Americans begin European dream in South Africa

11/25/2013 12:00:00 PM
John Hahn  (Getty Images)
John Hahn (Getty Images)

By Will Pearson,

After a record foursome of Americans claimed their Race to Dubai playing privileges at the Qualifying School Final Stage in Spain, two in John Hahn and Brinson Paolini are ready to begin their European Tour odyssey at this week’s Alfred Dunhill Championship in South Africa.

Ohio-raised Hahn and Virginia native Paolini were joined by Connor Arendell and Jason Knutzon in successfully traversing the marathon six-round qualifying finale in Girona earlier this month, equalling the combined tally of American qualifiers from the previous 11 years.

A total of 88 American players entered the Qualifying School process, 46 more than in 2012, and much influence can be credited to the incredible success and stories of Messrs Peter Uihlein and Brooks Koepka.

Last week Uihlein was announced as the first American winner of the Sir Henry Cotton Rookie of the Year following a season in which he triumphed at the Madeira Islands Open – Portugal – BPI en route to a 14th place finish in The Race to Dubai, while his room-mate Koepka claimed a trio of victories on the 2013 Challenge Tour to snatch instant promotion to the top tier of European golf.

Now Hahn, who withdrew from the second stage of the Tour Q-School in favour of attempting to emulate his friends’ transatlantic success, starts his European expedition at the spectacular Leopard Creek Country Club in Malelane this week.

After turning professional in 2011, the Kent State graduate qualified for The 2013 US Open at Merion, where he played with US veterans Steve Stricker and Zach Johnson in practice, but says in no uncertain terms it was the inspiration of two of his younger compatriots that brought him to European shores.

“The experience at the US Open was the defining point of my career so far and I just want to keep the momentum going in Europe,” said Hahn, winner of the Las Colinas First Stage back in September and a cumulative 43 under par in 14 rounds across the Qualifying School’s entirety.

“There are obviously a lot of young American guys trying to make it over here now and that is 100 per cent because of Peter and Brooks and their success. I know both of them; they are pioneers for lack of a better word and were certainly the main driving force behind my decision.

“I had spoken to Peter about it and he says he loves it, really enjoys it and it’s a great place to hone your game. You get to play in more varied conditions than you do on the PGA Tour and there are loads of World Ranking points on offer. It’s a different type of golf and that will only improve you and make you a more well-rounded player.

“I want to travel Europe, get to experience the culture, the players and the golf courses because at the end of the day, it’s the Home of Golf.”

Paolini, meanwhile, gained an exemption for Final Stage thanks to an impressive maiden season on the Challenge Tour where he claimed a first professional victory in just his third start at Le Vaudreuil Golf Challenge in France.

Also this week joining compatriot Hahn for his first European Tour start at the magnificent Gary Player-designed layout, perched on the fringes of the Kruger National Park in South Africa, Paolini says the decision to travel has already reaped great dividends.

Paolini reflected: “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, 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 made it through, and we’ll have some more on the Challenge Tour too.”

Looking to follow in the far-reaching footsteps of Uihlein and Koepka in broadening their golfing horizons on The European Tour International Schedule, for Hahn and Paolini the journey begins now.

“The opportunity to travel and see the world? How do you replace that experience?" Hahn added. "Bigger purses, the chance for huge world-ranking points. It’s such a wonderful opportunity."