Q-School grind starts at San Roque

By Brian Keogh

It's golf's ultimate last chance saloon - a six-round, 108-hole shoot out around the Old and New Courses at The San Roque Club near Sotogrande with the jackpot a minimum of 30 golden tickets to the European Tour circus.

Yet while it's only a mile as the crow flies from Valderrama, the 156 hopefuls who tee it up in the European Tour Qualifying School Finals today are not swaggering to huge cash rewards but scrabbling desperately for the right to make their fortune.

With Douglas' Peter O'Keeffe turning professional this week, all five Irish aspirants are unsure exactly where they will be playing for pay in 2008.

But all five know that if they make the 72-hole cut and go on to finish inside the top 30 and ties, they will be pegging it up with the Padraig Harringtons of the world on the European Tour next season.

From an initial Q-School entry of 780, no fewer than 29 European Tour winners will tee it up this week with Ryder Cup players Andrew Coltart and Joakim Haeggman joined by former Irish Open winners David Carter and Patrik Sjoland and up and coming starlets such as Richie Ramsay and Seve Benson.

And for Irishmen O'Keeffe, Stephen Browne, Colm Moriarty, Damian Mooney and Michael McGeady, the trick is to stay patient and hope that six steady rounds will be enough to give them a sniff at glory.

"It doesn't take any kamikaze type golf or going for glory from the first tee," warned Browne, who won his card here in 2004. "If you play solid golf for six rounds you will get through it. Patience is the key."

Mooney and Moriarty have been to the finals twice before, without success, while McGeady makes his debut at the decisive stage, knowing exactly what it means to putt for dough after sorting out his recent struggles on the greens with his coach Brendan McDaid.

Everyone in the field is guaranteed a Challenge Tour category next year and those who make the cut for the top 70 and ties are certain of playing every event on the second tier circuit in 2008.

O'Keeffe almost never made it to September's first stage in the first place as he was prepared to pull out of the qualifier at St Annes Old Links in the event of a last minute Ireland call-up for the clashing Home International matches at County Louth.

Capped at Boys and Youths level, the strapping 25-year-old was bitterly disappointed not to win his first full Irish cap but looks back now and calls it "a blessing in disguise."

"I would have missed the first stage of the Qualifying School," said O'Keeffe, who turns 26 tomorrow. "I told the team captain I was available right up until the last minute in case of withdrawals. But the call never came. Now I'm just delighted that it didn't because I wouldn't be here."

At what is essentially a clash of falling and rising stars, everyone has a story to tell and Coltart is determined to pen a few more chapters before closing the book on his career.

"I am still young enough at 37 years old and I still haven't achieved all that I wanted to achieve," said the Scot, who was a Ryder Cup wildcard at Brookline in 1999.

"The only way to achieve that is getting stuck in here this week and getting back out there again. I have a lot of unfinished business. There is a lot I still want to do but I am more mature now in terms of how I go about it."