Irish hopefuls begin quest to reach European Tour

Fourteen Irish golfers begin the second stage of the European Tour qualifying school at four venues throughout Spain today.

They include a number of experienced players, most notably David Higgins of Waterville and Yorkshire-born Simon Thornton, who have figured regularly on Tour over the years.

At the other end of the scale comes Alan Dunbar, the Rathmore youngster who will face a considerable dilemma should he come through this week’s exercise and finally qualify for his Tour card at the final school, running from November 24 to 29.

As the current holder of the British Amateur championship, the 23-year-old Dunbar is assured of a place in next year’s US Masters at Augusta and the British Open at Muirfield in July — should he remain amateur. Members of the unpaid ranks retain their status provided they waive their right to prize money before each stage of the qualifying process. Dunbar has decided to wait and see how he progresses before making a final decision.

While Dunbar is the only amateur among this week’s Irish contingent, the majority of the others have represented Ireland at various levels.

Among them are Mark Murphy from Waterville, Tim Rice of Limerick, Noel Fox (Portmarnock), Niall Kearney (Royal Dublin), Peter O’Keefe (Muskerry) and Ulster duo Gareth Shaw and Jonathan Caldwell.

Irish competitors this week are:

El Saler, Valencia — Noel Fox (Portmarnock), David Higgins (Waterville), Ruaidhri McGee (Golf 525 Murcia), Simon Thornton (Team Ireland), Gareth Shaw (Team Ireland).

Las Colinas, Alicante — Chris Devlin (Team Ireland), Mark Murphy (Waterville).

El Valle, Murcia - Cian Curley (Team Ireland), Peter O’Keefe (Muskerry), Tim Rice (Limerick).

Lumine Golf & Beach Club, Tarragona — Jonathan Caldwell (Clandeboye), Alan Dunbar (Rathmore), Niall Kearney (Royal Dublin), Mark Staunton (Ballinasloe).

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