Royal Dublin’s Niall Kearney has jumped in at the deep end by turning professional for the start of the gruelling European Tour Qualifying School Finals in Spain on Saturday.
The 21-year old Walker Cup player moved seamlessly into the pay-for-play ranks when he decided not to sign the form waiving his right to the modest prize money on offer at PGA Golf de Catalunya near Girona.
Kearney is one of six Irish players in a 156-man field bidding to finish inside the top 30 and ties after six rounds and earn full European Tour playing rights for 2010.
“I’m feeling great but they’re tough courses,” said Kearney, who closed with rounds of 67 and 66 at Costa Ballena near Cadiz last week to cruise through stage two. “Last week’s course were very scoreable but these two (the Stadium and Tour) are a lot tougher.
“It is very much target golf: fairways and greens. The course are tight and treelined and the rough is no place to be. I just have to hit the shots at the right time.”
Already in talks with three management companies, Kearney believes his impressive amateur CV will guarantee him several invitations next season but his first objective is to make the four-round cut for the top 70 and ties, guaranteeing him a full category on the Challenge Tour for 2010.
“After that it is a bit of a shoot out for the top 30,” he said, referring to final two rounds of the 108-hole marathon.
Kilkenny’s Gary Murphy (37), back at the finals for the first time since 2002 after losing his card this season while Clandeboye’s Jonathan Caldwell will be trying to win back the card he won here last year.
The sextet completed by St Margaret's teaching professional John Kelly and Challenge Tour regulars Simon Thornton and Colm Moriarty.