It gets under way with eight first-stage events around Europe – the Roxburghe outside Kelso again plays host to a Scottish qualifier –before four venues in Spain stage the second phase in November, when the final, a nerve-shredding six-round affair, takes place once more at PGA Catalunya near Girona.
In truth, it’s not an event that Scots have fared well in recently, but let’s not dwell on the past and, instead, try and feel optimistic about an opportunity that could lead to new blood flying the Saltire, not just on the European Tour but also its feeder circuit, the Challenge Tour.
It would be way too easy to say that the majority of 37 Scots involved in the first stage are wasting their time due to the odds being stacked against them in such a long and tough process, but let’s not pour cold water on sporting dreams.
After all, this could be the year we get players back in card contention heading into the final few holes and, refreshingly, it’s not just the same old faces among the hopefuls bidding to secure pass marks in the first of those three test papers.
The 25 Scots in the field at the Roxburghe, for instance, include Ewen Ferguson and Jack McDonald, two members of the Great Britain & Ireland team that thumped an American side that included Bryson DeChambeau in last year’s Walker Cup at Royal Lytham. Neither of the pair carries scars heading into this test, something sadly that appears to have held back some of their compatriots when it has come to this particular event over the past few years.
This will be something they’ll be relishing, not dreading, and, if they can clear that first hurdle, then the talented duo will immediately receive a confidence boost and use the fairly lengthy gap until the second stage to be ready, not just for it but, hopefully, the final straight afterwards as well.
Grant Forrest, the third Scot in that winning Walker Cup team, has avoided the first stage thanks to his World Amateur Golf Ranking, which is a boost he’ll be aiming to take full advantage of, and no-one, surely, can deny that it would be a much-needed shot in the arm for our game if either Ferguson, Forrest or McDonald – all in their early 20s – emerged in mid-November with a European Tour card.
Equally pleasing would be Bradley Neil being in that position or Paul Lawrie’s eldest son, Craig, the pair launching their bids at Ebreichsdorf in Austria and Frilford Heath in England respectively, while, back at the Roxburghe, Paul Ferrier and James Ross are travelling over from the United States to try their luck.
They’re not the only ones making that journey. The European Tour route is becoming more popular with young Americans as they start out in the professional ranks, the trail having been blazed, of course, by Peter Uihlein and Brooks Koepka before the likes of David Lipsky and, recently, Paul Peterson also made winning marks on the European Tour. What started as a trickle has now become a flood, with a total of 83 players from the United States set to be involved in the first stage.
Others embarking on a journey they hope will lead them to one of golf’s promised lands, be it next year or in the near future, include Irishman Cormac Sharvin and Englishman Jimmy Mullen, two other Walker Cup team members 12 months ago. Like so many others these days, they haven’t enjoyed the instant success some might perhaps have expected, but Mullen’s comments last week made me think that perhaps I’m wrong in thinking that players leave the amateur game too early these days.
Responding to one R&A selector, Ireland’s Michael Burn, telling Global Golf Post that he reckons players are “ruining their lives” due to that, Mullen, whose dad is Scottish, wrote on Twitter: “Disagree. The only way to learn the pro game is to play pro events as a pro. Turn pro when you feel ready.”
We’ll find out over the next few weeks if some Scots are ready to step up to the plate and come out of this year’s Qualifying School with either a Challenge Tour status, which would be a stepping stone, or, even better of course, as the proud holder of a European Tour card.