While the Sunshine Tour’s Qualifying School is all about feeding new blood into the system, established players like Bryce Easton give the event which tees off on Thursday at Bloemfontein Golf Club and Schoeman Park Golf Club some added spice.
He’s a two-time winner on the Sunshine Tour, but a poor 2014 on the circuit – he managed only two top-10 finishes in his 14 starts – saw him finish 101st on the final 2014 Order of Merit, one spot and just R800 out of retaining his card.
Now he will be amongst 240 players who will have to grind it out over two rounds on each of the courses ahead of the 72-hole cut, after which the remaining players will fight it out for 30 cards on the 2015 Sunshine Tour.
“I put myself in this position,” said Easton, who spend the final part of 2014 frantically trying to lock down his Asian Tour card. He managed to do that with some clutch performances right at the end of the season, finishing 56th on that Order of Merit, on which the top 60 retain their cards.
“I felt it kind of late there, which meant I had to miss out on the Alfred Dunhill Championship and the South African Open Championship,” he added. “But I eventually decided that staying in Asia and making sure of that card was a smarter strategy than dividing my time between two continents and failing on both.”
Easton originally turned professional after the 2011 Sunshine Tour Qualifying School, and he became the first winner of a Sunshine Big Easy tournament when he took the inaugural event at Crown Mines in March, 2011. Later that year, he scored a fine second place behind Oliver Bekker in the Northern Cape Classic in Kimberley, and, the following year, he pulled off his maiden Sunshine Tour victory in the Sun City Challenge in May. He followed that up a fortnight later with his second victory in the Vodacom Origins of Golf event at Zebula.
He finished 37th on the Sunshine Tour Order of Merit that year, and he followed that with a solid but unspectacular 2013, finishing 48th with just two top-10 finishes. But it was a good year because he caused something of a sensation on his first-ever Asian Tour event when he finished second at the 2013 Chiangmai Golf Classic, setting in motion his Asian adventure.
“It’s frustrating to have to go through Q-School again,” he said, “but I had a bad run in the big tournaments at the beginning of last year, and then I wasn’t able to try and rectify things at the end of the year.
“I’m just looking to get my card so I can at least peg it up in the co-sanctioned events, and then, when there are breaks on the Asian Tour, I’ll play events back home so I can do better on the Sunshine Tour Order of Merit,” he added.
And while that’s a hard-luck tale, it’s not entirely representative of the players this week: For most, it’s a quest for a dream – the start of a career as a professional golfer.