Q School notebook: Poulter's protege, Jigger's in, and my biggest thrill of 2018

Golf News

Mark Townsend on who emerged with honours from Q School, why Christofer Blomstrand is everyone's new best friend, and the legend of Jigger Thomson

So who won?     

Ian Poulter has been singing Sam Horsfield’s praises for the past seven years – ‘the best young player I’ve ever seen’ – and the Englishman, who has lived in Florida for most of his 20 years, somehow finished the six rounds at a staggering 27 under, helped by a closing 63 and just five bogeys all week.

He only turned pro last summer after his sophomore year at the University of Florida – he has already played in two US Opens. This year he got three invites to European Tour events, made the cut in two and featured in all three qualifying stages for Q School.

Sam Horsfield

The story of the week

Every single player in the 156-man field has their own story of how they ended up at Lumine and their own ending. For me and plenty of others the big, no pun intended, story was Jonathan ‘Jigger’ Thomson.

The youngster has faced some very dark times, from the age of seven he battled Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia in Sheffield’s Children Hospital before achieving remission at 12. He still has a yearly blood test. Now he is a member of the European Tour.

The goal at the start of the week was to make the cut, that way he would be off the EuroPro Tour and on the Challenge Tour, something he narrowly missed out on at the EuroPro’s Tour Championship.

For much of the week things looked great, then he made a hat-trick of bogeys at the start of the back nine. Coming to the last two holes he was outside the mark.

But he then birdied 17 and, just for good measure, signed off with another.

I spoke to his dad during the week and the European Tour will be all the richer for the Thomsons’ presence in 2018.

Oh, and the 21-year-old is six feet, nine and a half inches tall.

How 33 could so easily have been 25

Had Christofer Blomstrand birdied the 108th hole, a reachable par 5, then he would have knocked out Marcel Schneider, Justin Walters, Ben Evans, Christiaan Bezuidenhout, Felipe Aguilar, Jazz Janewattananond, Gavin Moynihan and Matthew Nixon who all finished on 13 under. The Swede also bogeyed 14 and doubled 15. Walters and (let’s just call him) Jazz had both eagled the 18th to get to that aggregate.

England’s Evans was up near the top of the leaderboard for much of the week but then threw in a 75 on Wednesday but then birdied four of the last five for a 66 to squeeze through.

Best comeback

Take your pick. South Africa’s Justin Walters opened with a three-over 75 before that closing eagle got him over the line with nothing to spare. Jazz started 75-71 before a pair of 65s got him going. New Zealand’s Josh Geary (-17) was level par after three days.

But Scotland’s Connor Syme gets the nod. The Walker Cup player looked to be packing his bags before recording four 2s in a third-round 63, the joint best score of the week, and he ended up making it through with four shots to spare.

“When you think about the fact I was playing Walker Cup two months ago, that is just mental!”

From EuroPro Q School to the European Tour

Gavin Moynihan already had a Category 18 membership, and a decent number of starts for the 2018 European Tour, after finishing in 19th place on the Challenge Tour.

He now has Category 17 membership and a good deal more starts after finding the green at the 108th hole from 219 yards and two-putting for a crucial birdie.

It continues an upward curve for the 2015 Walker Cup star who had no status of any kind less and a swing that was in disarray than a year ago.

It’s all about the top 10

I spoke to Mark Foster during the week and, for him, the big goal was to finish inside the top 10. For the following reasons…

“They have added 10 players from those who just missed out on a card – 102nd and down on the Race to Dubai – and added them into this year’s Q School category. So there will be the top 10 this week and there could technically be another 10 from the money list so if you finish 11th here then you are actually 21st on the category. I’ve got a Challenge Tour card if I want one but the only scenario really is to finish in the top 10. I’d take any card but they re-rank twice so you want a top 10 to have a chance of keeping your card.”

The Worksop man looked set to hit his target but then made six at the 12th, his only double of the week. He then birdied 16 and came to the last needing a four.

He got it to sign for a 67 and… picked up the 10th card.

Other European Tour stalwarts to make it through included Anders Hansen and Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano who had Alvaro Quiros on his bag.

“My only goal now is to win another European Tour event so that I can be one ahead of Alvaro!”

Mark Foster

What’s it actually like?

After watching Q School for two days I came away on Wednesday morning with 23 players highlighted on my phone to follow the progress. These ranged from players I was already a fan of, to players who had won on the European Tour, to players who I had never heard of coming into the week, to players who I noted were last off the putting green last thing at night, to a player whose swing was very easy on the eye to a player whose hair I admired.

Q School is like nothing else, just as people describe it every year – it’s relentless, exhausting, a test of skill, nerve and patience and all of the usual bits. But, for an observer, it’s unique in that everyone goes off within two hours of each other and the players are split over two courses so you find yourself seeing the same faces, doing the same nods and engaging in more conversation than you might at a year’s worth of following the European Tour.

One nice little aside is that some of the players decide on who picks up the dinner tab by the footage of putts holed.

An ambition might be pushing it but I had always wanted to tick off going to one and now I’d never want to miss another. You’re walking the fairways in a gallery that most likely numbers just you and there’s a good chance that some of these characters might be challenging on the big boys’ tour very soon, more than likely in the coming weeks.

Thank you

Finally, a big thank you to James Heath for giving me the biggest thrill of the golfing year in regaining his card. Two friends (one his brother) shared the bag duties this week which is why I have spent the past six days refreshing his score every two to three minutes, which is even more ludicrous given they only update the scores every three holes, and two days cheering him on in person.

When he hit three balls off the 12th tee on Sunday his mind was on a budget flight back to the UK, now he’s back in the big time after some spectacular ball striking, streaky putting, very nearly the up and down of all time, the sand save of all time (from the face of a fairway bunker 175 yards out), lots of laughs, even more hard work and a talent that most of us can only dream of.

He came to the last thinking he needed a birdie, he almost holed his approach.

Well done everyone.

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