking, ‘Jesus, this is six rounds for my livelihood’. All you can do is look after what you can do. If it works out, then great. But, if not, it’s not the end of the world. It is just a journey that you are on.”
Johnston, who will have his younger brother, Ryan, on the bag in Spain, added: “Last year was amazing. I went from no status on any tour to getting my main tour status. If I’d dug deep and looked at it overall, though, it was just a bit too inconsistent. It was either a win or a missed cut. Even though I didn’t retain my card this season, I feel like my game is definitely improving. I’ve just got to take one round at a time in the final and I am looking forward to it.”