The Odd One Out


The final stage of the European Tour Qualifying School concluded on Tuesday, with 32 players gaining their cards for the 2009 'Race to Dubai.'
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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