The Odd One Out
A grueling, six-round extravaganza, this year it was held at Golf de Catalunya ' a two-hour drive north of Barcelona, in the city of Girona, Spain.
Many nationalities were represented, most from Europe, a handful from southern Africa, eight from South America, a couple from Far East Asia, and seven from Australian and New Zealand. But just one solitary name represented the United States of America ' Nathan Smith.
So why did Smith choose to enter the European Qualifying School and, more to the point, who is he?
A native of California, Smith is a graduate of Duke University whos been plying his trade on various mini-tours in the U.S. since graduating from the Blue Devils golf program in 2006. It was a chance encounter that got the ball rolling on Smiths eventual trip to Girona.
Eighteen months ago Smith was playing a mini-tour event with fellow Blue Devil and now PGA Tour player Kevin Streelman in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
Streelman was looking for some help with his game and had heard good things about Alastair Dyer, a British coach based at the nearby Barefoot Resort. Smith decided to tag along with Streelman for the coaching session; both pairs hit it off, so much so that Dyer is still coaching Kevin and Nathan today.
As Streelman made his way to the PGA Tour this year, Smith was left on the mini-tour circuit. Nathan and coach Dyer were looking for something different, I told him he needed to broaden the horizons of his golf game, says Dyer. The European Tour Qualifying School was the perfect opportunity.
Being a native of the United Kingdom, Dyer sees merit in using European scene to build a career, Some American players are skeptical of Europe, it seems a long way away, but I told Nathan its further from one corner of America to the other than it is from New York to London. Nathan wants to compete and so we made the decision to enter European Q-school.
Smith had no status on the European Tour, but battled through stage one and then took co-medalist honors at the second stage in Jerez, Spain. His victory earned him a little extra money and a place in the final stages this past weekend.
Unlike the final stage of PGA Tour Qualifying School where there is no cut, the European final stage cuts its field after four rounds. Making the four round cut is essential, giving players the chance for a full card if you make the top 30 and ties at weeks end or partial status and full Challenge Tour privileges if you dont.
Smith made the cut, but a fifth round 76 hurt his chances; he produced a best of the day 67 in the final round but came up one shot shy of a full European Tour card.
His finish gives him Category 14 status for the 2009 Race to Dubai, good for about four or five starts, but hell have a full exempt card on the Challenge Tour where the top 20 at seasons end qualify for the main tour.
The gamble and expense of heading across the Atlantic has paid off for Smith
If he can get the funding and find some form in the limited starts he has on the European Tour this season, hell be well on the way to life outside of the mini-tour grind.
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Watch: McIlroy gives Fleetwood a birthday cake
Tommy Fleetwood turned 27 on Friday. He celebrated with some good golf – a 4-under 68 in Abu Dhabi, leaving him only two shots back in his title defense – and a birthday cake, courtesy of Rory Mcllroy.
While giving a post-round interview, Fleetwood was surprised to see McIlroy approaching with a cake in hand.
“I actually baked this before we teed off,” McIlroy joked.
Fleetwood blew out the three candles – “three wishes!” – and offered McIlroy a slice.<
DJ shoots 64 to surge up leaderboard in Abu Dhabi
Dustin Johnson stood out among a star-studded three-ball that combined to shoot 18 under par with just one bogey Friday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.
Shaking off a sloppy first round at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, Johnson matched the low round of the day with a 64 that put him within four shots of Thomas Pieters’ lead.
“I did everything really well,” Johnson said. “It was a pretty easy 64.”
Johnson made four bogeys during an even-par 72 on Thursday and needed a solid round Friday to make the cut. Before long, he was closer to the lead than the cut line, making birdie on three of the last four holes and setting the pace in a group that also included good rounds from Rory McIlroy (66) and Tommy Fleetwood (68).
“Everyone was hitting good shots,” McIlroy said. “That’s all we were seeing, and it’s nice when you play in a group like that. You feed off one another.”
Coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, Johnson is searching for his first regular European Tour title. He tied for second at this event a year ago.
Johnson’s second-round 64 equaled the low round of the day (Jorge Campillo and Branden Grace).
“It was just really solid all day long,” Johnson said. “Hit a lot of great shots, had a lot of looks at birdies, which is what I need to do over the next two days if I want to have a chance to win on Sunday.”
Closing eagle moves Rory within 3 in Abu Dhabi
What rust? Rory McIlroy appears to be in midseason form.
Playing competitively for the first time since Oct. 8, McIlroy completed 36 holes without a bogey Friday, closing with an eagle to shoot 6-under 66 to sit just three shots back at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.
“I’m right in the mix after two days and I’m really happy in that position,” he told reporters afterward.
McIlroy took a 3 ½-month break to heal his body, clear his mind and work on his game after his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro.
He's back on track at a familiar playground, Abu Dhabi Golf Club, where he’s racked up eight top-11s (including six top-3s) in his past nine starts there.
McIlroy opened with a 69 Thursday, then gave himself even more chances on Day 2, cruising along at 4 under for the day when he reached the par-5 closing hole. After launching a 249-yard long iron to 25 feet, he poured in the eagle putt to pull within three shots of Thomas Pieters (65).
Despite the layoff, McIlroy edged world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, by a shot over the first two rounds.
“DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now, and one of, if not the best, driver of the golf ball," McIlroy said. "To be up there with him over these first two days, it proves to me that I’m doing the right things and gives me a lot of confidence going forward.”
Duke to fill in for injured Pavin at CareerBuilder
Ken Duke will fill in for Corey Pavin for the next two rounds of the CareerBuilder Challenge – with nothing at stake but his amateur partner’s position on the leaderboard.
Pavin was 4 over par when he withdrew after 17 holes Thursday because of a neck injury. Tournament officials contacted Duke, the first alternate, and asked if he would take Pavin’s spot and partner with Luis Lopez for the next two rounds, even though he would not receive any official money.
Duke accepted and explained his decision on Twitter:
Filling in tomorrow for Corey Pavin that WD today @cbgolfchallenge I do things like this a lot to help events and asking for sponsors exemptions here but didn't get any help.— Ken Duke (@DukePGA) January 18, 2018
Playing on past champion’s status, the 48-year-old Duke has made only four starts this season, with a best finish of a tie for 61st at the RSM Classic.
Pavin received a sponsor exemption into the event, his first PGA Tour start since the 2015 Colonial.