The season is coming to a close, and said Pro is about to get his or her end of year review. This is the most brutal review process you can ever go through as there are no appeals, persuasion or debates to be had here. It’s all about how much money did you win, where did you finish in the order of merit. Nothing more, nothing less.
If you finish outside the mark, on the Tour’s Race to Dubai, you will be thrown back into the pool of sharks, with players hungry to get back on the Tour or even to have their first stab at making it at the very highest level. Only the strong survive on the Tour. Boy do you have to have some serious steel in the spine to be able to play like it doesn’t matter and swing like nobody is ever watching.
Tour School is the official name of the aforementioned shark pool. This is the system where the Tour casts away the less successful players for the year and allows a new strain of player to get onto the Tour. There will be something like 900 players teeing it up at the first of three stages of Tour School. Make it through to the next stage and you will be joined by players who have not kept their Challenge Tour Cards. Make it past that stage you will be then joined by fellow qualifiers who clearly are able to play under serious pressure and are currently playing very well. This can only be the case as they have just finished in the top twenty out of ninety.
It’s like a real-life arcade game where if you make it to the next stage the competitors are stronger, faster and more experienced. And it keeps on going because if you make it to the final stage where there are only twenty-five graduation slots available, you have just eliminated around 875 competitors. Guess what… these were the guys who weren’t good enough to maintain their cards you’ve just beaten them. The guys who were good enough are now well rested, more experienced and waiting for you, ready to fight for their survival and career. These players have some money behind them too, so the fiscal importance of each putt doesn’t come with as many nerves.
In a slightly bleaker turn of events the players who you have to play against have a better ‘category’ than you. What this means is that because they kept their cards, they have a stronger card than you, so when the sheet goes up for the tournament, their names get put on the list first. Then you have sponsor invites, injury exemptions and local invitees who will invariably get a spot on the sheet before you.
So, if you thought that the card you had earned got you a seat at a level table, sorry, the table isn’t level and the food will always be sliding towards the players who had a seat at the table last year. Which is particularly tough when you realise that you have a year to earn as much as possible or you will be back into the meat grinder.
It is a dog eat dog world out there in Tournament Professional golf. With the dream of playing the game at the highest level comes the reality. So, when you think of a player who was once in the public eye, who you haven’t heard from in a while say like Robert Karlsson (winner of the 2008 Race to Dubai) he is currently 135th on the Race to Dubai. He will have a couple more years on Tour due to his Career Earnings, but that is all that is saving him at the moment. His stroke average this year is 71.52 compared to his winning average of 70.08 - this shows you how fine an edge the players have to work with, one wins you the Race to Dubai and the other 1.44 shots more, eleven years later doesn’t cut it.
Tough, tough game.