"I wanted to get my card. When I first came out I had no status or exemptions. I was praying not to go to Q School, just praying. Because anything can happen at Q School." Tiger Woods

In the end, Tiger Woods didn't have to worry about the Q School as he won the Las Vegas Invitational and Walt Disney World Oldsmobile Classic and had three top-10s in only eight starts in his rookie season.

Just like that, as Tommy Cooper used to say, he amassed $790,594 and he was off and running.

Mere mortals, such as the 37 Irish players who entered the first stage of the European Tour Qualifying School this year (five made it to stage two and none of those progressed to the finals), don't find life quite as easy. In fact, the chances of coming through all three stages of the process to earn your card are around 300-1, or about the same as Peru's chances of winning the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa.

Experts who use different formulae to calculate the odds on winning the lottery or being struck by lightning have worked out that you are more likely to get away with murder (2-1), die of heart disease (3-1) or get hemorrhoids (25-1) than you are to get through the dreaded 'School'.

So why do they do it? What inspires 37 young men with credit card debts big enough to frighten most people to death, put themselves through such a nerve-wracking and often humiliating experience?

The answer is that they all believe that they can beat the odds and most, if not all of them, are talented enough to achieve their goal. The problem is that poor form, nerves, bad luck, illness and myriad other reasons conspire to deny them their dream.

For those with time on their side, their consolation is that countless top touring professionals have come down the same road and lived to tell a happy story at the end of it all.

They often mention names such as Ian Woosnam and Tom Lehman, this year's Ryder Cup captains and two players who had to battle hard to get where they are today. Lehman, for instance, often tells the story of how he inspired to keep going when he briefly entertained the idea of taking up a coaching position at his alma mater but baulked at the idea when he was told that he would have to rent skis in the winter.

One of the 37 is Justin Kehoe, the Shinrone native who thrashed Stephen Browne 6 and 4 in the final of the 2001 South of Ireland Championship at Lahinch but whose European Tour earnings in his first three years as a professional amount to €8,915.

His sojourn in the qualifying school was a short one. He was drawn at Circolo Golf Bogogno, near Milan, where 39 players from a starting field 124 got through to the second stage.

But there would be no place for Kehoe, who was 84th after a first round 76, 74th after a second round 73 and 47th after a 70 in round three before closing with an 83.

Reflecting on a year that saw him make three cuts from 11 starts on the 2006 Challenge Tour before crashing out of the running for 2007 in Italy, Kehoe tried to put things in perspective.

"You have to look at it long term," he says. "I have been three years at it, which I suppose is an apprenticeship in itself. At the same time you have to look at guys like Tom Lehman and Ian Woosnam, who paid several visits to the tour school and were playing on mini tours for more years than I have been doing it.

"So it drives you on that they achieved success at the end of it all. The easy thing to do would be to throw in the towel, but everybody hopes that things will get better and that good performances are just around the corner. There is also the fact we know that we can play to a better level that what we are. That is certainly what is keeping me going."

Kehoe is one of the most articulate and intelligent young players that you will find on a day's march and he points to established European Tour professional Peter Lawrie, as example of what hard work and perseverance can achieve, though he admits: "He wasn't at the extreme of being back to square one at any point."

Most of Kehoe's starts on the 2006 Challenge Tour schedule were invitations from the tour itself and having failed to earn enough cash to obtain even the humblest of ranking categories for next season, he is resigned to pre-qualifying for the third tier PGA EuroPro Tour in the UK next spring, where he will rub shoulders with many of his Irish brethern.

Before that he plans to hand over $10,000 to the Gateway Tour in the US - the same amount he received from the Team Ireland Golf Trust for 2006 - where he will get at least eight starts and some vital competitive practice on courses in Arizona or Florida in January, February and March.

"It was a poor year and puts me back at square one," he sighs. "Given the fact that I got a lot of invites on the Challenge Tour last year I will be doing very well to get invites on that tour next year. I was certainly given an awful lot of opportunities and it is disappointing that I didn't make better use of them."

So what went wrong?

"Just some bad swing habits. They were the root cause of all my problems. It just puts so much pressure on your short game and then things get exacerbated. It's a combination of all those things. It was a bit ragged all round. I believe I am working on the right things with Jimmy Ballard in the US, the same guy who works with Tim Rice and Stephen Browne. He has worked with a lot of very good players. I have just failed to get it into my game so far."

The waiting game is hard to take for guy who were becoming used to life at the top of the pile when they dominated amateur golf. Top players such as Darren Clarke and Padraig Harrington have advised our aspiring young players that they must dominate the amateur game before turning pro.

So what's the problem with Noel Fox, a player who won Walker Cup honours and gathered championship trophies for fun before giving the professional game a try.

"To do what we do, we are basically out there on an island," says Fox,. who missed out by a shot at St Annes Old Links despite shooting seven under par for 72 holes. "People are just driven and it takes some people longer to develop and come through. If there is talent there and their will is there, there is no reason why they can’t be the next Brett Wetterich."

Wetterich got his PGA Tour card in 2000 and won and lost it a few times before storming into Lehman's Ryder Cup this year. He is the poster boy for struggling young pros everywhere, having played on mini tours all over the US and missed out on his PGA Tour card by a stroke or two more than once or twice.

After leaving junior college, he headed for the Golf Coast Tour believing he had what he took. "I thought I was ready, but I wasn't," told Golf Digest six years ago. "Every day, in the blowing wind, I kept saying to myself, 'Hang in there, hang in there.'"

"Hang in there" is the mantra of all these guys, and as Bray's Keith Nolan explains, there are "hundreds" of Wetterichs out there just waiting to happen.

"Look at Brett Wetterich over here," Nolan explains after narrowly failing to win back his PGA Tour card after a long spell in the doldrums. "He plays the PGA Tour, loses his card, goes to the tour school, gets his card back and next thing you know, he’s on the Ryder Cup team.

"For every Brett Wetterich there is a hundred guys out there who think they can get to where he is. That’s why tour school is the ultimate test. It is the longest week golf wise that you can probably ever imagine. It is stories like that that keep you going."

Like boxers who take punch after punch, young pros soon build up scar tissue if they spend too long fighting to make the breakthrough.

As Fox says, "It is very difficult coming from the highs of amateur golf, from winning championships and playing high up on the Irish amateur team and the Walker Cup.

"Suddenly you are asking yourself, why isn’t this happening for me? I seem to be playing the same golf. It is just very difficult to come to terms with that. You have to sit down and ask yourself, what do I need to get better at? The problem is that you can build up a lot of scar tissue. You have just got to keep on working on things that are going to make you a better player tomorrow than you are today. You have got to keep seeing yourself out there some day - see that’s where you are going.”

As Wetterich says, you have to hang in there. Then maybe, just maybe ....