Christiaan looking to mix with Europe’s elite

One of the Sunshine Tour’s most consistent performers Christiaan Basson is ready to take the next step and will be going to the European Tour Qualifying School early next month. Courtesy of his 15th place finish in the Sunshine Tour Order of Merit last year, he was exempt from the first stage of qualifying, and he will thus be teeing it up on November 7 at the Campo de Golf El Saler in Valencia for the second stage.

“I’ve been to the Asian Tour qualifying school twice, but this is obviously my first time trying for the European Tour Q-school. I made a deal with myself that if I got into a position in the Order of Merit where I was exempt for the first stage, I would give it a go,” he said.

Basson will be part of a field in excess of 300 players that will begin the second stage of the qualifying, and about 80 of these are expected to progress to the final stage. Of those 80, the top 25 and ties will receive a Category 11b membership for the European Tour. This allows eligibility for around 19 events on the European Tour, depending on the regulations set out for the 2013 season.

Those who make the final round cut but miss out on the top 25 will earn a Category 14 membership for the European Tour, and a Category 7 membership for the European Challenge Tour. But the Challenge Tour doesn’t appear to form a major part of Basson’s plans.

“I haven’t really thought much about whether I would play on the Challenge Tour. If it worked out like that, I might play a few events early on and see how I go. But the big events on the Sunshine Tour would take priority for me. And besides, I’m targeting qualifying for the main tour!” he said.

And with Basson’s game showing a measure of consistency in the last five years, it certainly seems as if he’s got a great chance. He’s been inside the top 40 on the Order of Merit every year since 2007, and has recorded two victories. Last year was his best to date, as he finished a highly impressive 15th, amassing just under R600,000 in prize money.

He’s kept the momentum going this year as well. In May, he claimed victory at the Investec Royal Swazi Open, and he’s backed this up with three other top-10 finishes, the most notable of which was his near-miss at Sishen. He played fantastically well for all three days, and appeared to have the tournament won, only to lose out to Trevor Fisher Jnr, who produced a sensational comeback.

But the second place finish did nothing to scar the man from Cape Town, and has left him as confident as ever about his game as he looks ahead to the next few months.

“My game’s been really solid of late actually. Although I missed the cut at The Links Fancourt, I’m feeling really confident about the next couple of months, not just for Q-school but for the summer events as well. I just need a few more putts to drop, because I’ll need to go deep if I’m going to make it into the top 25,” he said.

Qualifying school has a cost of €1,700 for entry, and with the travel and accommodation costs on top of this, it certainly isn’t a cheap exercise. For someone like Basson who will be coming in from South Africa, the costs will be felt even more so, although he is fortunate enough to enjoy financial assistance.

“The second stage and the final stage of qualifying used to be in consecutive weeks, but this year there is a gap between the two and I will be flying back for the SA Open. So if I make it through to the final stage of the qualifying, it will involve two trips. Luckily, the guys at Investec have really helped me out and part of the financial sponsorship they give me includes an amount for Tour School,” he said.

With such a packed schedule, preparation can be difficult for contenders like Basson who haven’t seen the course before. The summer schedule begins in earnest this week at Glendower for the BMG Classic, and with so many big events coming up in the weeks that follow, it becomes a fine line between prioritising the Sunshine Tour and giving oneself the best possible chance at achieving a European Tour card.

“I’m playing BMG, Suncoast and the ISPS Matchplay, so I’m only arriving in Valencia on November 5. It’s obviously not ideal, because I’ll be playing the course pretty much blind, other than maybe a practice round on the Tuesday. But tournament play is probably the best preparation for me going into such a huge event, and I’ll have full trust in my game,” he said.

With so many golfers chasing a place in the coveted top 25, competition will be very fierce. And even once through, retaining a card for a qualifier is not an easy task, as they will have to secure a spot in the top 115 in the Race to Dubai to do so. In 2011, the last player to retain their card earned €252,083.

But for someone like Basson, there is no better person to draw inspiration from than fellow South African Branden Grace. Grace himself was a graduate from the European Tour Qualifying School in 2011, and now sits third in the Race to Dubai standings, having accumulated more than €2 million.

“I’ve known Branden since the days of amateur golf, and watching his game develop and his confidence grow has been wonderful. Getting through tour school, and then having such a good start to the season really set him up, and his meteoric rise has been really inspirational for all of us,” he said.

And, with such a slid all-round game and calm temperament, there is absolutely no reason why Basson can’t go on and follow in Grace’s footsteps.

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