The Qualifying School Final Stage never fails to produce drama and this year was no different, with the chance of a shot at golf’s highest level bringing out the best and worst of emotions.
For every story of success, of low rounds to scrape into the all-important top 30, of monster putts holed, there are tales of misery and frustration at narrow misses or final-round collapses.
But ultimately there are a limited number of European Tour cards on offer, and they will go to those who can hold their nerve, withstand the pressure and produce the goods when it is needed most.
The most heart-warming story of the 2011 Final Stage has to be Jamie Elson, who missed out on promotion through the Challenge Tour Rankings after finishing 27th. The Englishman had an impressive seven under par 63 in the fourth round to make the cut, but a one over par 73 on the fifth day left him five under overall and with some work to do to secure a return to The European Tour.
Things were going well when he was three under at the turn, but a double bogey at the first – his tenth – meant he was back to six under and had to pick up another shot somewhere. He must have thought his luck had run out when he had seven straight pars and was then faced with a 40-foot putt for birdie at the last.
But, knowing he had to hole it to have any chance of a card, up he stepped and rolled it in. The skill needed to hole that putt under such intense pressure should not be underestimated.
Another nerveless performance came from American Scott Pinckney, who shot a seven under par 65, with two birdies in the last three holes, to take the 29th card.
“I knew I was due a good one so I was extremely focused on just going at the pins,” he said. “I knew I needed to pick up two shots coming in. It hasn’t hit me yet, but I am just thrilled beyond belief, it’s a dream come true.”
Pinckney’s score was matched by Scotsman Gary Orr, who was eight under at the start of the day and knew he would have to play well to guarantee a card. He not only played well, but scorched round with seven birdies to finish on 15 under par and take the eighth card.
Englishman Andrew Marshall thought he was down and out when, on the seven under mark with two to play, he drove into bushes on the 17th. He hacked out, stiffed a wedge to ten feet before holing out for par, and then held his nerve to roll in a 15-footer for par on the last to take the 37th and last card.
Spaniard Agustin Domingo had an eagle, two birdies and two pars in his last five holes to finish on ten under, while South African Alex Haindl had a five under par 67 to scrape in by one.
Domingo said: “I knew I had to attack. I've been playing really well but my putter’s been cold. But I holed a very long putt for eagle on the seventh so it all came good at the right time.”
Going the other way, however, was England’s Benn Barham, who was in contention at one stage this week until a 79 in the fifth round left him with little hope of earning a card. He was five under through 12 holes in the final round, though, and looking likely to sneak in on the mark, but then had three bogeys over the closing holes to slip away.
Espen Kofstad had a hole-in-one in his round, but a two over par 74 was not good enough, while Jordi Garcia Pinto, Magnus A Carlsson and Christophe Brazilier all carded five over par 77 to miss out.
There were also some very relieved faces from those who had had shaky rounds but had still done enough to secure their playing rights on The European Tour in 2012. Victor Riu was one of those, having stuttered to a 75 to finish on the seven under par mark, and Dutchman Martin Lafeber had five bogeys and an eagle in his last seven holes to scrape in with the same score.