Late starter Simon Thornton is just six rounds away from going from weekend hacker to European Tour star.

The Royal County Down based Yorkshireman, 31, only took up the game in his late teens but today finds himself battling with 155 other hopefuls for just 30 European Tour cards at the Qualifying School Finals in Spain.

It’s been an amazing journey for Thornton, who joined Royal County Down professional Kevan Whiston as an assistant 12 years ago and never looked back.

Thornton said: “Sometimes it feels like I’m living my dream. Believe me, my wife, Ciara, keeps reminding me: ‘What you do is not a job, getting to play golf for a living. Not a lot of people get that chance in life to do what they want to in terms of work’.”

With four wins on the PGA Irish Region this season, Thornton finished fourth on the domestic Order of Merit behind John Kelly, Philip Walton and Robert Giles.

But after battling his way through the first two stages of the Q-School, he’s determined to finish off the year in style alongside Ulstermen Michael Hoey, Michael McGeady and Jonathan Caldwell at PGA de Catalunya near Girona.

Already guaranteed a Challenge Tour card for 2009, Thornton reckons he has the game to compete at the highest level.

He said: “I know I can do it. Many tour pros peak in their 30s and 40s. If so, maybe there’s 10 good years left for me.”

Hoey and McGeady claimed titles on the Challenge Tour this season and while they failed to finish inside the top 20 in the rankings who earned automatic promotion to the European Tour they have a second chance this week.

The Q-School finals are a new departure for 2007 Walker Cup star Caldwell from Clandeboye, who has turned professional after helping Ireland win the amateur Home Internationals and the European Team Championships this year.

Starting today (Thurs), the 156-man field will play two rounds over the Red and Green courses at PGA Catalunya with the top 70 and ties after 72 holes qualifying for the last two rounds of the 108-hole marathon.

At the end of six rounds, the top 30 and ties earn European Tour membership and a chance to join Padraig Harrington and Co in the €20 million Race to Dubai.