Irish looking to bridge talent gap in Europe at Final Stage of Q-School

Ronan MacNamara
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Jonathan Caldwell (Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images)

Ronan MacNamara

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Outside of Rory McIlroy and Shane Lowry’s fleeting appearances on the DP World Tour when they venture this side of the Atlantic from the States, Irish talent in Europe is threadbare to put it lightly. 

Tom McKibbin is of course the next great hope having secured his DP World Tour card before his 20th birthday and it is expected he will be challenging for top honours rather than looking over his shoulder at the top-117 on the Race to Dubai. 

The question remains as to who will join him?  

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Ireland’s last regular DP World Tour winner Jonathan Caldwell joins Paul Dunne, John Murphy, Cormac Sharvin and Gary Hurley all vying for their futures as the marathon DP World Tour Q-School Final Stage begins at the Lakes Course in Tarragona.  

Optimistically, all five players can secure their cards this week over the next 108 holes but on the other side of the coin they might all fall foul of the Q-School cesspit, leaving McKibbin potentially as a lone ranger in terms of full playing rights. 

Something has undoubtedly gone missing in Europe for Irish golf, despite our achievements over the last fifteen years in the sport with Pádraig Harrington, Rory McIlroy, Shane Lowry, Graeme McDowell and Darren Clarke all winning major titles and Rory becoming a regular fixture at world number one. 

Back in 2008, Ireland had eight card holders on the old European Tour with seven of those finishing inside the top 36 on the Order of Merit with Robert Karlsson pipping 2006 winner Harrington to the season-long gong. 

That year Harrington won The Open and PGA Championships, Clarke and McDowell won twice while Damien McGrane and Peter Lawrie earned their maiden European Tour wins and Rory McIlroy and Paul McGinley also secured top-36 places. Gary Murphy also kept his card following a career-best T-3rd finish at the Irish Open.

This is in stark contrast to what we have now. 

None of Caldwell, Sharvin or Moynihan posted a top-10 finish on the DP World Tour last year while Dunne has failed to get his career back on track yet following two years of injury hell after he reached the top-70 in the world, won the 2017 British Masters and was appearing in majors and WGC’s. 

Hurley a member of Ireland’s famous five from the 2015 Walker Cup – alongside Dunne and Sharvin had been plying his trade on the Alps Tour before graduating to the Challenge Tour for next season. 

The West Waterford native eased his way through last week’s Second Stage in Emporda Golf Club and it would cap a superb career resurgence if he could earn a DP World Tour card next Wednesday (final qualifying runs from 11th – 16th of November). 

Kinsale’s Murphy missed out on a DP World Tour card at the Challenge Tour Grand Final but he was exempt for the Final Stage. The 24-year-old former Walker Cup star has the potential to have a very good career and this week is a great opportunity for him. 

Caldwell who won the 2021 Scandinavian Mixed has had a torrid time since as has Sharvin and they will be looking to bounce back this week. 

It is a combination of the increased competition on a more global DP World Tour and poor form with a host of Irish players now finding themselves at a similar level. 

As it stands a generation of youngsters such as Conor Purcell, John Murphy, Gary Hurley and Ruaidhri McGee are all set for the Challenge Tour next term with the hope being that they can burst from the pack and join McKibbin and have solid careers on Europe’s top-tier. 

K Club’s Conor O’Rourke is on the reserve list for the Final Stage. 

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