By Brian Keogh
Wexford club professional Damien McGrane grabbed his European Tour Card in style in Spain yesterday and roared: "I'm so proud of what I've achieved."
McGrane, 32, carded a five under par 66 in the sixth and final round at Emporda to finish joint third on 23 under par with Denmark's Jeppe Huldahl.
But there was more agony for Ryder Cup hero Philip Walton as he failed at the School for the fifth year in a row despite a closing 68.
The Dubliner missed his card by five shots but will concentrate on the Challenge Tour next season and attempt to avoid a return to the School by finishing in the top 15 on the money list.
England's Richard McEvoy took the top card when he finished on 28 under par after a 67, three shots clear of Australian Wade Ormsby.
But it was a brilliant performance by McGrane, who struggled to earn the 38th card last year and was left "scraping the bottom of the barrel" this season.
Now he can follow in the footsteps of Gary Murphy, a top graduate last year, and play in the big money events that make it easier to make the cash he needs to stay on tour.
He said: "I'm proud of myself but I am also very happy that it's all over. It's been a very tough week but I played very well and I hit a lot of really good shots.
"I think it is a bigger achievement than last year. I kind of faltered last year on the way in but this year I've done myself justice.
"The scoring was unbelievable and everyone was moving up every day. But I moved with them and made the birdies that I needed to make."
After making the cut in 12 of his 17 starts in his rookie season, McGrane earned €126,363 despite continuing to sell clubs and give lessons at Wexford Golf Club.
Denied a place in the richer events because of his ranking, he made the most of what he had but came up just €40,000 short of retaining his card.
He said: "I was always stopping and going. I'd play one week, wouldn't get a start for another couple of weeks and then make it into the next event at the last minute.
"That makes it very difficult. If someone had said 'you are playing in those 12 tournaments' at least I'd be able to focus on those events. But that's not the way it is."
He explained: "If I'd played in the top 17 tournaments, I'd have retained my card no problem because the same golf would have earned me a lot more money."
But that is history for McGrane now after scores of 71, 63, 70, 65, 70 and 66 at the Catalan course.
Tied for ninth overnight, six off the lead, he started his final round in blistering fashion with birdies at three of the first six holes.
Another birdie at the par five eighth helped him reach the turn in a superb 31 shots and when he birdied the par-five 13th as well he was heading for second place.
A bogey at the 15th didn't disrupt his concentration and he bounced back to regain the shot dropped with another birdie four at the 16th.
But it was another week to forget for Walton, who made the cut with nothing to spare but missed out by five shots despite closing with two rounds of 68.
Starting at the 10th, Walton got off to the perfect start with a birdie at his opening hole.
But although he picked up another shot at the 619-yard seventh, bogies at the 13th and 18th left him where he started the day.
After making pars at the first five holes on the back nine, the Malahide battler finished in style with a hat-trick of birdies from the sixth to card a three under par 68.
But it was never going to be enough and Walton finished on 12 under par for the six rounds in joint 58th place.
He groaned: "I struck the ball really well all week but the scoring has just been unreal. These young guys are hitting it so far these days and that's just what you have to play against.
"I think I missed 12 greens out of 108, but it didn't happen for me on the front nine where I had two sixes on the par fives."
Walton has decided to play a full schedule on the European Challenge Tour next year and try to get back on tour.
He said; "I'll stay out there all year if I have to. It will mean a lot of travelling around Europe again but I'm prepared to do it if that's what it takes."