Ballymena’s Dermot McElroy can become the youngest Irish golfer to win a European Tour card since Rory McIlroy after he snatched his place at Final Stage of the European Tour Qualifying School.
The 20 year old international is being chased by several management companies but while one in particular is particularly well-placed to get him to sign on the dotted line, much depends on what happens at PGA Catalunya Resort where he joins his former foursomes partner Kevin Phelan, David Higgins and fellow Stage Two qualifier Ruaidhri McGee this weekend.
The action begins on Sunday with two rounds on both the Tour and Stadium courses at the Girona track. Only the top 70 and ties will make the 72 hole cut, which guarantees Challenge Tour membership.
But McElroy believes he’s playing well enough to finish in the Top 25 after two more rounds on the Stadium Course and win a dream ticket to join the stars.
McElroy had just four holes to play in his delayed final round at Lumine Golf & Beach Club on Wednesday but while he made four pars, carding a level par 71 to finish on five under par, he missed several birdie putts and felt sure he had missed out.
In the end, scoring went his way and he finished solo 18th, snatching the last qualifying place.
“I had four really good birdie chances and thought I hit really good putts but they just slipped by the hole. I thought I had missed out on qualifying to be honest because I missed an eight footer for a birdie four at the last hole.
“I was just hanging around watching the 18th green but you had no idea what the guys were scoring. But it wasn’t until Chris Hanson, who won the qualifier, came out of the scorers and gave me the thumbs up that I knew I had made it. I was delighted.
“I don’t know if I will turn professional yet because I have a lot of options and I’ll just wait now and see what happens next week. If I got a Challenge Tour card I’d definitely turn pro but even if I didn’t, it’s definitely an option now.
“It’s a hard decision but I am sure I will make the right one, whatever it is. I’ve been in touch with some management companies and it depends which one offers the best deal. I haven’t signed with anyone but I’m really not allowed to say who I have been talking to.”
It would be no surprise if McElroy decided to follow in the footsteps of his Ireland foursomes partner Phelan or former British Amateur champion Alan Dunbar, and joined Chubby Chandler’s ISM.
Whatever he does, he is clearly loving the pressure of Q-School having cruised through the first stage and then hung tough to make it through Stage Two with rounds of 71, 68, 69 and 71.
“I’ve really enjoyed it. It’s not tough, it’s just playing good golf,” McElroy said. “If you play good golf you qualify and if you don’t, you don’t.
“I watched the highlights of last year’s Q-School Final Stage and it looks reasonable enough. My goal is to finish in the top 25 and get my European Tour card.
“I played really well this week though I was disappointed with my putting because I putted poorly and didn’t break 30 putts in any of the four rounds. If I can get the putting going next week and hit the ball as well as I did this week, I’ll get through.
“The standard is very similar to the top of the amateur game. But there are a lot of good players here so whereas there are usually only 10 contenders at the amateur level, everyone is a contender here.
“You can’t afford to shoot over par at all and keep building on your scores.”
McElroy has shown his mettle when he’s rubbed shoulders with the professionals in the past with the highlight his share of ninth place behind Daan Huizing in the Northern Ireland Open Challenge at Galgorm Castle near his Ballymena home last September.
He has also played in two Irish Opens and while he missed the cut by eight shots at Killarney as an 18 year old in 2011, he shot 71-72 to miss the two under par cut by just one shot at Royal Portrush in 2012.
“I’ll just be pulling my own bag, as I did this week,” said McElroy, who left school in the middle of his sixth year to concentrate on golf.
Golf or nothing?
“Yea, at the minute,” he said. “I’m coached my Michael McGee up at Malone and really the last couple of years I’ve only seen him every six months.
“But this year has been very different. I got my driving test so I can drive up to Belfast at least twice a month to see him.
“My game hasn’t change a huge amount over the past year but I do hole a lot more five footers than I did before, that’s the difference. I just have to keep doing that.
“I played the Irish Open twice and the Challenge Tour at Galgorm Castle this year. The European Tour is what I am striving for at the end of the day and it would obviously be fantastic to get my card - life-changing really.
“We’ll just have to see how it goes at the Final Stage but I’ll be rooming with Kevin Phelan. I know Ruaidhri McGee too, so it will be good.
“Galgorm was a good week but I didn’t play all that well. I scored well though so no playing well and finishing in the Top 10 there is good for your confidence.
“The Challenge Tour is a great tour and the standard is very good but the goal is to go out for that Top 25 next week. That’s the goal.”
While McElroy was delighted to get through in Tarragona, Gareth Shaw finished nine shots outside the qualifying places at Valle Romano, where play also spilled into a fifth day after weather delays.
“Needed a low one today and was plus 5 through 6,” Shaw tweeted on his 73. “Fought back to shot plus 2. Terrible effort this week and 2013 season comes to an end!”
The Lurgan man finished on two over par for a disappointing conclusion to a season that promised so much after he finished fifth in the Irish Open and 13th in the Open de France in back to back weeks.
Having earned more than €100,000 in a fortnight, Shaw had an opportunity to earn his European Tour card through invitations but it never happened.
A cheque for €4,000 from the Russian Open was followed by a missed cut in the Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles and he ended up 146th on the main tour and 71st on the Challenge Tour rankings.
He will be disappointed at how it all panned out in the end but no doubt encouraged that he will have more opportunities to shine on the main tour next season as well as the opportunity to graduate from the Challenge Tour.