European Tour Qualifying School is often considered the toughest examination of a golfer’s game, with players needing to navigate 252 holes at three separate venues, with the prospect of playing on Europe’s biggest stage only adding to the pressure of producing your best golf when it matters most.
One player who passed the test with flying colours is Kurt Kitayama, who achieved the rare feat of progressing through all three stages of Qualifying School to secure his European Tour card in 2018 and has since carried that form through to become one of the standout performers of the 2019 Race to Dubai season.
The American has enjoyed a meteoric rise through golf’s echelons since triumphing on his first outing on European soil at First Stage at Golf d'Hardelot in October 2018, trailing a path that the 156 hopefuls at this week’s Final Stage at Lumine Golf Club will be dreaming to follow.
After making the grade at Final Stage last year the American sealed his first European Tour victory less than a month later at the AfrAsia Bank Mauritius Open before becoming the fastest man to reach two wins when he captured the Oman Open in just his 11th European Tour start.
“Q-school is like nothing else. There's so much pressure and you're playing for your job. It's a grind,” Kitayama said.
“It’s a long week for sure. Two courses and a lot of golf, but you’ve just got to stay patient all week and stay strong mentally. Patience really is key.”
It has been a year to remember for the big-hitting 26-year-old, who has enjoyed a heady climb up the Official World Golf Ranking over the past two years, not only courtesy of his two European Tour victories but also a flurry of impressive results, including back-to-back top three finishes at Rolex Series events over the past three weeks.
His impressive maiden campaign has seen the California native rise from 1187th in January 2018 to his current position at World Number 69. Should he maintain his current form over the final two events of the season, or even join Tiger Woods as the only Americans to win three European Tour titles in a single season, a spot within the World’s Top 50 is firmly within his grasp.
Despite being felled by Tyrrell Hatton in a six-way play-off at the Turkish Airlines Open last week, Kitayama’s impressive runner-up performance at Antalya has seen him leapfrog rival Robert MacIntyre in the race to be crowned the Sir Henry Cotton Rookie of the Year in what looks set to be a three-way battle for the coveted title, with fellow two-time winner Guido Migliozzi also in the mix.
The six-round 2019 Final Stage gets under way at Lumine Golf Club from November 15-20, with 156-players vying for 25 European Tour cards.