And then there were two.
Twenty-eight Irish players entered the European Tour Qualifying School First Stage but just two made it all the way to the Final Stage with Open Championship hero Paul Dunne sensationally coming through at the sixth extra hole and Headfort’s Brian Casey topping his qualifier in wonderful stye.
With 18 places at the Final Stage on offer at each of the four Second Stage venues, the sad note was struck by Naas’ Walker Cup star Jack Hume, who closed with a sensational nine under 63 at Panorámica Golf and Sport Resort in Castellón to get into a six-man playoff for the final place only to go out with a bogey at the second extra hole.
Casey and Dunne now join Damien McGrane, Peter Lawrie, Kevin Phelan, Simon Thornton and Ruaidhri McGee in the Final Stage, which begins at PGA Catalunya Resort in Girona on Saturday with the top 25 and ties after six rounds winning full European Tour cards on Thursday week.
Greystones star Dunne birdied the 18th for a four under 67 at Lumine Golf and Beach Club in Tarragona, eventually making a six-man playoff for two spots on 10 under par.
After Victor Riu birdied the first extra hole to claim the first of the two spots, the Irish star ended up in a head-to-head for the last place with South African Jaco Ahlers.
Ahlers had chances from seven feet and four feet at the fourth and fifth extra holes respectively to end Dunne's dream and missed.
The golfing gods took note and when the 32-year old Sunshine Tour player carved a poor drive into trouble at the sixth extra hole — the 18th — and Dunne took advantage, firing a four iron to 30 feet before calmly two-putting for a winning birdie four and a place in the Final Stage.
“I thought if I birdied the last I might get into the playoff or I might even need an eagle,” Dunne said of his birdie at the 72nd hole.
“So I hit a two iron that can to 40 feet at the back of the green and two putted. I left myself about four and a half feet for my four but it was downhill and dead straight so it wasn’t too bad. I just got it started on line and it went in. Then there was a lot of waiting around.”
Six players eventually tied for 17th on 10 under which meant a playoff for two players between Dunne,Ahlers, Frenchman Victor Riu, Portugal’s Tiago Cruz and Spaniards Alfredo Garcia-Heredia and Toni Ferrer.
Dunne takes us through the action:
“I was in the first three ball and we all made par. In the second threeball, Victor (Riu) made around a 40 footer for birdie so he got one spot. Another guy, I don’t recall his name, had a 12 footer for birdie to knock us all out and knocked it three feet past and missed it back. So that was him out.
“There were four of us left, so we went down 18 for the second extra hole and I was last to hit my second after two of the guys hit it in the water. The other fella (Ahlers) was just short of the green and I hit my second right of the green because there is water left.
“He didn’t hit a great pitch, 30 feet. I had a basic enough chip, a semi-flop but it got away from me a bit. He missed and I had a seven footer to win (with the other two players eliminated) but it broke more than I thought and missed on the right.
“So we went down 10, both hit to 30 feet and two putted. We played 10 and 18 repeatedly. Then it was on to the 18th for the fourth extra hole.
“I hit my second into a greenside bunker with a three iron and he hit rescue to about seven or eight feet. A great shot. I hit my bunker shot to four feet and he missed his putt and I holed mine. So back down 10 again and I hit it to 20 feet and he hit it to four feet.
"I just shaved the edge and he lipped out with his to win. So on 18, the sixth playoff hole, I hit the fairway and he hit it in the rough on the right and had to hack out and was about five yards ahead of me in two.
“I hit four iron to 30 feet. I had a 30 footer for eagle and he had about a four footer for par so I just putted up to a foot and tapped for birdie.”
Dunne shot rounds of 70, 66, 71 and 67 to finish on 10 under but wasn’t always happy with his putting.
“I played pretty similar all week,” he said. “I wouldn’t say I putted well, but I putted solid inside eight feet in the second and the fourth rounds. In the first and third rounds, I played well and just struggled a little bit on some shorter putts — the five and six footers. I think I missed seven or eight of them in the first and third rounds, so that was the difference in the scores really.
“Definitely (pleasing to get through). I felt quite comfortable all day and in the playoff I felt quite relaxed as well. I went out today in a good mind frame, just trying to take care of my business and trying to let the result happen.
