However, as the series of qualifiers continues over the next few weeks, most eyes will be on Rathmore youngster Alan Dunbar who, by winning the British Amateur Championship in June, automatically qualified for a place in the 2013 Masters at Augusta and the British Open at Muirfield — provided he doesn’t join the paid ranks in the meantime.
That left Dunbar with a serious dilemma given that his ambition had always been to turn professional. Obviously, the chance of playing the Masters is a dream come true for any golf-mad youngster and, fortunately for Dunbar, he can keep his options open for some time yet before coming to a final decision.
He is one of a large number of Irish players who have entered for the initial stages of the school while still retaining his amateur status. The once very stringent rules have been modified in recent times so that it is possible for amateurs to participate in any stage of the three stages provided they waive their right to any prize money.
Dunbar has paid his £1,350 entry fee and signed away his rights to any monetary gain. And if he is one of the leading 30s and ties after the final school in Catalunya, near Girona, in northern Spain on November 27, he will still be free to either accept his Tour card and immediately turn pro or decline so as to be able to tee it up at Augusta and Muirfield next year.
Dunbar and Paul Cutler, team-mates on the successful British & Irish Walker Cup team last year, take part in the qualifier at Wychwood Park, Crewe, on September 18-21 along with a number of other Irishmen, including David Higgins (Waterville) and Graeme Dunlea (Adare Manor Golf Resort).
The Limerick pair Cian McNamara and Tim Rice and Michael Collins of the Mallow Golf Range are in the field at Hardelot, France, on September 25-28. The final session sees John Daniel Guiney (Ballybunion) in action at Frilford Heath in England.
Approximately 750 players will be involved in the first qualifying section with around 25% set to go through to the second round at four Spanish venues; El Saler, Las Colinas, El Valle and Lumine, on November 7-10. After that, 310 competitors will be battling it out for 80 spots at the final school in Catalunya, in late November
Irish players entered for opening rounds:
Sept 11-4, Roxburghe Hotel, Scotland – D Mooney (Ballyliffin), P O’Keefe (Muskerry), M Staunton (Ballinasloe).
Sept 18-21, Wychwood Park, England – J Caldwell (Clandeboye), C Curley (Team Ireland), P Cutler (Portstewart), A Dunbar (Rathmore), G Dunlea (Adare Manor Resort), D Gleeson (Old Conna), D Higgins (Waterville), D P Jones (Blackfoot), M McAlpine (Royal Portrush).
Fleesengee, Germany – S Franklin (Team Ireland), S Grant (The Heritage), N Kearney (Royal Dublin).
Sept 25-28, Hardelot, France – M Collins (Mallow Golf Range), C McNamara and T Rice (Limerick), N O’Brien (Royal Dublin).
Ribagolfe, Italy – A Glynn (Red Golf Management), A Hogan (Newlands), R Kilpatrick (Banbridge), M McGeady (McCambridge-Duffy).
Oct 2-5 – J Daniel Guiney (Ballybunion), D Rawluk (The Island).