Golf: Rose chases the card to his future

They are all aiming to be school-leavers but only 35 players will graduate after a gruelling six-day examination

THE USUAL assumption is that golf pros lead a glamorous life. "A week on the Costa del Sol at this time of year, lovely jubbly," is the kind of comment they attract.

Every good theory has an exception that proves the rule and in the lifestyles of the rich and famous (golfing section) the PGA European Tour School is that exception. Otherwise known as the Qualifying, or simply "Q", School, the six-round gruelathon brings together a few who are rich and famous and many others who merely hope to be.

The week is golf's equivalent of football's First Division playoffs but is best imagined as a penalty shoot-out that goes on for six days. It may be all very well taking each hole at a time but there are 108 potential disasters awaiting the 181-man field. By next Monday just 35 will be holding their players' cards and will be eligible to play on the European tour next season.

The incentive is to be part of a circuit worth more than pounds 40million, although the hand dealt to the Q school qualifiers is to be granted a place at the tour's lesser stops. It is, however, a vital step on the ladder and one Justin Rose, like others who have relinquished their amateur status and made golf their work, hopes to take.

But it is a week when Rose might like to be known by any other name. Reputations count for nothing and the last thing the 18 year old needed was the suggestion of one television company that they follow him for a behind-the-scenes documentary. It took Rose all of three seconds to decline the offer. Looking back on his eight tournaments as a pro to date, when he failed to make a penny after finishing fourth at the Open, was also not on the agenda.

"I don't want to dwell on them," he said. "I've been asked about it so much. I feel I didn't take my amateur game with me into the professional ranks but why it changed I don't know. Maybe I was trying too hard."

Rose's father Ken was more forthcoming. "Justin has been trying to re- enact the Open and has learnt a harsh lesson," he said. "But he has had only one 90th of his professional life and that puts things in perspective. There are no regrets about turning pro. If you are going to turn pro, the sooner you do it the better. Everyone who sees him recognises that he is a very special talent. Hopefully by his early 30s he will be the No 1 and have won a couple of majors. That is the time scale we are looking at."

It is also wildly exaggerated talk and it was Rose Jnr who was closer to the mark when he said: "All that matters is the next six days. In fact, tomorrow is all that matters at the moment."

Over the past three weeks Rose has managed to regain his former accuracy with the driver and has been doing some fitness work to counteract the inch he has grown and the stone and a half he has put on. There have also been appearances on the Big Breakfast and John Inverdale's On Side programme.

Where Rose has an advantage over others this week is there is no history of past failures to prey on the mind. "To me, it doesn't have an aura, it's just another golf tournament," he said. "But I respect how tough it is going to be."

Even if he cannot get a card for the main tour, Rose will need to make the 72-hole cut by being in the leading 75 players and ties to even get a spot on the Challenge Tour. At least he has the good memory of a final round 67 at PQ1 which earned him his place in Spain. "That was my best round of golf to date, including the Open. Mentally, it was the best, there was a lot of courage and determination. I knew what I needed to do and that made it easier."

The rest of the field is made up broadly of three categories: those who make it through the pre-qualifying to get to play at San Roque and Sotogrande but fail to make it into the top echelon; those who have no problem qualifying for the tour and every problem with staying on it; and those whose successful careers on the circuit have come to a sudden halt.

No less than 13 players in the field have won 23 European tour titles between them and three have been Ryder Cup players: Paul Way, Gordon J Brand and Steve Richardson. Way won the PGA Championship at the age of 22 but is here for the third successive year. Richardson, a former rookie of the year, also has three wins but was overtaken by Jamie Spence for the 40th place in the career money list at Montecastillo two weeks ago.

"Obviously, it's like a normal tournament in that you have to play well to do well," Richardson said. Richard Boxall, whose only other trip to the Qualifying School came 16 years ago, thought differently. "It is not the same feeling as a regular tour event. You have to play percentage golf."

Winning the Qualifying School is no guarantee of future stardom but the roll of honour includes Sandy Lyle (1977), the Open and Masters champion, Jose Maria Olazabal ('85), who won the Masters in '94, Ryder Cup players Gordon Brand Jnr ('81) and Jesper Parnevik ('88) and Retief Goosen ('92), South Africa's Alfred Dunhill Cup hero.

Darren Parker, a 30 year old from Essex, will not get the chance to tee up today after being involved in a head-on car crash on the so-called "Highway of Death", the main road along the Costa del Sol to Malaga. Parker was in a car driven by his fellow pro Robert Coles which crashed into a BMW, whose woman driver has been charged with the accident.

Parker sustained a broken left arm and had 42 stitches in a head wound while Coles, who suffered whiplash injuries, will wait until the last moment before deciding whether he can play. Two caddies who were also in the car also sustained serious injuries.

Palmer, who has been to the last two Qualifying Schools but missed the cut in each, said: "I am still shaken and don't feel much like getting into a car at the moment. The first I knew of the accident was the screeching of brakes and, looking up, seeing the car heading straight for us. I suppose it is a relief to be alive but I've lost a year out of my career."

PAST WINNERS OF THE QUALIFYING SCHOOL COMING BACK FOR MORE

HEINZ PETER THUL

The 35-year-old from Koln, who won the German Youths title in 1980, is back at the Qualifying School for no less than the 15th time, a record. He has gained his card three times - and he won in 1989 - but on each occasion he failed to retain his playing privileges. Has even twice qualified from the Challenge Tour, including in '97, but finished 144th on the money list this season with pounds 27,542.

DANIEL SILVA

Not only won the Q School in 1990 but went on to gain Portugal's first - and so far only - European tour win in the 1992 Jersey Open. The 32 year old was born in Johannesburg and was once sponsored by Nigel Mansell when the driver was president of the Pine Cliffs club in the Algarve. Dropped off the tour when injury problems left him 197th in '93. Missed the cut here last year.

NICLAS FASTH

First graduated from the Asian and Challenge Tours to the regular circuit in 1994 but lost his card in '96 only to go on and win the Qualifying School. The 26-year-old Swede had a good season in Europe in '97, when he finished 34th on the money list, to go to the USPGA Tour School and won his card. But splitting his time proved a disaster as he finished 196th in Europe and outside the top 200 in America.

CHRIS VAN DER VELDE

Has successfully qualified four of the five times he has been to the Qualifying School, including last year's victory. But has never been able to retain his card, a run that continued this season when he finished 169th. This is the 34-year-old American-born Dutchman who tried to get his card in the States a few years ago and not the French World Cup player Jean Van de Velde.

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