We all like to make sweeping statements in golf, the most common one this week at Q School is that everyone is playing for their livelihood. Fail to make the top 25 and you’re done for, never to be seen again. Make it and we can expect to see you teeing it up in all the WGCs next year.
The pretty brutal truth is that the bulk of the best on show this week will be back here in 12 months’ time, the exceptions that prove the rule like a Sam Horsfield being the inspiration. But the real numbers – the money – is a whole world away from another year on the Challenge Tour.
This year Joachim B Hansen won €222,000 to top the Challenge Tour. You would have to go as low as 145th on the main tour to reach the same figure.
While getting your privileges for next season is pretty much a must, the difference between starting 20-plus events, rather than maybe six or seven if you just miss out, and the real nuts and bolts of being a ‘tour pro’ lie a lot lower down.
Moortown’s Nick McCarthy is only playing at Lumine because he had a good week on the 1836 Tour at Northenden in the middle of August.
“I wasn’t going to enter and then I played an 1836 at Northenden and won £600 there. My girlfriend and family said I had to enter, even an Aussie guy that I played with said I should give it a go so I chucked it on my credit card,” said McCarthy, whose previous claim to fame is qualifying for The Open at Birkdale last year.
McCarthy’s lifestyle isn’t one of winters in Dubai, logos on his upper arm, watch deals and clubs that come with tens of thousands of pounds. His is one of Airbnb rooms in a stranger’s house, winters spent down the local driving range, lessons across the Pennines with Pete Barber at Didsbury and he’s still got his old Nike irons and clothes and headcovers that simply carry his home club’s crest. How cool is that?
Having a coffee, I told him about Marks & Spencer doing a cheap range of trousers that only set you back £15 a go.
“I know, I bought three pairs of them last month.”
To enter Q School you have to pay £1,750 whatever stage you come in at. For McCarthy he started out at Hardelot in France and, after three rounds, faced the very real prospect of missing out at the first hurdle.
Then he shot an 8-under 63 to make it to Second Stage. Two weeks later he won the EuroPro Tour Champinship, and with it a cracking first prize of £22,540, to get onto the Challenge Tour.
A runner-up finish wouldn’t have been good enough. He then pointed the hire car to Alenda Golf and Second Stage.
Again it looked like the year was coming to a close but he then birdied the last two holes to get into a six-man play-off for one of four places. Again, he came through for a debut at Final Qualifying Stage or, as you and I know it, Q School.
The best bit about all this is that he’s done it off his own back. In the past year the 31-year-old has moved into his own house with his girlfriend Nicky and it’s played a part in his upturn in results. That and an abundance of talent and hard work with his coach.
“I do feel more responsibilities and more pressure to do well to earn enough to get to the next event. This winter I was going to be delivering parcels for Amazon again.
“I still might do, but the win at Desert Springs has given me some options and I can play a bit over the winter.
“I think I’m more content now. I’ve got good people around me like my girlfriend, coach and friends and family and I’ve come here feeling very positive with a lot of confidence and I’m in a bit of a habit of shooting some low scores.
“I came very close to stopping playing but my coach Pete has always said ‘just keep going’. It’s been a slow process but now we’re here…”
And the good news is McCarthy will be staying here for another two days and the dream goes on. A season that might have finished weeks ago keeps going. By making the cut, at the worst he improves his Challenge Tour category which means he can plan for next year properly.
At 8-under he’s just four shots off 25th spot.
Quick Nick McCarthy update, just birdied 13 to get to -8. He’s doing great, I’m trying to shallow out my breathing… pic.twitter.com/nB6ImuV0lM
— Mark Townsend (@MarkTownsendNCG) November 13, 2018
The last piece of the jigsaw is Nick’s dad, Dave, who has been on his bag for Second Stage and now Lumine. He’s worked in golf forever and a day and unsurprisingly he’s loving the ride.
“Nick has taken us on a journey the last few weeks that has been unbelievable. He knows he’s up against it but that makes you stronger. His clubs cost him a few yards but he loves them. I know I’m his dad but I do have a calmness when I’m with him on the course.
“Nick played with a Welsh lad, Jack Davidson, in the final round at Second Stage. Jack was so ill with a virus he was like a walking zombie. He was on the verge of being sick all the way round but he still got it round to make the play-off.
“He then got an alternate spot, was then down to the last spot on Saturday so he sat around all day but he didn’t get a start. That to me is a sad story. This whole thing is a tough school.”