An impressive Niall Kearney fired eight birdies in a superb, six under par 66 to clinch his place in this week's European Tour Qualifying School finals.
The 21-year old Walker Cup player was one of five Irishmen to come through stage two in Spain, finishing two shots behind Sweden’s Fredrik Ohlsson in brilliant share of second place on 12 under par 276 at Costa Ballena near Cadiz.
Six Irish players will now tee it up in the first round of the 108-hole battle for 30 cards at PGA Golf Catalunya in Girona on Saturday.
Kilkenny’s Gary Murphy, who finished 124th in the Race to Dubai standings and lost his card by just €15,900, will be joined by Kearney, Dubliner John Kelly, former Royal County Down assistant Simon Thornton, Glasson’s Colm Moriarty and Clandeboye’s Jonathan Caldwell.
“I'm delighted,” said Kearney, who has yet to decide if he will waive his amateur status before the finals. “I have no past experience of the Qualifying School so I just went out and played my own game and it all came together. I went out relaxed and hit the shots when I needed to.”
Kelly, the 38-year old teaching professional at St Margaret’s, was one of 19 players to come through at Costa Ballena after a final round 69 helped him leap from 27th to tied 11th on eight under par.
“The prize is not getting the finals,” said Kelly, who made his only bogey of the day at the 18th but avoided an eight-way play-off for the last two qualifying spots by a single stroke. “The prize is finishing in the top 30 when I get to Girona. I have to finish the job now.”
Kelly, who will be returning the finals after a four year absence, has transformed his game over the past two years thanks to team that has made Padraig Harrington a three-time major winner.
One of a select group of players using the Harrington Golf method, he is coached by Bob Torrance and advised on the mental game by Harrington himself.
The first step was to rebuild himself physically for golf and he has done that with the help of Harrington's trainer Dr Liam Hennessy.
He has also changed his swing with help from the experts at the Titleist Performance Institute in San Diego - he hits it higher now, with more control - and honed his putting with the bio-mechanical expert Dr Paul Hurrion.
The real key to his success over the past two years has been his growing mental strength. With more faith in his ability to play the game, he has been able to reduce the impact of his bad days.
"The first round got me through this time," Kelly said. "It should have been 75 but I managed to turn it into a 72. I could have blown it right there.
"I was two over and made a miraculous up and down on the 16th and finished birdie-birdie to go from possibly three over to level par. In the past that would have been 75 or 76. That comes from having Tadhg on the bag and listening to what Padraig has been telling me over the past two years. My good rounds aren't any better but my bad rounds are nowhere near as destructive as they used to be."
Play-offs were necessary to decide the qualifiers at all four venues but Thornton and Moriarty closed with level par 72s to finish tied for eighth and 14th respectively at Sherry Golf where Waterville’s David Higgins shot a final round 68 but finished three strokes outside the 18 qualifying places.
Caldwell carded a 69 to qualify with ease in share of 12th at Hacienda del Alamo in Murcia where former South of Ireland champion Mervyn Owens was nine strokes outside the five-under par qualifying mark.
Mallow’s Michael Collins also came up short at Arcos Gardens with a final round 73 leaving him three strokes outside the two-under par qualifying mark.
At the same venue, Limerick’s Cian McNamara (72) was well off the pace on six over with Lurgan’s Gareth Shaw (74) a further shot back.
European Tour Qualifying School, second stage
Sherry Golf (Par 72) 18 qualified on 286
Qualified: 273 Phillip Archer (Eng) 68 69 68 68; 284 (T8) Simon Thornton 68 73 71 72; 285 (T14) Colm Moriarty 69 70 74 72.
Irish non-qualifiers: 289 (T28) David Higgins 72 76 73 68; 292 (T38) Michael McGeady 71 76 72 73; 294 (T44) Eddie Barr (+6) 74 73 75 72.
Arcos Gardens (Par 72) 19 qualified on 286
Qualified: 276 Santiano Luna (Esp) 66 69 71 70. Irish non-qualifiers: 289 (T25) Michael Collins 75 73 68 73; 294 (T49) Cian McNamara 74 74 74 72; 295 (T54) Gareth Shaw 70 76 75 74.
Costa Ballena (Par 72) 19 qualified on 281.
Qualified: 274 Fredrik Ohlsson (Swe) 71 69 65 69; 276 (T2) Niall Kearney (Am) 70 73 67 66; 280 (T11) John Kelly 72 71 68 69.
Hacienda del Alamo (Par 72) 19 qualified on 283
Qualified: 268 Ryan Blaum (USA) 68 65 67 68; 281 (T12) Jonathan Caldwell 69 72 71 69. Irish non-qualifiers: 292 (T49) Mervyn Owens 71 75 71 74.