England’s David Dixon was first past the post at the Qualifying School Final Stage, where 37 players secured their places in The 2012 Race to Dubai.
A closing round of 69 gave Dixon a 21 under par aggregate total and a one shot victory over his compatriot Sam Hutsby, with two more Englishmen, Andy Sullivan and Richard Bland, rounding out the top four on 19 under and 18 under par respectively.
But, as has become traditional, it was further down the leaderboard that the drama really unfolded, none more so than when American Scott Pinckney, who started the day in a tie for 66th place on one under par, fired a best-of-the-day round of 65 to take the 24th card available.
The magic number was seven under par, a mark achieved in dramatic fashion by England’s Jamie Elson after he holed a huge birdie putt on the ninth hole – his last – of the stunning Stadium Course at PGA Catalunya Resort, in Girona.
Similarly, Spaniard Agustin Domingo, whose uncle is Senior Tour champion Domingo Hospital, picked up four shots in his final five holes to claim one of the golden tickets on offer.
There was also delight for the Dutch, with The Netherlands achieving a clean sweep after all five of their players who made the cut – Wil Besseling, Reinier Saxton (both eight under par), Maarten Lafeber, Taco Remkes, and Tim Sluiter (all seven under par) – finished inside the all-important top 30.
They will now take their places on The 2012 European Tour International Schedule alongside Dixon, who is relishing the chance to add to his solitary victory at the 2008 Saint-Omer Open presented by Neuflize OBC.
He said: “It has been a very up and down day again. There were some highs and lows, but I’m really chuffed to come out on top. I hit some good shots and bad shots, and the back nine was a bit of a rollercoaster, but that’s the way it goes.
“My caddie and I talked last night and decided the attitude had to be: ‘let’s go out and win it’. We thought that would take my mind off whatever else was going on. I had a perfect start, but then hit a couple of loose ones towards the end of the front nine which caused a bit of a scare. Then I hit some great shots but one went in the water, and in the end I was happy to hold on. I holed some really good putts towards the end and got the job done.
“It’s been a very up and down year and it’s been a bit of a nightmare on and off the course, but this is an awesome way to finish and I can’t wait for next year now. The goal now has to be to try to win again. I’ve just got to go out there and do the best I can and try to get another title under my belt – that would be very nice.”
Hutsby finished second at the Final Stage for the second time in three visits to the Qualifying School, but the 23 year old is confident of retaining his playing privileges next term after learning some valuable lessons from his debut campaign on The European Tour in 2010.
He said: “It definitely feels better than the last time I got my card, and I’ve learned a lot from when I turned pro. I changed a few things that probably weren’t for the best, but just to have a shot back on The European Tour and show what I can do is pretty exciting.
“I think I’m a much stronger person than I was last time I was on Tour, so I can’t wait for the season to start. Some of the golf I played this week gives me a lot of confidence for the future. I got myself into contention a couple of times during my first year on Tour and wasn’t able to finish it off, but now I know that if I play as well as I can, I can go out there and chase down my first win.
“The main goal is to secure my card again, but hopefully I can put myself into contention again. Just being at the top of the leaderboard was an awesome feeling, I had a few butterflies in the stomach. It’s nice to be out there chasing a win, and I want to get that feeling back again as soon as possible.”
Hutsby ultimately edged his private duel with fellow former Walker Cup player Andy Sullivan, with whom he shares a management company. But the 25 year old from Birmingham was nonetheless delighted to have earned elevation to the top tier of European golf just three months after joining the professional ranks.
He said: “It’s just a relief to be finished. It was a bit weird out there today, because I wasn’t sure whether to go for it or to hold back and play safe.
“But I got towards the end and saw the leaders weren’t really pulling away, so I thought I’d have a go for it. Unfortunately it didn’t quite happen, but it’s a great week to get through and I’m really excited about next year now.
“I was a bit nervous this morning, if I’m honest. I felt the butterflies. But I also felt ready to go, and I really enjoyed it. It’s been a good year, and this really tops it off. It’s great to come through it at the first time of asking, so I couldn’t be happier.”
A total of 957 players took part in the Qualifying School, with six players successfully coming through all three Stages, namely: Hans Peter Bacher, Besseling, Emiliano Grillo, Adrian Otaegui, Pinckney and Remkes. Of the qualifiers, 17 will be making their debuts on The European Tour next year, with Spaniard Adrian Otaegui the youngest rookie at 19 years and 24 days old.