Seven Sunshine Tour players take to the fairways of PGA Catalunya Resort on Sunday for the Final Qualifying Stage of the European Tour, and they face six of the toughest and most mentally draining rounds of their lives.
Keith Horne, Anton Haig and Tjaart van der Walt will be attempting to regain status they once enjoyed on the tour, while Jaco Ahlers (right), Oliver Bekker, Doug McGuigan and Brandon Stone will look to get a career in Europe underway.
There is an eighth South African in the field, but Andrew McLardy is not a member of the Sunshine Tour, and, when he attempts to qualify for the South African Open Championship later this month, it will be his first appearance on ‘home’ soil for some time.
Van der Walt, Horne, Bekker and McGuigan got in to Final Qualifying Stage through their finishes on last year’s Sunshine Tour Order of Merit.
Ahlers and Stone booked their places in the final stage by virtue of their performances in last week’s Second Stage – also in Spain. They got through four rounds in those events, while Merrick Bremner, Haydn Porteous, Darryn Lloyd and Louis de Jager were not so fortunate.
It means Ahlers and Stone will have to do what they did during Second Stage – and more – for another six rounds if they are to make it onto the lucrative European circuit.
Van der Walt, Haig and Horne have sipped from that cup for some time – Haig by virtue of his win in the Johnnie Walker Classic some years ago, and Horne and Van der Walt by dint of their own consistent play over the years after initially qualifying.
So what do they need to do?
The leading 25 players (and ties) at the Final Stage will be eligible for Category 15 membership of the European Tour for the following season and Category 5 of the Challenge Tour.
Players who make the cut but finish below 25th place will be eligible for Category 20 membership of the European Tour and Category 9 membership of the Challenge Tour for the following season.
Players who miss the cut at the Final Stage will be eligible for Category 15 membership of the Challenge Tour for the following season.
And for the top 25, that’s a great start to a year: The average minimum number of opportunities for Tour School graduates over the past 10 seasons is 18 tournaments.