Alastair Forsyth became the second successive golfer from the same town in Scotland to win the European Tour Qualifying School Finals at San Roque when he claimed the £10,000 top prize by two strokes from 1996 champion, Niclas Fasth of Sweden.
Forsyth, 23, follows in the footsteps of Paisley’s Ross Drummond as the holder of the coveted No.1 card from the 108-hole marathon examination which provided its customary share of thrills and spills, relief and disappointment.
The strapping Scot, who led after the first round with a 65, closed with a 70 for a six round total of 423, nine under par. Fasth, attempting to became the first dual winner of the Qualifying School, double bogeyed the final hole for a 73 and outright second place on 425.
Justin Rose, the Open Championship hero of 1998, was one of three players sharing third place on 427. However Nicolas Vanhootegem of Belgium (71) receives third card by virtue of a better fourth round. Rose takes fourth after a closing 71 and Gary Murphy of Ireland winning the fifth card after a final 72.
Forsyth admitted: “Once I got to the front I was keen to stay there. This is my best achievement in golf, although it was pretty nerve-wracking. It’s a long hard week and it was simply a case of staying patient.
“I played steadily. I hit a few bad shots but my short game kept me ticking over. I only missed three or four six foot putts all week. Keeping my card is the main thing now. I want a good re-rank and that would be half the battle.”
A total of 42 players successfully passed the test with scores of four over par and better. For some it meant a twelve month wait until next year’s Qualifying School, but for others there were some tales of brave shot-making under extreme pressure.
Rose, who missed out on his card last year, enjoyed bathing in the reflective glory of having achieved his aim this time around. The teenager holed from off the green at the final hole to five on five under and said: “This has been my goal all year – to make sure I was playing on the main Tour.
“My thoughts never went any further than this year. I wanted my card and the most important goal now is to get a re-rank. I will start in South Africa and plan things from there.”
It was a courageous comeback by Rose, who opened with a 74 and played the remaining five round in seven under par. He added: “I said after shooting 74 that I would like to finish five under and I did it. This could, career wise, be most important than anything I’ve done in golf.”
David Lynn of England produced one of the best finishes on the final day, birdieing four successive holes from the 11th for an inward 32 and closing 68. That earned him the sixth card.
Several players heaved a sigh of relief at coming through the most exhaustive test. None more so than 1991 Ryder Cup player Steve Richardson, who reclaimed his card for the second year in a row.
Richardson, in fact, hit his first shot out of bounds and ran up a seven which almost wrecked his chances. Another seven at the eighth on the final day nearly proved even more costly, but he covered the last ten holes in two under par for a 75 and total of 435, three over par.
That was good enough to give Richardson the 33rd card and he commented: “I lost my swing over the last few holes. I was playing on raw courage alone. I thought I was gone after that seven – I was thinking I might shoot 80.
“I definitely don’t want to come back. I am not sure I would have the courage to enter again! It was all guts. Mentally there is nothing harder than this.”
For every Richardson in the field, there was an Andrew Sherborne, a Stuart Cage or a Paul Way. Sherborne and Cage both missed out by one stroke – the latter after dropping a shot at the penultimate hole.
Way, who played in the 1985 Ryder Cup at the age of 20, spilled five strokes over the last four holes to miss out when level par would have been sufficient.
However Spain’s Ivo Giner, the third round leader, birdied the last to qualify on three over (435) and Henrik Nystrom, the joint winner in 1998, eagled the same hole to squeeze in again.
Stephen Field from Yorkshire birdied his last two holes to finish among the group of 16 players on three over par who went home happy and relieved.
After 18 years on Tour, Roger Chapman was another who found the experience something of an ordeal, but played with skill and determination to ensure that he will have his playing privileges in 2000.
He shot a 71 with 17 pars and one birdie for a two under par total of 430 and 12th on the final list. He said: “That was unbelievable. What an experience. It was like 108 first holes of the Open Championship, such was the feeling of nerves.
“I will never do it again. People have no conception how it feels until you go through it. I had to do this for my own pride, so that no-one could accuse me of playing the Tour through invites alone.”