Only the fittest will survive torrid European Tour School test

The 25 who emerge with a tour card in Spain next week will have really earned it

I am getting a much clearer picture now, as winter struggles to settle in well into November, about why so many good golfers have chosen different paths from their original intended golfing trails.

I am looking at the list of entrants for the impending final stage of the European Tour School with so many seasoned campaigners heading back once again for their refresher courses and many newcomers about to head into arguably the toughest test in golf; the six-round tour school over two courses.

So when I think of the once good, and the could-have- been-brilliant golfers who are now tour officials, commentators, teachers, tour representatives, golf directors and caddies, it is this time of year when it really starts to make sense. There is no glory in this tough business of constantly trying to realise a talent on a daily basis with a strong sense of all or nothing hammering in your head as another tough shot looms. I forgot to mention the sports psychologist in the long list of career alternatives after the golfing dream has died.

The shrink is the main man or woman who needs to keep the dream alive on the undulating terrain of PGA Catalunya in the north east of Spain this coming week. The impending experience for the 'students' is the complete opposite of the sunny and carefree vision the rest of us have of a week's golf in Iberia. This is real and grinds right on the bone.


Good reason

There is of course a very good reason why so many put themselves through the tour school torture. The $7 million BMW event in Shanghai this week is an example of the reason why so many aspiring young golfers and those trying to hang onto their careers, will compete.

They have an ability to get that little white ball in the hole just a little quicker than the next guy and there are some very alluring rewards for doing so. With over $30 million dollars in the pot for four glorious weeks on the European Tour, the 1,800 Brian Casey received for winning the second stage of the school in Panoramica last week is a relative pittance. Whatever about the loot, few of us understand the pain suffered in trying to get a piece of the lucrative action.

There are unquantifiable hours spent on the range, although some golfers are more obsessed with digging holes on a perfectly flat driving range ad nauseam rather than perfecting the art of bringing in the lowest score possible. There are agonising decisions about playing in some two-bit tournament that you need to get a visa for and lay out a huge amount of money for a flight and accommodation and a caddie with little prospect of remotely covering your costs. It’s all done with the greater aim of trying to secure a tour card.

The alternative arrangements you make when you shoot a poor opening round and you try to rationalise the practicality of bringing your suitcase to the golf course the next day to be ready for a quick exit if you don’t hole a load of putts in your second round and somehow scrape the cut.

Restrained expectation

But then if you check out of your accommodation and play well and end up making it, you have to traipse back to the hotel and dig in for another couple of nights of restrained expectation.

There are many who will miss this 155-man final showdown in Spain, those who left their hopes on the fairways a little bit further south along the coast last week in stage two, who would have been happy to try to defy the odds once more north of Girona. Not to mention the original 900-man line up of tour school entrants.

What a chilling and abrupt landing it is for some of our Irish Walker Cup heroes who were riding high a couple of months ago? They face the harsh reality of the professional game piercing their youthful optimism. I suppose they can rationalise the disappointment as a very good lesson in the reality of the paths they have chosen for now.

There are many winners and some Ryder Cup stars among the final school starting list. Jarmo Sandelin, Soren Hansen, Edoardo Molinari, Kennie Ferrie, Johan Edfors, Peter Hedblom, Pablo Martin, Ross McGowan and JM Lara have all experienced success on tour and are not prepared to let the dream die.

Our own tour veterans Peter Lawrie, Damien McGrane and Simon Thornton are back in Spain again alongside young guns Brian Casey, Paul Dunne, Ruaidhrí McGee and Kevin Phelan.

The more I think of it the more I understand that it is precisely the mentality that is required for such a test of both mental and physical endurance that thrives under such intense pressure.

They stretch their tenacity that little bit further than the rest. It is surely not their talent that separates them, rather their ability to endure so much more than those who have been left contemplating their suitability for such a bizarre lifestyle. Whichever 25 players prevail by this day week surely deserve something special for succeeding in such a tough environment. They won’t get it – simply the right to battle for an existence next year on the European Tour and perchance a slice of $30m dollars next autumn.