By Nick Totten, europeantour.com
at PGA Catalunya Resort
Records were rewritten at The European Tour Qualifying School Final Stage as four men from across the Atlantic earned their place on next season’s Race to Dubai thanks to top finishes at PGA Catalunya Resort in north eastern Spain.
Young European Tour rookies Connor Arendell, John Hahn and Brinson Paolini all finished inside the all-important top 25 and ties to earn their card for the next 12 months after 108 gruelling holes, while Jason Knutzon will also return to the top tier.
Before this week there had only been four Americans to qualify here in the previous 11 years – Rob Roshell (2003), Notah Begay III (2006), Knutzon (2010) and Scott Pinkney (2011) – so it is a sign of the times that so many have made it through this week as more and more hopefuls look to emulate the incredible recent success of breakthrough European Tour stars Peter Uihlein and Brooks Koepka.
The pair’s story clearly inspired a flurry of American entrants to this year’s Qualifying School, with 83 players from the USA entering the First Stage, almost double the 42 who came across the Atlantic in 2012.
Brinson Paolini was not one of those, however, having gained an exemption for Final Stage thanks to an impressive maiden season on the Challenge Tour where he claimed a first professional victory.
The Virginia native carded a level par 72 in the final round to claim the 15th card on offer at PGA Catalunya Resort and he cannot wait to begin life on The European Tour after a nerve shredding day on the Stadium Course.
“I’ve never been so nervous in my life,” exclaimed the Le Vaudreuil Golf Challenge winner, who immediately phoned his parents back home upon signing his card. “Those last few holes were tense but this is what you prepare for your whole life, to have a chance to play on one of the biggest stages in the world. You dream about it as a little kid. I was just trying to relish it and see what I could do and thankfully I hit some good shots.”
It has been a whirlwind for the Virginia State graduate who only ended his successful college tenure at the start of the summer before embarking on a European adventure off the back of some initial Challenge Tour invites.
Paolini settled into life across the Atlantic very quickly though, winning in just his third start, but when asked if he expected such success so soon he was adamant in his reply.
“Absolutely not,” he said. “I have just been so fortunate with everything that has happened in the last few months.The experience I got in those 11 events on the Challenge Tour really helped me today, and I really relied upon it, so it was great to get through.
“What Peter and Brooks have done has been great, and everyone has been thinking ‘I want some of that’ so it is great that four guys are going to make it through here, and we’ll have some more on the Challenge Tour too. It’s just great for American golf, it is great for everyone.”
Joining Paolini on The Race to Dubai in 2014 will also be compatriot Hahn, who finished at 13 under par after six rounds. He had led after 36 holes, and solid play over the final 72 holes saw him finish in a tie for fifth at PGA Catalunya Resort.
The Las Vegas resident certainly struck it lucky on European soil, coming through all three stages of the Qualifying School, having won at Las Colinas just last week in one of the four second stage events, en route to this week’s success.
Victory there gave him the confidence to come to Girona and qualify, and after a day of nerves for everyone, he is just happy to follow in the footsteps of the inspirational Koepka and Uihlein and earn European Tour status.
“It’s funny, I didn’t feel any nerves all week until I stepped on the first tee today and almost had a heart attack,” explained Hahn, who got his trip here off to an awkward start when he lost his wallet 18 days ago in Frankfurt Airport. “Today was interesting. It was not so much about pretty golf, it was just about survival, and I’ve played so much golf the last month I’m just thrilled right now.
“Peter and Brooks were a huge influence on me, I really never would have thought of coming over here because of the travel, but I saw what they did and the World Ranking points that are available.
“Wally (Uihlein, father of Peter and prominent golf businessman) sent me an email talking about the purses in Europe and how there is so much to be had over here, and what a great opportunity it is to come over here and play. I have to really thank Peter for coming over here and showing me that it is worth coming here to play.
“I think playing here and getting away from the States is good, I’ve been there enough that I want to get away and see some different countries. So I’m excited for the next year and I’m just going to take it one step at a time, try and play well and have fun while I’m at it.”
Joining the American cohort at Europe’s top table next season will also be Arendell, who polished off a fine week with a 68 on day six to finish in a tie for eighth, while Knutzon, the first American to come through the Final Stage twice, shot a final round of 71 to finish 22nd and earn another shot at The Race to Dubai in 2014.