It’s been a whirlwind twelve months for Ronan Mullarney and although he has come out of it with a bright future ahead, it’s a period he would rather not revisit.
A solid performer on the EuroPro Tour, Mullarney and so many others had their worlds thrown upside down when it was announced that the feeder tour would be folding at the end of last year. Not knowing where to look, the Galway man faced further adversity when he slumped to a six-over 78 on day one at Alps Tour Q-School leaving his 2023 season in the balance.
But he bounced back with rounds of 68 and 69 to earn his card and picked up two wins (Gosser Open & Hauts De France-Pas De Calais Open) to guarantee one of five available cards for the 2024 Challenge Tour via the Alps Order of Merit as he looks to kickstart his professional career.
The Galway man came through the Alps Tour Grand Final unscathed and managed to retain his place at the summit of the Order of Merit to win the overall season-long race. “That was a very clear, distinct goal that I had which is quite obvious for anyone on the Alps Tour so I’m delighted to have my Challenge Tour card for next year,” a relieved Mullarney says.
“From what I gather whether you come first or fifth on the Alps Tour you get the same category of Challenge Tour card but you will be number one of the Alps Tour players in that category so if there was a tournament with only a couple of spots the higher ranked player would get in.
“I’ve had a really consistent year, to be honest. If it was a case of two or three wins and a rake of missed cuts, that would drive me nuts but on third tier golf that’s a better way of doing it because it is so top heavy with prizes and points, but it would have driven me nuts; so yeah I am happy with how consistent I have been and it’s only the first step on the ladder.”
Playing on the Alps Tour is far from the glitz and the glamour of the PGA Tour. Courtesy travel is a distant dream when you are driving a rented Renault Clio, but for Mullarney it was home for a year.
“Life on the Alps Tour has a lot of ‘toing and froing.’ The week of my second win was very messy, had a 6am flight over, got there but had to wait for car rentals and all these extra charges you aren’t planning for. I’m not complaining, I knew all this was waiting for me when you turn pro, so lots of travelling.
“I stayed with an English guy, and we stayed in a house fifteen minutes away, big difference in staying in a house rather than a hotel so you can do some cooking and stuff. The golf is grand and then with the travel you might get nine holes here or there, it can be energy sapping so I try and have as much practice done as I can before a tournament week. It’s not really all that different from playing on the amateur scene but it’s just getting to know the golf courses.”
Life is full of sliding doors moments and the 28-year-old had found himself sitting in his car pondering all sorts of possibilities after his opening round at Q-School. While the feeder tour has just fourteen events across the season – he’d go on to earn a shade under €26,000 – he was both relieved and delighted to have somewhere to play this year.
“It’s far from easy, especially when your first round of Alps Tour Q-School was six-over. I think I was in the bottom six after the first round last year, and I was sitting in the car thinking ‘oh dear, this is far from ideal,’ it was a tough time,” the former Maynooth University student explains.
“It was a strange time because we only found out the EuroPro Tour was going at the end of the season which was a kick in the you know where. That was quite hard to deal with but obviously it is great to have the Alps Tour and have the same opportunity, and there are a few Irish guys on it. I played a couple of events on it as a pro before, so I had a small taste for what it was like but not really, but I had to play somewhere, I was lucky to play well the last few rounds of Q-School and things have turned out well from there.”
For Mullarney, the opportunity to have a Challenge Tour card presents a chance for growth and improvement as he prepares to take the next step on the golfing ladder. There will be lots of change, but it will be a transition he needs to make quickly. From three rounds to four rounds, a higher standard of golf, better golf courses and certainly more travel. It will be a culture he has to adapt to.
“If golf made sense, playing regularly and improving would make perfect sense,” he said jokingly, “but golf doesn’t make sense so I don’t know what awaits me next year but it is more of a regular tour in that there are a lot of events and you won’t necessarily play them all, so you can pick and choose where you play.
“Now, it will be similar to this year on Alps, because I have played a couple of Challenge Tour events, but not many, so I don’t know the golf courses. It’s been a while since I played four competitive rounds of golf which is something that will evoke memories of my amateur days and yeah it will be a new environment.
“It’s great saying it’s all golf – and it is all golf – but all these little things can make you feel more comfortable or less comfortable, so they all add up to something but what that is, is anybody’s guess.”
The Alps Tour has been good to Irish raiders in the past with David Carey grabbing the headlines with a history-making round of 57 in Italy in 2019. Meanwhile, Jonathan Yates won the Alps Tour Grand Final last year and Gary Hurley secured a Challenge Tour card via the Order of Merit Rankings and went on to skip a level and win promotion to the DP World Tour via the DP World Tour Q-School.
Like Hurley the year before, Mullarney headed for Second Stage of DP World Tour Q-School in early November with a spring in his step, but it’s called ‘School’ for a reason – few want to be there and fewer still enjoy the experience of the stresses and strains of knowing that you’re only ever one or two poor shots from blowing up your chances of having the job you want for the coming year.
Is it worse to play poorly and be out of contention early or to play well but fall just short? At Isla Canela, 27 players of which Mullarney was one, shot double digits under par. 24 of them advanced, he didn’t. It was cruel to play so well and come so close, but it was further proof, if proof were needed, that his game is trending in the right direction. He’d achieved his primary goal for the year, and it’s up the ladder, one rung at a time.