“I was forcing it a bit and missing short putts so had to try and free myself up a little bit and relax into the round a little more and did a good job at that. I was really pleased.”
If his performance in The Open played a part, he’s not sure.
“I don’t know,” he said with a chuckle. “It was completely different. There were about 10 people watching. I think every pressure situation you are in can help you, if you learn from it. I am sure it did. But I am sure that other pressure situations helped as well.
“My overall feeling is one of some satisfaction and a bit of relief. I was satisfied with how I was mentally for the day. Yesterday I got really frustrated to miss putts for birdie, but I was in a better main frame today and it was great to get through. Next week it starts again and hopefully I can putt well and hit it well all week.”
Naas ace Hume found his putting touch too late and while he shot a nine under 63 to make a six man playoff for the 18th and last spot at Panorámica Golf and Sport Resort in Castellón on 11 under par, he bogeyed the second extra hole and Spain’s Emilio Cuartero Blanco progressed.
“I played lovely,” Hume said of his eagle and seven birdies for the joint best round of the day. “But there were six of us for one spot and while we all pared the 15th, three of us bogeyed the next hole and we were out and the other three made pars and went on.”
Hume ended up making birdie at the 17th to take the fourth reserve spot but added: “I left so many shots out there in the first few rounds it was very frustrating. I
“I did a good bit of work on the range yesterday evening and felt very good. Then I just needed to get my putter going because that was the story of the week.
“So I did an hour on the putting green before I went of and just found something. I felt really good on the greens.
“It’s frustrating to miss out considering the amount of shots I left out there. But at the same time it was a great round today.”
Still an amateur, Dunne sounded unsure about what to do now with a move into the pro ranks clearly a possibility.
“I will sit down now and reflect over the next few weeks on what to do. It all depends on how many starts I could get. It’s up in the air for the moment.”
If Hume had mixed feelings about his week, Headfort man Casey was ecstatic after brilliantly topped the qualifiers at the same Panorámica venue, closing with a five under 67 to share top spot on 24 under par with American amateur Scott Fernandez.
“It’s an odd, strange feeling to shoot 24 under but it’s great,” Casey said. “The course suited me and last week’s Europro Tour Grand Final was a great build up. It’s my fourth time at Q-School and I have never been past the cut at First Stage before. So to get to the Final Stage is a big move.
“It’s been coming. I feel good about my game and it’s an important time of the year to be playing well.”
Casey swapped the Alps Tour for the Europro Tour to be nearer his English girlfriend and it appears to have paid dividends, making his a happier person and a better player.
“I am more mature as a person and worked a little harder,” he said “I know am far from the finished article and I am going to push hard this winter no matter what happens at Final Stage.”
Not my week this week but lots to learn from it! Lot of hard practice over coming months!Been a good year overall!Looking forward to 2016— Gavin Moynihan (@GavinMoynihan) November 9, 2015
Wasn't to be this week at Stage 2, played some really good all week and got off to a great start,but unfortunately the putter went cold.— Colm Campbell (@ColmCampbell87) November 9, 2015
Warrenpoint's Colm Campbell (69) tied for 44th, six shots outside the 11 under par qualifying at the same venue while Clandeboye’s Jonny Caldwell withdrew before the start as he was four over through 54 holes.
There was no luck for Hume and Dunne's fellow international and Walker Cup team mates Gavin Moynihan or Gary Hurley.
Hurley closed with a level par 71 and missed out on a playoff spot by three shots at Lumine with Alan Dunbar (69) to finish a shot further back.
English Walker Cup star Jimmy Mullen topped the qualifiers by four shots on 16 under at El Saler where Moynihan, undone by an 80 on Sunday, finished on eight over after a closing 75.
Germany’s Philipp Mejow topped the qualifiers at Las Colinas Golf and Country Club in Alicante by four shots on 17 under par as Headfort’s Rory McNamara (73) finished 11 shots outside the mark on five over.
Banbridge’s Richard Kilpatrick, who was 10 over starting the day, retired.
