On an afternoon where his golfing future balanced on a knife’s edge at the Dubai Festival City Challenge Tour Grand Final hosted by Al Badia Gold Club, Jamie McLeary stepped up and got the job done to earn a debut season on The European Tour in 2014.
The Scot started the final day knowing that he needed to finish no worse than a tie for second with one other player at the Dubai Festival City Challenge Tour Grand Final hosted by Al Badia Golf Club if he were to have a chance at making the all-important top 15 in the Rankings, and he managed just that.
Four birdies in his first 13 holes saw the Scot pull three clear of the chasing pack at one point, and on his own in second, but a bogey at the 15th saw him slip back towards the pack before eventually finishing in a tie alongside José-Felipe Lima.
No one was quite sure how it had all played out at the last, as McLeary’s Portuguese playing partner got up and down from the back bunker to tie the Scot, who could only make par and post a three under par 69 to move to 12 under. But after a few calculations it was confirmed he had jumped from 33rd to claim the 15th and final card.
In doing so he becomes the fourth Team Scottish Hydro player to graduate from the Rankings in the past three years – after Craig Lee (2011), Chris Doak (2012) and Scott Henry (2012) – and he will now embark on a debut season with European golf’s elite after what was his eighth season on the Challenge Tour.
“I’m delighted," explained the 32 year old. "To finish the way I did was nice, as I knew it was going to be a tough day and I kind of knew the score I wanted to shoot and that’s what I was aiming for.
"The guys I was playing with had already confirmed their European Tour cards so when they started out like a train I knew I needed to finish second or tied second. I was able to stay patient and I only made one bogey all day, which was on the 15th. But it was a hole I actually tried to bogey if that makes sense – I was just trying to keep it from going in the water!
“Somebody told me once I came off that Rhys Davies had also had a putt for eagle at the last to tie for second, and I’d just assumed that no one would make eagle, not sure why. I still thought I could make birdie by laying up, but I didn’t hit as good a pitch as I thought I had hit. When I looked up at the board and saw only Lima could tie me, I was pretty confident he wouldn’t hole his bunker shot.
“I don’t think he (Lima) quite knew the situation, as he was apologising when we came in, but I’m just glad I didn’t make six at the last. If I had done that I would have been kicking myself, probably for the rest of my life.
“I started to worry that I would never make it to The European Tour, that I was one of those guys that was really consistent but without the big finishes at the big events that I needed. It has taken a lot longer than I thought it would, and the older you get the more nervous you get, but I’ve got my chance now and I’m confident I’ll take it.”
McLeary eventually finished four shots adrift of eventual winner Shiv Kapur, who was the only other man to jump into the top 15, having come from 20th position at the start of the week to also earn a European Tour card.
The Indian picked up his second win of the season and jumped to fourth on the Challenge Tour Rankings, while Italy’s Andrea Pavan topped the pile and will prepare to embark on a second season in Europe’s top tier.
Unfortunately, the men to lose out on the final day were England’s Sam Walker (16th) and America’s Daniel Im (17th), and they will now prepare for the Qualifying School Final Stage at PGA Catalunya Resort, which gets under way next weekend.