Late bloomer John Kelly has made a last minute dash to Mexico to kick off his tour career.

The Dubliner, 34, surprised many when he reached the European Tour Qualifying School Finals last month.

And while he failed to win his card he has decided to play as many Challenge Tour events as he can - starting with today’s Mexican Open.

The St Margaret’s professional, who was teaching at an indoor driving range in London until April, only got into the tournament on Monday.

But he is so determined to carve out a tour career that he immediately packed his bags and flew off for the start of the 2006 season.

He said: “I have to take every chance I can get to play now. I only got word from the Challenge Tour on Monday so I packed up and flew out on Tuesday morning.

“I had to fly to Atlanta first and then get a connection to Mexico City but I am delighted to get the chance to keep playing.

“I have category 11 status on the Challenge Tour now which is not much but it gives me a chance to play some events.

“I hope I can get around 17 starts this year all together and a lot of them will be late starts but I am determined to give it a go.”

Kelly is the only Irishman in the field for the first event of the 2006 Challenge Tour campaign.

The €260,000 tournament is co-sanctioned by the Challenge Tour and the Tour de las Americas with a first prize of €41,624.

A good start for Kelly could send him soaring up the rankings and give him a solid base for the rest of the season as he bids to earn a full card through the money list.

Last term, Waterville’s David Higgins finished third at Club de Golf de Hacienda, earning over €16,000.

The Kerryman eventually finished 12th on the final Challenge Tour rankings with €77,258 to clinch his European Tour card as one of the top 15 money earners.

Scotland’s Marc Warren, who finished the 2005 season as No 1 on the Challenge Tour Rankings, believes every event is crucial.

He began his 2005 season in the same Mexican event and, although his finish of tied 67th was his worst of the year, the €620 he earned proved crucial.

He said: “I might not have played great in Mexico last year but I won €620. And while that doesn’t sound that impressive on its own, when you realise I won the Rankings by €448, then you can see how important it actually was.

“If you can get off to a good start it gives you something to build on for the rest of the year because the money is big for the Challenge Tour boys over in South America.

“Guys like David Higgins who finished third and Rafael Gomez who ended up winning in Mexico last year both used the money there as a catalyst to move forward and it was no surprise to see both of them finish in the top 15 at the end of the year.”

The Challenge Tour moves to Argentina next week for the Abierto Visa de la Republica at the Jockey Club in Buenos Aires.

Kelly has also entered that event but is not hopeful of getting a start.

He said: “This 70 Challenge Tour players get in but next week it is only 55 so we will have to wait and see.”