All on the line at European Tour Q-School

The catchline on the PGA Catalunya Resort website provoked all kinds of jokes at the buffet table ahead of today’s opening round of the European Tour Q-School final stage.
All on the line at European Tour Q-School

‘Welcome to golfing paradise’, followed by ‘Where exclusive resort meets Spain’s #1 course’ — it was all too much for chirpy young Australian Todd Sinnott.

“Paradise?” questioned the 22 year-old Melbourne man. “Paradise is driving down the Great Ocean Road on a bright sunny day stopping in Bells Beach for a picnic.

“This isn’t paradise. I haven’t the money to pay for the resort and I don’t think I’ll be getting much enjoyment on this course either,” he added with an amount of gallows humour.

Sinnott isn’t the only one feeling nervous, but at least he has time on his side. The same cannot be said for some of the elder statesmen, some of whom ponder aimlessly around the clubhouse, like 44 year-old Damien McGrane.

He admitted he’s only playing for pride this week, as he knows his glittering career is coming to an end.

“I have had a great run. The European Tour has been very, very good to me considering I started playing tour golf at 31 years of age. So I have had a great innings and I appreciate everything I have got out of the game.”

McGrane’s sullen disposition sums up the mood ahead of the first of six rounds that get under way at the Girona course in north-east Spain today.

The players aren’t as immaculately groomed as they look on television. Some have unkempt beards and some talk to themselves, almost reassuring themselves they are good enough.

It’s a fear that wafts around. A fear of losing playing rights to many of the more prestigious events on the European Tour in 2016, fear of having to play on the off-Broadway Challenge Tour, fear of losing sponsorship, fear of continuing to see golf as a way to make money.

McGrane is one of 156 players in the field where only the top 70 and ties make the cut after four rounds, earning Challenge Tour cards for their trouble. From that 70, the top 25 and ties get European Tour cards for 2016.

Peter Lawrie, Brian Casey, Simon Thornton, Kevin Phelan, Ruaidhri McGee, and man-of-the-moment Paul Dunne are the others who will fly the Irish flag. The latter, a hit around here — insofar as he’s chatty — is a bit spooked by the whole thing.

The Greystones man proved he’s got the talent to go a long way in the sport when he shot into a shock third round lead at The Open as an amateur in July.

His blistering form continued at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship when he joined his 2015 Walker Cup team-mate Jimmy Mullen and Sweden’s Kristoffer Broberg in a share of the first-round lead.

While all of those experiences have made him one of the most talked about young stars in the game, Dunne knows that winning a European Tour card this week could rank as one of the most important achievements of the year — even if his profile now will likely result in some opportunities to play next year either way.

“It’s a bit surreal around here. It’s a long way from the fanfare of the summer and you can just see so much stress around the place.

“Hopefully it’ll be a good week but if it’s not, it’s obviously not the end of the world — I’ll still have playing opportunities next year,” he said.

“I’m just excited for the opportunity and hopefully I can play well, keep my composure and hit good shots at the right time, and hit the bad ones at the right time too.

“Everyone is going to hit bad shots so it’s a case of making par when you do. Time will tell but I’ll just take the week as it comes.

“I think I unpacked my bags this week for a little bit longer than usual, it’s a long week but the weather is good and the course is in great shape so I’m looking forward to it. It beats practising back in the wind and rain at home.

“It’s obviously a great opportunity and hopefully I can make the most of it but I’m just going to try and play well and see where it leaves me.”

Dunne tees off at 10.35am local time while the others are as follows: Peter Lawrie 9.40am; Simon Thornton 9.10am; Brian Casey 11am; Damien McGrame 9.25am, Kevin Phelan 10.50am, Ruaidhri McGee 10am.

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