Race is on as rivals get set for gruelling few weeks

Sheffield's Matt Fitzpatrick.

Sheffield's Matt Fitzpatrick.

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Whether it be through conventional means or via a slightly ajar door, the clamour to join the European Tour has never been greater.

The continent’s worldwide tour may be losing sponsors and with it, esteem, but that does not deter a host of the county’s budding professionals from attempting to follow in the footsteps of Seve Ballesteros, Nick Faldo and Colin Montgomerie.

Over the next six weeks, seven golfers from Yorkshire will put their futures on the line in an attempt to make the promised land.

Some have never been there before and have already exceeded expectations by getting this far.

Others have built their livelihoods around being a Tour player and will be desperate to get back there, while the majority are just trying to make a living and the closer they get, the more their hands shake as they line up a putt.

Welcome to the race to join the European Tour.

At the top of the bracket are two golfers who have tasted the biggest tournament in golf and want more of the same on a regular basis.

Matt Fitzpatrick had the world at his feet 12 months ago. The Sheffield teenager had just won the silver medal for being leading amateur at the Open, and then ended England’s century-long wait for a US Amateur champion.

This summer he finished as the highest amateur at the US Open, having narrowly missed the cut at the Masters. He turned professional in June, signed with ISM and set about making the most of sponsors’ invites to try and win his card for next season.

Although he was unable to win enough money via that route, he still has two chances left to win his card for next season. At present he is in China playing the first week of the Challenge Tour’s four-week long play-off series, after which the top 15 players on the order of merit gain playing rights onto the European Tour.

Those placed 16th to 45th get exemption into the final stage of qualifying school, a six-round marathon that runs from November 15-20 in Spain.

If Fitzpatrick, who is currently 53rd on the money list, fails to make the top 15, his last chance is Tour school.

“The Challenge Tour has been a good experience for me so far,” said Fitzpatrick, 20, who opened the play-off series in China with a level-par 72.

“It is tough out here as everyone wants to make it to the top, and this is where you have to start.

“There are a lot of young guys and they are all aiming for the same thing – getting their card and making that top 15, which is not easy at all.

“I just need to try and do my best and whatever happens, happens. If I make it to the (Challenge Tour) Grand Final (November 5-8) then it makes my life a lot easier, and hopefully I won’t need to go to the qualifying school, but it looks as though that will likely be the case.

“To do your time here is all part of the learning experience, to get used to going away and playing week after week. It is all part of your development as a player.”

Also shooting level par in China yesterday was Chris Hanson, the Challenge Tour regular who qualified for the Open at Royal Liverpool this summer.

Hanson put that major experience to good use by making the last five cuts, including both times his status got him into the fields for low-ranking European Tour events.

He is 66th on the Challenge Tour’s order of merit.

The likelihood is that both men will have to go to Spain in mid-November to vie for the 25 cards on offer following six of the most mentally-draining rounds of golf at qualifying school’s final stage, unless they can record a win over the next month.

Hoping to join them there are four players who have already fought their way through the first phase of qualifying school.

Leeds’s Daniel Gavins, 23, who graduated to the Challenge Tour last year through the third-tier EuroPro Tour, is the man in form having won his qualifier at Frilford Heath last month.

He tees off at the Lumine Golf and Beach Club in Spain on November 7-10.

Richard Law, the 2008 Yorkshire Amateur champion, has also progressed to this stage. The 24-year-old EuroPro Tour player competes at Las Colinas Golf & Country Club.

Two more Yorkshiremen look ing to further their interest in the second round of qualifying school at Panoramica Golf & Sport Resort are former Yorkshire player Scott Campbell of Hallowes in Sheffield and Moortown’s Nick McCarthy.

If any of those are among the top 25 per cent across the four sites they will progress to the final stage of qualifying at PGA Catalunya, when they will be joined by players who finished 111th to 145th on the European Tour’s Race to Dubai standings – and John Parry.

The Harrogate professional has endured a nightmare fourth season on the European Tour, making just three cuts in 27 tournaments. He is outside the top 145, but due to his victory in Paris in the 2010 season, he is exempt into the final stage of qualifying.

Parry won through qualifying school two years ago so will be confident of repeating the trick next month.

Other Yorkshire professionals Steve Uzzell (Hornsea) and Alex Belt of Snainton can still force their way onto the Challenge Tour via the EuroPro Tour and PGA Play-offs respectively, two events that while not offering the same prize, are no less pressured as the race to climb golf’s ladder intensifies.

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