It’s an ultra-competitive pro golf scene everywhere. The DPW Tour is no exception. Trying to gain promotion through the ranks is becoming ‘impossibly difficult’. So many looking for so few places. Well over 800 golfers attended October’s six, preliminary Tour Schools all over Europe before a dazzling display by Simon Forsstrom of Sweden took the Final School honours and a cheque for €19,471.05 with a stunning 29-under.
Almost 300 hopefuls progressed from round one to vie for one of the 100 places (not including byes for Challenge Tour hopefuls) available to them at the second stage that would decide the make-up of the 156-man Final Qualifying School at Tarragona, Spain (there were another 50-odd byes). In the end, only 28 (who shot 17-under for six rounds) gained their DPW cards.
Golf observers of my vintage have been perplexed that so few Irishmen were contending regularly in European Tour events in the last decade, let alone winning them, when we were so used to seeing six to ten Irish pros making cuts on the former European Tour for decades and a couple of wins each year without fail.
Much more lucrative purses on the PGA Tour tempted our McIlroys, Lowrys and McDowells away, leaving a gaping hole in Irish representation. The reality is there is no longer a European Tour. It has become the Dubai Port World Tour (DPW Tour) – with 43 tournaments in 21 countries scheduled for next year; more globally-spread and competitive than the ET ever was.
Great credit is due to Gary Hurley and John Murphy for breaking the continual, sorry saga of Irish failures at Tour School. Since 2010, around 200 Irish hopefuls have tried to secure their tour cards but only a handful (literally) have succeeded. I can’t confirm the exact figures because the historical information has been removed from the DPW Tour website but, I’m not far off because I did a similar study in this publication in 2017 and the latest numbers can be guessed as, due to Covid, there were no Tour Schools in 2020 and 2021.
Obtaining two, new cardholders for season 2023 is only appreciated when you consider a full breakdown of the successes and failures on a country by country basis. Here are the cold-hearted facts:
After four rounds, the 156-man field was cut to 70 players. Amazingly, Italy and Scotland had no one in the final 70 from their four and five starters, respectively. Sweden won only four from the fourteen that began Final qualifying. France won five promotions from eighteen. England; five from thirty-two! Thailand: one from one (Kiradech Aphibarnrat); Germany managed a laudable two from seven; Spain only one from twelve (surprising); Portugal two from three (impressive); Denmark, two from nine; Japan one from two; USA only two from eleven. Norway: one from three and Ireland’s two from five illustrates the scale of Hurley and Murphy’s achievement.
Kinsale’s John Murphy played a superb last three weeks of golf to reach the Road to Mallorca Grand Final of the Challenge Tour from a position well-outside the required top-45, only to end up catapulting himself all the way onto the DPW Tour for next year. Grabbing your chance and producing the goods when it mattered most is one way of putting it and, it took some doing.
Gary Hurley’s ascent was less dramatic but every bit as effective. By finishing fifth on the Alps Tour’s final standings, he gained automatic status on the Challenge Tour for next season – a satisfactory result for somebody who has struggled in the pro ranks since his Walker Cup heroics at Royal Lytham in 2015. Crucially, he also won a starting place in the second stage of Tour School. The rest is history. He may be pinching himself but there is no arguing Gary earned his card on merit. Pro golf is a meritocracy and the scorecard never lies.
Of the 200 Irish hopefuls since 2010 (many of them our most successful, amateur international golfers) pitching up at the various stages of Tour School, only five (before this year) have managed to secure a card. Of those (David Higgins, Kevin Phelan, Paul Dunne, Jonny Caldwell, and Gavin Moynihan), only a single, solitary one (Dunne) managed to retain it the following year (but now he is ‘gone’ too).
Too many amateurs turn pro without knowing how to post scores day after day that will pay the daily bills regardless of how they may have played. How you play does not matter but your scores do.
There is no doubt that Hurley and Murphy have big challenges ahead of them. It’s what they turned pro for, and they will embrace them. Their biggest adjustment will be getting used to the long-haul travel, new environments, and ‘learning’ the new courses and new conditions they will face – so they can produce scores that will make cuts and earn them a weekly pay cheque. Here’s wishing them the best of luck!