In among all the 20-something hopefuls there are always a few wise heads. Worksop’s Mark Foster first played at Q School in 1995, and thankfully there have been very few returns due to his rock-solid form over the years. But now he’s back and grinding away.
And giving us a fascinating insight into the real nuts and bolts of this week.
There are lots of clichés that are trotted out every year. Tell us something about Q School that we might not know?
They have added 10 player from those who just missed out on a card – 102nd and down – 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.
They did a five-year study and said it was unfair to finish that high on the money list and then to get nothing. So midway through the season they decided to put them into the Q School category.
How is your attitude these days towards Q School?
This is my third in a row but I went something like 16 years without one so thankfully I am quite inexperienced.
My attitude is better than in the late ’90s as I’m not piling pressure on myself and I’ve got a life at home that works. I would like to be on tour but, if it doesn’t work out, I’m 42 so I will have to find something to do with my life anyway. I want to play which is why I’m here.
If you were speaking to me 10 years ago I wouldn’t be doing this interview until the end of the week as you would be paranoid about talking about anything.
Q School is tough but it is just sport and there is a lot going on in the world. I’m at an age where I have other stuff in my life, some of the younger players are so focused and that is their strength as well. You have to be selfish to be a golfer.
What are your options at the end of this week?
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.
Only two players on the 2017 Race to Dubai from last year’s Q School kept their cards – Eddie Pepperell and Edoardo Molinari – and Ashley Chesters did it from the Access List. With the extra 10 players there will be even fewer starts.
I played around four times up to April this year. With some top 10s you might play as much as eight times, with a possible early re-rank that they are talking about it makes a massive difference.
They have said there will be more opportunities earlier in the year. The European Tour almost shuts down before Augusta for Q School players, you don’t play in the Middle East so you basically play South Africa and Morocco.
But, at the end of the day, you have to get a card and try and have a massive week early on. I played 22 times this year which is a lot. I would have played about six had I not got my card. A few players played Challenge Tour at the end of the year so I took advantage of that in terms of starts.
There is one player, Austin Connelly, who missed out last year at Q School but still kept his card and that is a miracle. He went to Challenge Tour but didn’t like the course set-ups as they didn’t suit him and he took his chances at the Open by finishing 14th. That is almost the achievement of the year.
If you were in charge what would you change about Q School?
I would give fewer cards, maybe 10, and have more playing opportunities for those 10. Do you really have a tour card if you finish 25th? Not really. But people don’t agree with me.
I really noticed a lack of celebration last year. You should be popping corks if you get your card. There’s not as much celebrating as there used to be.
A few guys might have their first card and their parents will be crying which is completely understandable. I got the 23rd card and my best mate Robert Coles (below) missed by one shot and we went and had a coffee together.
These days people just get in the car and head off and I think that is down to the number of starts they might be getting. The mentality, by finishing 15-25th, is that if you get off to a good start then you can keep your card.
What advice would you give to a Q School rookie?
Just play hard. We’ve all done it over the years, it wasn’t easier before so you just have to get your head down and ignore the politics of it all. Just play when you can and play well.
Someone from here will get a card and play well next year but that percentage is dropping.
Despite that there have been record entries this year – either players get federation money, which the British players don’t, or they are entering with someone else’s money.
Day four when they make the cut is one of the biggest days. If you haven’t got a category anywhere then making the cut is a massive day. The top 72 gets you onto the Challenge Tour so some players will have more pressure on day four than the last day. If you miss the cut you go home with nothing.
Were you always going to come?
I had a little wobble and I had a chat with my wife and she always says ‘play if your heart is in it’.
The entry fee comes around quite quick, they’re emailing by August. Her advice was to send the money in if I wanted to go. I was playing alright so here I am.
When playing tour golf is over what are your plans for the future?
I’ve never thought about it as, when you do, the end seems to come quicker. So I’ve deliberately ignored it a bit.
I really don’t know, I like TV stuff but I have no experience. If it was right I wouldn’t say no to anything.
People get the wrong impression about me; I love golf, it’s just the travel that is so tiring. I will always watch the game. In any other world you would be making plans well in advance but I’m glad that I’ve focused on my playing.
I still work with Pete Cowen. He knows how I’m going to be swinging it before I get there and I know what he’s going to say so we end up having four biscuits and three cups of tea.