Waterford Castle’s Kevin Phelan hit what he described as “the shot of my life” to birdie the last and secure his European Tour card with a stroke to spare at the final stage of the Qualifying School in Spain.
The 23-year-old came to the 463-yard 18th at PGA Catalunya’s Stadium Course sitting on the projected nine under par mark for the top 25 and ties who would secure cards.
But rather than playing safely for his par-four, he almost holed his 217-yard hybrid into the wind, eventually draining a five-foot birdie putt for a sixth round 69 to finish on 10 under, earning the 17th of 27 cards eventually awarded to those on nine under or better.
“It’s brilliant,” said Florida-based Phelan, who turned professional after this year’s Walker Cup and signed with Chubby Chandler’s ISM management company.
“I played really well all day, made a few silly mistakes but made up for them.
“I was nervous most of the day but I kind of expected it, so it wasn’t too bad. I worked quite hard on my routine last year and it paid dividends today, big time. I just kept doing what I usually do, tried to stay in the process and just concentrate on one shot at a time.”
Having started sensationally with three birdies in his first four holes, the former Walker Cup star three-putted the short fifth and then missed birdie chances on the next six greens before a birdie at the par-five 12th left him comfortably inside the crucial top 25 on 10 under par.
But back-to-back bogeys at the 13th and 14th, where he failed to get up and down both times, left him needing to play the last four holes in one under par to secure his card.
A two-putt birdie at the par-five 15th got him back inside the top 25 and after solid pars at the 16th and 17th, he produced his wonder-shot at the 18th to finish with a birdie worth a share of 17th place and a place alongside the likes of Rory McIlroy on the European Tour next season.
“I had 217 yards into the wind and just hit a lovely three iron, straight at it,” said Phelan, who came through all three stages of the Q-School, playing 14 rounds. “It was one of the best shots of my career. The shot of my life.
“All week, I tried not to think about getting my card but I will have to give it some thought now. I am really excited. It’s been a goal for a long time to play on the European Tour and I am delighted to have a chance now.”
Phelan revealed how he has been inspired by Pádraig Harrington, who advised him to work hard on his short game and not read about himself in the newspapers.
“Padraig is a big inspiration,” said, who was brought up near Ballygunner in Waterford but has lived in Florida since he was 13. “I played a practice round with him in the US Open at Pebble Beach in 2010 and in Killarney in the Irish Open and again at Carton House this year.”
Phelan earned an exemption into next week’s Second Stage of the PGA Tour’s Web.com Q-School when he made the cut in this year’s US Open at Merion but has decided not to go, now that he has his European Tour card.
Spain’s Carol del Moral closed with a 67 to win the top card by five strokes on 26 under par from Paraguay’s Fabrizio Zanotti but there were no final day miracles for Waterville’s David Higgins or Belfast’s Ruaidhri McGee.
Higgins had six birdies, one bogey, a double bogey and a triple bogey in a level par 72 to finish nine strokes out side the qualifying mark on level par in joint 59th with McGee tied for 66th on three over after a 74. By making the four-round cut, both were guaranteed a place on the Challenge Tour next season.
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