Qualifying School opens the door for golfers

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The fastest way to get the status of the European Tour is to get a portal that is collectively known as Qualifying School, or Q School for short. . Those who have survived this season's version are scheduled to compete this week at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

The last phase of Q School, consisting of six rounds over six days, was played in November at the Lumine Golf Club in Spain. Like every year, the school produced career success and a crushing defeat to determine which 25 players – from the original 1,063 hopeful from 50 countries – can become members of the existing members of the European Tour.

At the finals, Johannes Veerman, who grew up playing golf in Asia and now lives in Texas, barely made the cut that halves the field after four rounds.

Rikard Karlberg, a Swedish player who had previously secured his card but lost after an illness, said he had to make a 45-foot putt in the last hole to finish in 25th place. "You miss it and you're out," he said.

Carlos Pigem from Spain, on the other hand, had it easy: he finished in ninth place, with three shots left.

"The winner is almost irrelevant," said Mike Stewart, who oversees Q School. "It's not about winning. It's about qualifying. The man who gets the last card is just as happy as the man who wins the whole thing."

Veerman, Karlberg, Pigem and the other graduates of the Q School get some of the best players in the world this week when they get their tour cards, including Brooks Koepka, the number 1 in the world, who didn't come through Q School in 2012 (he made it the following year by the Developmental Challenge Tour, where he won four tournaments.)

The PGA Tour ended its version of Q School in 2012 and instead chose to pick players who finished in the top 25 for a full season. in his development round Korn Ferry Tour. (That tour has a version of Q School, which offers different levels of playing skills for the top 40 finishers.)

But Stewart said that the Q School of the European Tour continued to ensure that a player who his card lost could regain it immediately if he played well enough. "This allows players who have come off the main tour to immediately move on and not have to give in for a year," he said.

While players can also qualify for the tour by finishing in the top 15 on the Challenge Tour, players who complete Q School get a higher status and more access to tournaments.

What it takes to be one of the top 25 finishers in Q School has less to do with raw talent if it has to do with how their game is at that specific moment and their ability to manage pressure for consecutive days. (Stewart noted that golfers playing in the second of the three phases of the qualifying school the week before the final can play golf under high pressure for 15 consecutive days.)

David Wedzik, instructional director at Golf Evolution , who went through Q School in the 1990s, worked with Bradley Dredge, who ended up saving a shot at this year's Q School. otherwise under pressure.

"Your body is going to change," he said. “The speed of things is going to change. We talk about how it's not just mechanics. "

Dredge, 46, from Wales, has been playing at a high level for two decades. From 2000 to 2011 he had full membership of the European Tour, won twice, but lost his card in 2012 before he got it back in 2015, to lose it again a few years later.

"Brad & # 39; s mindset is that he has a lot of clarity, & # 39; said Wedzik. "I have never seen him play differently at great moments."

Nick Clearwater, an instructor in Colorado and vice president of instruction at Golftec, said there was a big difference between experienced players who had tasted the most important tours and younger players early in their careers.

"If they left the Tour to go back to Q School, your golf career will feel fragile at that time," Clearwater said. “Nobody is excited to be there. Most people feel better than that and do not have to be there.

"The younger men lose much less and are less stressed."

Karlberg, 33, tried to make a comeback and said he was well aware of the pressure on him. It took him eight attempts to get his card in 2014. In 2015, he defeated Martin Kaymer, who had won the United States Open the year before, in a play-off for his first European Tour event.

Lost his card in 2018, Karlberg said he had a better idea of ​​what to do this year. Now married with two children, he also did not want to return to the Challenge Tour, where the prize money is less.

"You know what you want," he said. “You want to play for a great audience. You want to play a job in good shape. I know how much that can change.

What bothered him, he said, was knowing that it was all or nothing on the last day. "It takes the pressure off," he said.

On the last day, Veerman, 27, had different thoughts. After surviving the cut after the fourth round, he said he didn't want to get that close and miss his card with a shot or two. "I was worried," he said. "I didn't want to ruin this."

Instead of crumbling, he shot a bogey-free 66, which he called some of the best wave of his life. "People fell off the rankings after playing well for 5.5 rounds," he said. "I just tried to block all of that."

Not everyone remains a proponent of the Q School system. Wedzik, the coach and former player, said that the PGA Tour's many-year process of selecting new tour members made more sense. Otherwise, the players who come through Q School could just have a great week.

"I don't think this is the best way to determine who the best players are for next year," he said. "If you did it 10 times with the same players, you would get many different results."

Stewart said the European Tour looked at other options, but he defended the current system, particularly given how many countries the tour attracts its members.

He pointed to recent players who qualified through Q School, including Kurt Kitayama and Guido Migliozzi, who won two events each season after their tickets in 2018.

"If you're good enough and you're successful, that's what it can do," he said.

While Stewart said the Tour could consider a change to Q School in the future, it is increasing the number of seats for players on the Challenge Tour next year to 25, now from 15.

For Veerman, the prospect of a season on the European Tour was staggering. It didn't get through to his first event.

"I played my practice round and I thought," Wow, I'm on the European Tour and I'm here to play an event, "he said. "I start at the bottom, and I have to figure out the jobs, the weather. It's all new, but in the best possible way."

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