Is Q-School the greatest sweatshop in sport?

Bernie McGuire

Is Qualifying School the greatest sweatshop in sport? As oxymorons go, that’s a difficult one to swallow, yet so is last chance saloon Q-School when your livelihood is literally on the line.

We’re deep into the process with three Irishmen into next week’s Final Stage. Robin Dawson, Gavin Moynihan and Cormac Sharvin still have skin in the game, but the job is far from done. They have excelled to get this far, but their efforts count for nothing yet.

There’s something macabre about the European Tour’s season-ending Q-School. Never mind the preamble, the final chapter itself is a physical six round (108 holes) marathon and the mental torture is surely the greater test of will and fortitude.


So many quality players, including Major champions and Ryder Cup players, have drank from this elusive wishing well. Nothing is guaranteed, and dreams must be put to one side for only a select few will experience the highs at the end of it all. The majority trade in disappointment and ‘what if…’ stories, but they know this starting out, the system was built to be this way.

For all that, it still doesn’t stop players paying their money and taking their chances. A total of 156 players will tee it up in Tarragona in Spain from this Saturday (Nov 10) with hopes and dreams still intact. One by one crusades will unravel before a final, nervous race to the end.

Four rounds will be played over the Lakes and Hills Courses at Lumine Golf Club with the top 70 and ties making it into the final two rounds. At the end of it all the top 25 will earn their European Tour cards for next season. Consolation for others who made the cut is playing rights on the Challenge Tour.

Earlier this year, Michael Hoey was vocal in his thoughts about the merits of Q-School. The five-time European Tour winner finished 25th on the Challenge Tour’s Road to Ras Al Khaimah. He was the top Irish player (73,958 points) but missed out on one of the coveted top 15 places that earned their playing rights to the main tour next season.

“The truth is Q-School has been a bit of a waste of time for me personally and the problem is 15 cards from Challenge Tour is not enough,” said Hoey earlier this year. “To be fair everyone knows this. Players are so bunched together these days, there are so many good players, somehow more cards need to be available.”

Hoey did suggest the time might come for one money list. A linear process where money earned on both the European and Challenge Tour counted on one list right down to 300th place, similar to the ATP tennis system.

However, that’s a chat for another day. Right now, matters are moving to the closing stages of a gruelling process and Ireland has representation.

Moynihan booked his place with rounds 70, 70, 67, 66 to qualify tied fourth on 15-under at Desert Springs in Almeria. His former Walker Cup team mate Sharvin moved to the business end with a third round 64 at El Encin Golf Hotel in Madrid. The Ardglass professional carded 68, 73, 64, 70 to finished tied sixth on 13-under, the same mark as Tramore’s Robin Dawson (70, 66, 68, 71) at the same venue.

Eight other Irish players missed out at Second Stage, while a further 22 missed out during the First Stage of Q-School.

It’s the toughest school of them all.

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