By Will Pearson, europeantour.com
at PGA Catalunya Resort
Duffed tee shots and spell-binding approaches; excruciating double bogeys and exceptional eagles; near-misses and narrow triumphs. With elation and anguish in equal measure, the final day of The 2013 European Tour Qualifying School had it all.
As Spain’s Carlos Del Moral romped to a five-shot victory at PGA Catalunya Resort, near Girona, there were stories aplenty unfolding up ahead as 26 other players gained their playing privileges in varying and dramatic circumstances.
Some, including Ireland’s Kevin Phelan and Dane Andreas Hartø, saved their best efforts until last.
Of the 27 players to get their card, Phelan was the only one to come from outside of the qualifying positions at the start of the final day as the 23 year old Waterford man climbed 16 places up the leaderboard into a tie for 17th thanks to a brilliant three under par 69.
After making the cut at the US Open Championship at Merion earlier this year as an amateur, Phelan won two out of three points for Great Britain and Ireland at The Walker Cup in September and so travelled to north-east Spain with some billing – a hype he duly lived up to on a windswept Friday.
Having dropped two shots in succession from the 13th to slip out of the reckoning for a European Tour card, Phelan birdied the long 15th before hitting a true shot for the ages into the 463-yard par four 18th.
Faced with 217 yards into a strong head-wind, Phelan struck a world-class rescue club to five feet for a closing birdie and an unforgettable ascent onto The European Tour.
“It’s brilliant to be a European Tour player,” he said. “I breathed a huge sigh of relief at the end. I played really well all day, made a couple of silly mistakes but made up for them so I'm very happy.
“I was nervous most of the day but I kind of expected that so it wasn’t too bad. I just stuck to the routine and it paid dividends.
“The shot to 18 was definitely one of the best shots of my career. I hit a good six iron on the 16th too but I hit that one at 18 really well, straight at it.
“I have been trying not to think about The European Tour all week but obviously now I can give it a bit of thought. I'm really excited. It’s been a goal of mine for a long time so I'm delighted to have a chance now.
“It feels like it has all come to fruition now because I have played well for most of this year. I made a commitment to be more efficient in my preparation and my practice and spend less time practicing but get more out of it and I think that definitely helped.”
Denmark’s Hartø, who started the day one shot inside the card mark, looked set for Final Stage anguish when he four-putted the ninth for triple bogey.
However, a superb three wood approach to the long 15th hit the flag to leave a tap-in eagle putt which he duly converted to move back to nine under par, at that point the magic number, but there was yet better to come.
The 25 year old Copenhagen native, in trouble from the tee at the long par four 18th, fired in a sublime seven iron to six feet from 191 yards to claim a closing birdie, a ten under par total and the 18th European Tour card on offer in Girona.
“I was actually playing alright but the triple at nine was like a big slap in the face,” said Hartø, who secures an instant return to The European Tour the year after ascending from the Challenge Tour.
“But I somehow managed to get myself together on the last six or seven holes and that eagle was so important.
“Then on the 18th the approach was the shot of my life. I had to hook it over a tree and it flew like a bullet to just behind the hole and I managed to make the putt down the hill so that was the finish of my life. I’m just so relieved.
“I guess there are four or five shots I will always remember in my career and that will definitely be one of them.”
The 27th and final card was claimed by Scotland’s Alastair Forsyth, the winner of the 1999 Final Stage, who survived a manic final day which included three double bogeys, a bogey and five birdies.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been through anything like that in my life,” said an emotional Forsyth, who started three clear of the bubble on Friday morning.
“I played great the first five days but I was just not at the races today and I have to put that down to pressure.
“I thought I was keeping it together pretty well and was one under through three but clean topped it off the fourth tee and lost my ball in a bush. I could have made any number after that and did well to make a six. I double crossed my tee shot on the ninth and did well to get up and down for double there.
“It was another hook that cost me on 14 but I made a ridiculous double there from the centre of the fairway for my third and at that point I was back at eight under and out of it.
“But I kept on telling myself ‘Don’t give in, don’t give in; never ever give in’ and it just shows you what is possible. I’ve been through every single emotion and to get over the line is huge.”
As is always the case at the conclusion of this golfing marathon, however, for every dream recovery or survived rollercoaster there were numerous other tales of heartbreak.
For the likes of Mark Tullo, Fredrik Andersson Hed and Chris Paisley, who all started on the mark for a card on Friday morning at eight under par, respective final rounds of 78, 76 and 75 proved costly.
Meanwhile, of the three men to cruelly miss out on a European Tour card by just a single stroke – Espen Kofstad, Tjaart van der Walt and Edouard Espana – the latter two did so after making bogey at their final holes.
For the 27 men who will leave Girona beaming and with that coveted European Tour money-clip securely fastened to their person, though, this was a great day, a memorable moment at the end of a week of titanic physical and mental strain.
With the prize a place amongst the elite, a seat at the top table of European golf, the 60 or so miles traversed across Catalan turf this week by those successful few will feel like worthwhile steps indeed.