JOHN MCHENRY: Q-School a week for champions, grafters, and dreamers

This week brings us a snapshot, from every angle, of a career in professional golf.

Gary Hurley, at the European Tour school, trying to gain a proper foothold onto the Tour. Michael Hoey gamely trying to hang on to his playing privileges. And Rory McIlroy seeking to add a European Order of Merit title in Dubai, having already won the Fed Ex Series in America.

McIlroy possesses a brilliant competitive record around the World Course in Dubai, with two wins and only one finish outside the top 10 in seven visits. But having pulled out of the scheduled Tour event in Turkey two weeks ago, he requires a major slice of luck — most notably, Henrik Stenson needs to finish no better that 45th. Nevertheless, Rory can move a step closer to regaining the world No. 1 ranking from Jason Day.

At the other end of the table, today at European Tour School we will see the final round of perhaps the most important tournament in the young life of Gary Hurley, and perhaps for five-time European Tour champion Michael Hoey.

As someone who has had to earn his playing privileges through the Tour School, I can honestly say that this is a very stressful week for the players. it is a golf tournament without the fanfare, the luxurious grandstands and the applause. It is a tournament where the purse is small and almost meaningless. It is a cold 108-hole endurance test of your ability, patience, and emotional control where there is only one priority — your playing privileges for next year.

For someone like Hoey, the hardest part is parking the disappointment of a season just finished. As a successful professional, he may well have already proven his credentials but this week he is just another player who everyone else wants to take down. So getting in the right mindset for a tournament where there are no ropes or marshals — where you are no longer the centre of attention — can prove the biggest obstacle. Just ask 2008 Irish Open Champion, Richard Finch, who already lost his playing privileges for next year earlier in the week.

For novices like Hurley, there is an all-or-nothing feel to the Q School. The hardest thing he will ever achieve is gaining regular playing status on the Tour. So having already come through several qualifying stages just to get to the finals this week, it is great to see that he has already overcome some of the hurdles — notably the intimidatory nature of the task at hand, playing against seasoned players.

By making the 72-hole cut, he also guaranteed certain playing privileges on the Challenge Tour for next year. All that is left now is for him to produce another stellar round today and hope that it is good enough to secure one of the coveted 25 cards handed out for the main tour next year.

Knowing all of this would have meant an awful lot of pressure on every shot hit by Hurley this week — something which perhaps is reflected in his erratic performances over the first five rounds. But the brilliance of his fourth round on Tuesday, when he produced a score when it mattered most, bodes well for his future ambitions in the game. The trick now is to keep growing. Ahead of the final round, as few as three strokes is the difference between a tour card in 21st position and lowly 43rd. That’s nothing on a day that means so much to everyone, a day where the ultimate prize is membership of the European Tour and the licence to dream.

For the likes of Hoey, that might be an opportunity to win again on Tour, and even return to the DP Finals in Dubai. For Hurley, it is the chance to peg it up alongside the game’s superstars like Rory McIlroy. Regardless of the outcome of today’s round, one hopes this week’s experience proves to be yet another building block in Hurley’s progression as a professional and that he will continue to dream and think big.


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