Five rounds of golf for 273 players and, at the end of it all, 30 of them will get their Sunshine Tour cards. That’s the marathon of elation and heartbreak that is the Sunshine Tour Qualifying School which gets underway on Tuesday.
The players will battle it out over four rounds – two at each of Bloemfontein Golf Club and the neighbouring Schoeman Park Golf Club – before the field is cut to the top 60 players and ties. And then comes the final sprint, and the top 30 players and ties on Saturday will be eligible for the 2016 season.
One of the huge field is Christiaan Bezuidenhout, who has waited a long time to tee it up in this event. After a short suspension for an unknowing breach of the doping regulations (he used beta-blockers for years to help him with a speech problem), he returned to competitive golf with a bang, winning two events on the Big Easy Tour, taking a share of 33rd in The European Tour’s Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, and backing that up with two top-20 finishes on the Sunshine Tour.
“Every time I play in a tournament, I want to win it,” said Bezuidenhout. “There is a little bit of a sense of unfinished business about being here, because I was hoping to play in Q-School last year, and then came the suspension.
“But I’ve had a look at both of the courses, and they’re in good shape, especially considering the drought, and I’m looking forward to a good week. I’ve had a couple of good results this year, and I want to finish of the year on a good note.”
Also in the field are 116 amateurs, hoping to pursue their dream of earning a living by playing tournament golf. Two of them will play the first tee shots of the tournament at 6.20 on Tuesday: Michael Schutz is first off at Bloemfontein, and Paul Colditz has the honour at Schoeman Park.
The first-timers will be playing alongside some players who have tried for years, and failed, and some others who are trying to get back onto the tour after losing their eligibility.
Besides the 218 South Africans in the field, there are players from 22 other countries trying their luck in the stifling Bloemfontein heat. And by far the biggest contingent comes from England, with 16 players braving the heat instead of their more familiar cold at this time of year.