Ronan Mullarney is one of 12 Irish hopefuls looking to lock down maximum status at this week’s EuroPro Tour Qualifying School finale.
Typically played at one course in April, this year’s Final Stage is across two venues in October; Studley Wood Golf Club and The Oxfordshire Golf, Hotel and Spa will host 192 players over three days with one round played at each course before a cut and a final round at Studley Wood.
The ever-consistent Mullarney was a standout qualifier at Donnington Grove last week where the Galway man posted successive one-under par 71s to coast into the final examination inside the top-5 qualifiers at two-under.
Although guaranteed category 14 membership just for reaching Final Stage, Mullarney admits players will be needing to aim much higher this week to maximise their playing potential on the EuroPro next term.
“From what I can gather, you have to make the cut at Final Stage. If you get that far, you’ll likely play most events,” said Mullarney, who turned professional in December last year.
“It’s important. You have to have status to play somewhere so it is important. But, I suppose, it’s just another game of golf as Neil Manchip [Team Ireland coach] points out.”
A game of golf has been hard to find of late, however, particularly for fledgling pros looking to take flight in the paid circuits amid Covid-19. Playing schedules have been largely decimated, so much so that Mullarney, in this his rookie year since making golf his full-time job, admits he’s feeling less like a golfer than he has done at any stage of his development so far.
“I definitely feel like I’m less of a golfer now than I was,” Mullarney says, not in terms of skill but just how much this year has impacted his usual routine.
“Even when it comes to filling my time – I have to find my own things. When I was in Maynooth [University], everything was organised from the gym sessions to the events and things like that whereas now I have no events, I have to organise my own gym and there’s just so much less to be doing, obviously because of Covid, but it’s just so different.”
A Team Ireland player, Mullarney admits he would’ve been lost without the cash games of the inaugural Team Ireland Series, first thought up by European Tour star Cormac Sharvin to keep Ireland’s top talent sharp ahead of a potential restart.
“Team Ireland were great,” he says. “They ran the five competitions throughout the best courses in Ireland. We played Portmarnock, Mount Juliet, Carton House, Druids Glen and The K Club – you couldn’t have picked better locations.
“The competition was great and there was a nice bit of money as well, it got you going.”
Not just that but Team Ireland also came good with invites to the NI Open at Galgorm Castle in September. A real opportunity for the likes of Mullarney to take advantage of a rare Challenge Tour start, it was in Ballymena, where Mullarney missed the cut, that he got a real sense of just how great an impact Covid has had on his playing.
“Galgorm is a great example of how players are trying to adapt,” Mullarney explains.
“Everybody wants to do really well but nobody is ready. You show up and shoot scores that you wouldn’t have shot in ages and effectively that’s like a Major for us.
“For me personally, it was my third event of the year, first in seven or eight months so you’re excited to play and really want to do well but you end up shooting scores that aren’t great and it’s frustrating.
“I felt my game was quite good going into that event. I felt like it was good timing for me but the competition side threw me off a bit – I didn’t produce when I needed to but that’s the nature of the beast, especially as things are at the moment.”
This week Mullarney’s club Galway head to Donegal for the AIG Cups and Shields as the Senior Cup specialists go in search of a third national pennant in four years. If Mullarney had access to a crystal ball last December, knowing all he does now about how this pandemic has impacted professional golf globally, would he sooner be hopping on the Galway bandwagon this week than teeing up at EuroPro Q-School?
“100% I’d still turn pro,” he says. “It’s obviously a pity we don’t get to play in much but I don’t think the pandemic would’ve made the decision for me.
“We didn’t have much to play in and the amateurs have probably played slightly more than us but I’d say it could be difficult enough to look for sponsorship now and that’s probably one of the most important things as a pro. I’m lucky enough that I’ve somewhat of security for a short while anyway.
“As for Galway, I would love to be part of it but at the same time, I’ve kind of been there, done that, and as much as I really want them to win, it’s better off giving somebody else a go.”
Buoyed by back to back wins for PGA EuroPro Tour alumni on the European Tour, Q School 2021 supported by Sky Sports couldn’t have come at a better time with both Aaron Rai and Tyrrell Hatton competing in Q School on their journey to the top of the sport.
Such stories should prove inspiring for the likes of Mullarney and co as they look to bank maximum category on a Tour with proven pedigree for producing global stars.
The Galway man is joined this week by Conor Purcell, Cameron Raymond, Stuart Grehan, Brendan McCarroll, Conor O’Rourke, Daniel Brennan, Tom McKibbin (a), Paul McBride, Eoin Leonard, John Hickey and Luke Donnelly who will all hope to secure a maximum category 3 membership after Friday’s final round.
The action gets underway on Wednesday (Oct 14) before a cut after Thursday’s play ahead of the final round. We’ll be here, as ever, with daily updates.
Best of luck to Ireland’s dozen hopefuls.
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