Waterford’s Kevin Phelan doesn’t seem to know what all the fuss is about this week.
The 24-year-old is a breath of fresh air around the practice area and clubhouse at PGA Catalunya, hands in his pockets, and not a care in the world it seems.
Granted, the Mount Juliet GC man did lodge a cheque for €64,546 recently after finishing a career-best third at the Hong Kong Open but with all the panic of the Q-School Final Qualifying Stage, he’s calm, despite shooting a 72 yesterday to leave him tied for 47th after two rounds.
“I’m delighted to be here, I could have been facing the second stage of qualifying the weekend before last and you never know what might have happened so it’s a great opportunity now to get back out there and show what I can do,” says the happy-go-lucky Walker Cup player who secured his European tour card for 2014 here last year.
This week, Phelan faces a marathon six rounds, assuming he makes the cut tomorrow when 156 hopefuls will become 70. He’s well on course for that as he lies eight shots off the lead, as are two of the four other Irishmen here.
Simon Thornton stormed 25 places up the leaderboard and will start today’s third round tied in 10th after a stunning 3-under par 69 round yesterday, while Peter Lawrie is also lurking with intent following a brilliant round of 67.
They are five and four under respectively, though Lawrie will be kicking himself after a double-bogey on 15 yesterday. That was sandwiched by two birdies and only for that he’d he right on the coat-tails of overnight leader, top seed and world number 74 Anirban Lahiri of India who leads on nine under.
Things aren’t looking too rosy for the remaining Irishman, however.
Gareth Maybin is currently on 3-over after opening rounds of 74 and 71, while Michael McGeady also found the going tough and he’s a further shot back on 4-over following rounds of 71 and 75 respectively.
Despite the pressure, which really cranks up a notch today, Phelan remains relaxed and laughed off comparisons between this tournament and a meat-slicer, with so few set to make it the top rung of the European Tour next year.
“No, not all. I don’t see it like that at all,” he grinned.
“People are always talking about it in that way but I never really understood it; it’s one week and you can pretty much have a full European Tour card so it’s a great opportunity.”
Phelan enjoyed a great start on Saturday with four birdies but three bogeys yesterday on the supposedly easier Tour course partially undid that hard work.
“This week now is as much a mental test as a golfing ability test. It’s like that every week but it’s even more of a mental test here just because it’s two extra rounds,” he explained of what’s at stake today and tomorrow.
“It’s quite hilly here so it’s a real endurance test as well.
“People make a deal of courses, if you play well any course suits you, you’ll have plenty birdie chances. I really like it here, there’s no real weak holes, some courses have ‘gimme’ birdies but there’s none out here. You really have to play well and when you do there are chances to make holes.”
“My only long-term goal is to keep improving and getting better every day, every week, every year, just keep getting better. I think I’ll get some starts on the main Tour next year and I’ll have a full Challenge Tour card (if I don’t make the top 25) so I’ll have plenty chances to play and that’s the only way to get better; to travel and play and experience it.
“Okay, financially there’s a big difference but you just have to keep going.
It’s nice to play well and get big cheques it’s just about getting better for me and that’s my only goal.”
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