Q-School Would Be Dramatic and Compelling Television
Golfers are historically defined by their success under the stresses of a major championship Sunday, as they attempt to etch their name permanently into the fabric of the game. Tommy Fleetwood, Justin Rose, and Sergio Garcia have been battling for the Race to Dubai title, which is a career achievement that secures significant financial rewards. These all make for great viewing on television, but surely the purest exhibition of pressure within golf comes at the Final Stage of Qualifying School, the six-round gauntlet that whittles down hundreds of hopefuls into a select few who ensure themselves of status on the European Tour.
This past week at Lumine in Spain, 33 players came through the gruelling process and booked their ticket onto the main circuit for next season. Otherwise facing the greater financial pressures of the Challenge Tour, or perhaps even having to move into a different vocation entirely, this is drama that not even the latest critically acclaimed binge-fest on Netflix could match. Golf is thankfully showcased with a tremendous regularity on Sky Sports throughout the UK, but it’s apparent that we are being denied the opportunity to closely watch something that is fundamentally compelling.
From emerging youngsters to seasoned veterans looking for a second chance at success, the week at Q-School writes a volume of compelling stories and struggles. Last year, former tour winners such as Ricardo Gonzalez, John Parry, and Edoardo Molinari made it back onto the circuit. The Italian – a former Ryder Cup player – backed up that reprieve in April by winning the Trophée Hassan II. Popular voice on social media, Eddie Pepperell found himself facing the ignominy and stresses of this most testing of psychological marathons, but held his nerve to survive and has completed a superb campaign by qualifying for the DP World Tour Championship.
Sam Horsefield, who built a stunning amateur reputation at college in Florida, dominated Q-School this year, completing the week by compiling a brilliant 63 in the final round. The 21-year-old Englishman – keenly followed by Ian Poulter – will look to impress throughout 2018, but the names behind the young man are just as notable and feature several inspiring tales.
“All these experiences add up. Hopefully I will have the opportunity to one-day win on the European Tour or the PGA Tour and I can look back on days like today where I came out here and shot 63 in the final round, while having a lead, which is something that you can’t teach, and you have to learn by putting yourself in these positions,” Horsefield reflected to the European Tour.
Twice a winner of the showpiece BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth, Anders Hansen, who had seemingly retired from a regular schedule, has rejuvenated his career and is now able to plot a future. The same can be said for the likes of Mark Foster, Felipe Aguilar, and Ross McGowan, all seasoned players who have earned themselves an opportunity to recapture past glories. Many will be thrilled to see seven-time winner Gonzalo Fernández-Castaño make it back onto the tour.
Just two years ago, Sweden’s Kristoffer Broberg saw off Patrick Reed in a playoff to win the BMW Masters, then part of the lucrative Final Series. Injuries have blighted the 31-year-old’s progress, but he was superb over the last four rounds to get himself back in the right direction once again.
On the other end of the spectrum, Connor Syme – who has impressed since turning professional – booked his ticket onto the European Tour properly, as did fellow Modest Golf stablemate Christiaan Bezuidenhout, a pair of young talents supported by former One Direction member and successful solo-artist Niall Horan, whose passionate following of the game perhaps goes underappreciated.
However, the most emotional story of the week was unquestionably that of Jonathan ‘Jigger’ Thomson. The big man from Rotherham, who stands at 6 feet 9 inches tall, will now enjoy a rookie season on a circuit that will match his striking stature. This achievement once seemed unlikely, as the 21-year-old faced a childhood battle with cancer. Having already tasted marquee events at both the Czech and Portugal Masters, he’s overcome more than most to reach this breakthrough step.
“It’s not really hit home yet. It’s so emotional, it’s been such a long journey for us to get to this point and it’s hard to let it all sink in,” Thomson said.
“My dad’s been here with me through it all. It’s been some tough times, but here we are and it’s great. We had a hug and a tear on 18 and I’m looking forward to getting a beer now.
“I’ve come through all three stages – I got in on the mark in First Stage and then a play-off in Second Stage and now I’m a European Tour member, so it’s been a hell of a journey.”
There were many disappointed names who failed to qualify from those stages or the main event. Q-School is a maelstrom of contrasting emotions, ranging from joy, relief, and despair. Sharing these stories widely is a prospect that hasn’t been yet been exploited. Yet. For all the Race to Dubai has its appeal, the compelling drama of these six gruelling rounds is perfectly suited for television.
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