Picture the scene: you need at worst a tie for second place in the final event of the Challenge Tour season to earn a maiden place on The Race to Dubai.After seven years battling it out on European golf’s second tier, this could be a moment that defines Jamie McLeary’s career for good or bad.
Tense times indeed, but that was the scenario facing the Scot ahead of the season’s climax at the Dubai Festival City Challenge Tour Grand Final hosted by Al Badia Golf Club. However, he coped with aplomb, firing rounds of 68-70-69-69 in the desert pressure cooker to finish runner-up alongside José-Filipe Lima and realise his dream of European Tour golf in 2014.
Cue jubilant scenes after the maths was complete and the scores confirmed, and as a result, the man from Edinburgh will be mixing it with the great and good of The European Tour this season.
Some rookies might be daunted by a maiden voyage aboard the good ship Race to Dubai - but McLeary has done his time, and believes that he has the kind of consistent game that could reap real rewards at golf’s top table having doubted at times whether he would ever make the leap.
“I’m going to treat it the same as the Challenge Tour,” said the 2009 Scottish Hydro Open winner - his only Challenge Tour triumph. “I’m one of these guys that is very consistent, I make a lot of cuts and my scoring average is pretty good. I’ve still got a bit of work to do to tighten up a few areas if I am to survive next year, but I’m just happy to not have to go to Tour School again and to be getting amongst it and be part of the Tour for once.
“I never thought it would happen to be honest. I thought I might be one of those guys who is too consistent for their own good, posts a lot of 15th to 20th place finishes, but that doesn’t do any good as you need to finish top three on the Challenge Tour to get anywhere.
“If I go out on The European Tour and make 20 cuts and average €15,000 in prize money next season though, then that will comfortably keep my card, and I don’t think that will be too difficult to do. Having been out here for the last seven years on the Challenge Tour, I’ve seen it grow, and the talent pool has gotten so dense, and the guys are so good, that I don’t think the step up is that big anymore.”
When you put it like that, it doesn’t sound like too tough a task, but history has shown that the step up in class is not always as simple as that.
McLeary has seen a number of fellow Scots of his generation go through the Challenge Tour or the Qualifying School and survive at the top level though, namely the likes of Chris Doak (101st in The 2013 Race to Dubai), Scott Jamieson (31st) and Craig Lee (59th), which gives him the confidence that he can do the same.
“I think my consistency will be key, and while 15th place finishes don’t go too far on the Challenge Tour, on The European Tour that is a lot of money,” said the Scot. “It is not like you need to win to stay out there, you just need to plod along, and to see people like Chris Doak and Craig Lee have solid finishes, the odd top ten, I just want to try and emulate them.
“It spurs you on to see that, and don’t get me wrong as they are great golfers, but Scott Jamieson is another one that I have watched on CT, and I don’t look at them and think they are way better than I am. So I fancy myself to do well next year and I’d be surprised if I didn’t.
“I’ve got the game; I’m consistent, I hit it straight off the tee, my irons are good and I’m good round the greens. I might not be as flash as some people, making loads of birdies, but I’m more of a plodder and I think that will work well on the main tour.”
It has been a tough school for McLeary during the past seven years on the Challenge Tour, learning his trade and biding his time, only to come up agonisingly short each year, but he’s not worried. He may have doubted in previous years whether it would ever happen for him, but the former top amateur now just can’t wait to get cracking and prove he can mix it with the greats of the game.
“I’m just so excited,” said the Edinburgh man. “I’ve got a friend who caddies on Tour who said he’d come caddie for me if I made it, so that will be good, and it will be nice to experience something different next year.
“You want to test yourself at the highest level, as there is nothing worse than feeling like you’re doing well but still being at the same level. It is hard seeing everyone going up each year, and thinking that you are as good as them, so I’m looking forward to my turn next season.”