Heat on Burns
Raymond Burns celebrated his 25th birthday earlier this month, and he must hope that it marks a change in his fortunes. A dismal campaign on the European Tour saw him relinquish his card - a new experience for him - and the Banbridge man will tomorrow take the first important steps in his bid to regain his playing rights for next season by competing in the Pre-Qualifying II school at Pals in Spain.
He is not alone. Twenty-one Irish players in all will be seeking to make it through to final qualifying in San Roque and Sotogrande next month: Burns, John Dignam, Damien McGrane and Leslie Walker are playing at Pals; John Dwyer, Stephen Hamill, John Kelly, Peter Lawrie and Paul Russell are competing at Peralada; David Higgins, Connor Mallon, Kieran McCarthy, John McClure, Gary A Murphy, Sean Quinlivan and Graham Spring St Cyprien; and Jim Carvill, Cameron Clark, Patrick Geraghty, Gary Murphy and Bryan Omelia are playing at Emporda.
Yorkshire-born Robert Giles, who is an assistant professional at Warrenpoint, is also chasing a ticket to the final qualifying at Peralada.
Only two Irish players, Francis Howley and Damien Mooney, managed to come through from PQI last month . . . and the pressure on those seeking to come through the second stage of the lottery is even greater, with 564 players chasing an approximate 70 tickets to the final qualifying school.
Of the 21 Irish players competing this week over 54 holes, three had their cards for this season but lost them: Burns, Higgins and Clark. Admittedly, Higgins was hindered by a freak injury at the start of the season when he fell off a horse, while Clark found it difficult to get into tournaments.
However, Burns played - but struggled - in tournaments right up to the Belgacom Open last month and, indeed, opted not to play in PQI in the belief that he could still salvage his card.
Now, Burns must get through PQII if he is to have any touring status for next season. For a player who was among the top amateurs, earning Eisenhower Trophy and Walker Cup recognition, and then topped the European Challenge Tour in 1994 after failing to win his tour card at the qualifying school the previous winter, the situation that Burns finds himself in this week confirms the fickle nature of golf, especially the professional game.