Four players tell us what it's really like to go through the week they all describe as "like nothing else"
“The euphoria I felt was just happiness. I don’t think anyone really likes this week. It’s horrible. It’s pressure all week and you’re walking with tension and you don’t have much room for error.”
More than a thousand players have teed it up at the three stages of Q School so, with just 25 spots on the European Tour available, there is very rarely a happy ending. For a few making the cut and getting their Challenge Tour privileges is enough but the real carrot, and the one they’ve just splashed £1,800 on at the end of a not very lucrative season, is the golden ticket.
This is where they’ve dreamed of playing. This is where the real money is.
Rikard Karlberg has been there before but then illness and depression got in the way and he was out of the game for 18 months. So, when the magic happened with his 415th and final shot there was this huge outpouring from both the player and his peers on social media.
Rikard Karlberg, been through all sorts, was T24 at -11 playing the last.
Needs this.. pic.twitter.com/76LOLT3LYG
— Mark Townsend (@MarkTownsendNCG) November 20, 2019
“This week has been so frustrating with my putter,” the 32-year-old explained. “I missed so many putts and then to be able to hole that one when I needed, it just feels fantastic.
“I had a feeling all day that the number would be 12-under par, so I knew I needed to hole it. When I hit it, I thought it should be good and then I saw it was tracing the line perfectly and saw the speed and thought ‘come on, just reach’.
“I think I am a better golfer now than I was then. I’ve played a few years on tour and I’ve learned about the pressure and I’ve learned that you need to hit the shots, even if you’re nervous.”
Everywhere you look on the sixth and final day there are a collection of haunted faces. You might start the week with a positive outlook and happy-go-lucky mantra but it will get you in the end.
Essex’s Dale Whitnell played in the 2009 Walker Cup alongside Tommy Fleetwood. He began the year with not much of a status on the Challenge Tour and has spent the past decade trying to make a few quid on the EuroPro, Jamega and Gecko Tours. Then he won in Belgium on the Challenge Tour which meant he could bypass the first and second stage.
And then he three-putted the 17th to slip one shot outside the magic 12. His final round had brought six birdies and also four bogeys and he would need one more of the former to make.
“Going out I thought I would need to shoot 3-under and I got there and then three-putted 17 to make things more interesting. At the last I hit a hybrid from 250 yards and was able to two putt it.
“That last round is like nothing else, it’s brutal, it’s just what’s on the line. I knew I had a full season on the Challenge Tour so that helps but, really, 26th was no good. At the start of the week I set my goal as 2-under for every round and now I’m on -12 and made my goal and it was just enough.
“At the same time it’s strangely good as players and caddies are encouraging and everybody wants everybody to do really well. But it comes down to all the practice for the last however many years and then putting it into reality – you just have to grow a pair and try and fight the demons.”
Lincolnshire’s Dave Coupland qualified as a greenkeeper after he left school but his skills as a player were too good to ignore and, before long, he won Local Final Qualifying at Monifieth to earn a spot at the 2007 Open at Carnoustie.
Five years later he turned pro and the past few years have been spent on the Challenge Tour, back to the EuroPro, and this year another on the second tier.
To give you an idea of how tough life can be financially, even for someone one step away from the European Tour, his 73 starts on the Challenge Tour have given him career earnings of just over €100,000.
Coupland was here this week with his dad on the bag and he came to the par-3 17th one shot outside the mark.
“I came off the 16th and there was a leaderboard and it said the 25th place was at -11. Then I hit a nice tee shot and holed it from eight feet with a hole’s worth of break. At the last I could have gone for the green but I said to dad that I don’t want to make six so I laid up.
“As I was lining up the putt the scoreboard went to -12 so I paid it a bit more attention and thankfully it went in.”
Dave Coupland, dad on the bag. Off to the European Tour… birdied last two, enormous cojones (as they say down here) pic.twitter.com/Fit41nWkUJ
— Mark Townsend (@MarkTownsendNCG) November 20, 2019
The 33-year-old went straight to his dad.
“It is just one big relief and particularly to have dad share the moment, it’s making me emotional now just talking about it. I’m relatively calm on the course but I suppose I’m a bit of a sensitive soul!
“The only thing that I could compare that final round to was the 1st tee when I qualified for the Open bit there’s more at stake here. It’s hopefully life changing, just to have the opportunity to play on the main tour. It’s unbelievable.”
Toby Tree has also played in an Open, at Birkdale two years ago, and he made the cut there. Otherwise it’s been tough, he broke his leg last winter and was then injured this summer.
But the 25-year-old’s week in Spain had been a great one, 9-under after after two rounds and 14-under going into the last day he had a nice cushion – not that that will stop the mind playing tricks.
“On the course I felt comfortable and confident,” he said. “Off the course the stuff that goes through your head is ridiculous. There’s all sorts going on. I found it hardest in the evenings to fill my time.”
Tree double-bogeyed his opening hole, his first of the week, but that was followed by five birdies in the next seven holes. So leaving the 9th green and walking past the huge leaderboard he will have seen his name at -17 and just a few off the lead.
“I was just brain dead on that back nine and I took four to get up and down from not far away twice which isn’t going to help.
“It’s nothing like anything else and you have so much stuff going through your head and you’re thinking you’re going to play on European Tour and then you’re not.
“I don’t really know how you keep going. You just eat, chat or think of something else or one shot at a time to try to try and get through it. I was getting faster and faster as the day went on, and the waiting is tough.”
Playing alongside Tree was Marcus Armitage for the second day on the trot and, thankfully, the pair of them got the job done.
“Marcus spurred me on as the day went on and said a few nice words to help get me over the line. It would have been such a massive kick in the teeth had I not got my card the way I played all week.”
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