NZ Golf Magazine | July 2019 | 27 A lso, together with an unprecedented number of low-value, US$1m – US$1.5m prize funds, making enough simply to stay on Tour, let alone threaten the upper echelons of the Race to Dubai and World Golf Rankings is proving tougher than ever before. For each and every European Tour player, heroes, hopefuls, hotshots, heavyweights and has-beens, their ambitions come in different and distinct shapes, sizes and stages, but, having secured full playing rights for the global circuit, retaining that exultant status is the be-all and end-all. And there are many different ways of securing that all-important Tour Card, either by finishing in the top 110 places in the end-of-season day of reckoning, or by earning one of 15 promotions from the final, season-ending rankings on the second tier Challenge Tour, or by grabbing one of 25 places out of almost a thousand candidates from the tortuous three-stage Q School process. Thereafter, for the rank-and-file, security only comes from winning a European Tour event, the duration of the exemption calibrated to the importance – and prize fund, ranging from ‘Majors,’ and WGC events down to the Tour’s fourth tier, low-money tournaments – of the tournament won, whilst medical exemptions are available to those previously eligible, but who have been hampered by demonstrable illness or injury. As ever, fortune favours those big-name players, proven past high- achievers, ranging from members of the most recent European Ryder Cup team so-called, ‘Legends,’ of the Wentworth-based circuit and those occupying the top-40 places on Career Money List. Then, a patchwork of places are made available for players occupying the upper echelons of minor international orders of merit, such as the Asian, Australasian and Sunshine (South Africa) Tours, But, let there be no doubt, fortune favours the rich and famous; there is a maximum of 156 places available in the main draw of a solely- sanctioned European Tour event, less in co-sanctioned tournaments, where, for example, leading Asian Tour or Sunshine Tour members are guaranteed places on home soil. And, selected players, frequently big names who may have fallen of hard times, or local golfers, occasionally even aspiring amateurs, can find themselves parachuted into a tournament, courtesy of a Sponsor’s Invite, with a view to drumming-up media interest and selling tickets. These can often be players whose management / representation agency is promoting / organising the event – keeping it in the family – such as Matteo Manassero, the Italian catapulted into the IMG- promoted Saudi International despite being around 650th on the Official World Golf Ranking at the time. Meanwhile, some European Tour events offer a small number of places in the tournament proper by staging a mini qualifying process in the days leading up to the main event, but the odds are stacked heavily against those securing a place winning, or finishing seriously in the money, having played two rounds of competitive golf just to get in the field, just making the halfway cut, and therefore earning some money simply to offset considerable expanses is an achievement. There are only 24 full-field European Tour events this year, in which so-called, ‘Journeyman,’ professionals, those either making their way up, or back towards the upper reaches of the circuit can reasonably expect a start. Events co-sanctioned between the European Tour and one or two other circuits automatically slash the number of places available, whilst each of the four ‘Majors,’ has its own, strict qualifying criteria, the four WGC events are restricted to around 70 places, whilst the final four weeks of the season, the WGC HSBC in China, the Turkish Open, the Nedbank Golf Challenge and the DP World Tour Final, with over US$30m up for grabs are all off- limits to all but the 60-or-so most successful players of the season. Of the 27 players who made it through the 2017 European Tour Q School to earn their full Tour playing rights, they averaged only 16 tournament appearances in the following season and only half- a-dozen kept their cards for the following year, just four winning more than the US$350,000 in prize money required simply to break even. Many, even with the support of personal sponsors and modest endorsement contracts last a season or two, before disappearing from the circuit, some heading back to Q School, many more than once Air fares, hotel accommodation, caddie fees and incidental expenses all mount up - a weekly loss of over US$3,000 can comfortably accrue when missing the cut – the prospect of appearance money, courtesy air fares and free accommodation is but a pipe dream for most of those touring pros chasing fame and fortune. One of the 2017 Q School graduates, who made a reasonable fist of his rookie 2018 season and is back on the European Tour this term says, “The euphoria of earning your Full card soon wears off when the sheer magnitude of the task ahead becomes clear.” The player who is yet to register a maiden victory on the circuit and who has work to do if he is to retain his playing privileges for a second successive season next year does not wish to be named out of concern of upsetting Wentworth officials. “The opportunities to play, especially in the mid-to-high value events are extremely restricted and many are in far-flung parts of the world where the very top players don’t want to travel. WORDSMICHAELWILSON Ofthe27playerswhomadeitthroughthe2017 EuropeanTourQSchooltoearntheirfullTourplaying rights,theyaveragedonly16tournamentappearances inthefollowingseasonandonlyhalf-a-dozenkepttheir cardsforthefollowingyear,justfourwinningmorethanthe US$350,000inprizemoneyrequiredsimplytobreakeven.