EUROPEAN TOUR QUALIFYING SCHOOL 2015
SECOND QUALIFYING STAGE
Campo de Golf El Saler, Valencia (18th place qualified on -3)
- 1 (1) Jimmy MULLEN England 69 65 70 69 (-15)
- T51 (T53) (T15) (T3) Gavin MOYNIHAN The Island GC 68 73 80 75 (+8) DID NOT QUALIFY
- T56 (T40) (T60) (T61) Michael McGEADY Northwest GC 76 73 69 80 (+10) DID NOT QUALIFY
- RET (T5) (T17) Chris SELFRIDGE Moyola Park 70 69 RETIRED INJURED (-5) DID NOT QUALIFY
Las Colinas Golf & Country Club, Alicante (18th qualified on -6)
- 1 (3) Phillipp MEJOW Germany 64 69 68 66 (-17)
- T52 (T54) (T46) (T56) Rory MCNAMARA La Cala Resort 73 70 73 73 (+5) DID NOT QUALIFY
- RET (T66) (T46) (T42) Richard KILPATRICK Banbridge GC 71 72 80 RET (+10) DID NOT QUALIFY
Panoramica Golf & Sport Resort, Castellón (18th -11, 6 man playoff for 1 spot)
- T1 (2) (3) (3) Brian CASEY Headfort GC 65 68 64 67 (-24) Qualified
- T1 (1) Scott FERNANDEZ USA *Am 62 66 67 69 (-24)
- T18 (T44) (T41) (T48) Jack HUME (AM) Naas GC 72 70 72 63 (-11) DID NOT QUALIFY
- T44 (T44) (T54) (T13) Colm CAMPBELL JNR (AM) Warrenpoint 68 76 70 69 (-5) DID NOT QUALIFY
- WD (T69) (T46) (T13) Jonathan CALDWELL Clandeboye GC 68 75 77 WD (+4) DID NOT QUALIFY
Lumine Golf & Beach Club, Tarragona (17th -10 6 man playoff for 2 spots)
- 1 (T1) Daniel GAVINS Eng 68 67 64 66 (-19)
- T17 (T25) (T13) (T39) Paul DUNNE Hartl Resort, Bad Griesbach 70 66 71 67 (-10) Qualified (6th extra hole)
- T29 (T21) (T31) (T14) Gary HURLEY West Waterford GC 68 70 68 71 (-7) DID NOT QUALIFY
- T38 (T38) (T34) (T14) Alan DUNBAR Team Ireland 68 71 70 69 (-6) DID NOT QUALIFY
- Richard BRIDGES DID NOT QUALIFY
- Jonathan CALDWELL Clandeboye GC Qualified
- Colm CAMPBELL JNR (AM) Qualified
- Brian CASEY Headfort GC Qualified
- Alan DUNBAR Team Ireland Qualified
- Gary HURLEY West Waterford GC Qualified
- Richard KILPATRICK Banbridge GC Qualified
- Dermot MCELROY (AM) Ballymena GC DID NOT QUALIFY
- Rory MCNAMARA La Cala Resort Qualified
- Richard O’DONOVAN Lucan GC DID NOT QUALIFY
- Simon WARD Belvoir Park DID NOT QUALIFY
- Stephen GRANT Mount Juliet GC DID NOT QUALIFY
- Ciaran BOGGAN Co Meath Golf Club DID NOT QUALIFY
- Eamonn BRADY Clontarf GC DID NOT QUALIFY
- JD GUINEY Ballybunion GC DID NOT QUALIFY
- Peter MCGIBNEY DID NOT QUALIFY
- Richard WELDON Killeen Castle GC DID NOT QUALIFY
- Reeve WHITSON Royal County Down G.C. DID NOT QUALIFY
- Paul DUNNE Qualified
- Jack HUME (AM) Naas GC Qualified
- Michael McGEADY Northwest GC Qualified
- David CAREY DID NOT QUALIFY
- Jonathan MALLON DID NOT QUALIFY
- Brendan McCARROLL Team Ireland DID NOT QUALIFY
- Gavin MOYNIHAN The Island GC Qualified
- Tim RICE Limerick GC DID NOT QUALIFY
- John Ross GALBRAITH (AM) Whitehead DID NOT QUALIFY
- David RAWLUK The Island GC DID NOT QUALIFY
- No Irish