Irish quartet hoping to ‘graduate’ with Euro Tour cards

JUST because you’ve been there, done that and bought the tee shirt, doesn’t mean you have any right to cruise through the six-day “prison sentence” they call the European Tour Qualifying School final stage.

It was Philip Walton who said that the 108-hole battle for a European Tour card is about as enjoyable as a stint in Mountjoy. While the Dubliner isn’t a member of the Irish quartet who will continue their card odyssey at PGA de Catalunya near Girona in northeast Spain — the men in question are Niall Kearney, Simon Thornton, Colm Moriarty and Damian Mooney — he can identify with some of the fallen idols who tee it up on the Stadium and Tour courses today.

Take Scotland’s Andrew Coltart and Sweden’s Jarmo Sandelin, who felt the stomach churning pressure of Ryder Cup action in the “Bear Pit” of Brookline in 1999. Or England’s Paul Broadhurst, a member of the Ryder Cup side that lost the War on the Shore at Kiawah Island in 1991.

Then there’s Marc Warren (a Challenge Tour winner in Killarney in 2005) who was hailed as the future of Scottish golf just three years ago when he partnered Colin Montgomerie to victory in the World Cup.

All these men have made the journey from the Q-School to the highest peaks of professional golf and come back down again. And while none of the Irish quartet are strangers to the final stage of golf’s toughest test, they are desperate to taste success for themselves.

Thornton, the English born player who now carries an Irish passport, came close to achieving the holy grail for tour school graduates this summer when he went into the final round of the BMW Championship in Munich a couple of shots off the lead.

In the end, the 33-year old finished ninth and while he amassed €116,954 from 22 European Tour starts following his successful graduation here last year, he finished 141st in the Race to Dubai standings and must do it all over again.

Moriarty, the 31-year old former Walker Cup player from Athlone, will be making his fifth appearance at the finals with an extra spring in his step having finished 37th in the Open Championship at St Andrews.

Moriarty had hoped to graduate to the tour through the top 20 in the Challenge Tour rankings but with just two top-10s to his credit, he eventually finished 43rd in the rankings to set up another visit to ‘school.’

“I have had a frustrating six or seven years since I turned pro. But I’ve had some decent performances too,” Moriarty said in Girona, where he missed the cut last year. “I still think I’m improving and if I eventually get on tour it will all have been worthwhile.”

A wet autumn has left the spectacular, 36-hole hole PGA de Catalunya resort looking a lot greener than 12 months ago and while morning frost has forced the tour to put back the start by 90 minutes until 10.30am, they still expect to finish Thursday evening when the top 30 and ties after six rounds will be awarded membership in Category 11B.

Surviving the 72 hole cut is the first objective and while Mooney failed to do that on his only previous appearance in the finals at San Roque three years ago, Kearney knows what it’s like to go all six rounds at Q-School.

The 2009 Walker Cup star and Brabazon Trophy winner missed out on his card by just three strokes last year but having earned Challenge Tour status, he missed most of this year’s campaign with a shoulder injury before returning to action in late October.

Kearney showed form last week, when he cruised through stage two. But he knows that he must hole putts over the next six days if he is to join his former Irish amateur team mate Rory McIlroy at the starting line for the 2011 Race to Dubai.

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