Stephen Gallacher is hoping to gain instant redemption and secure a 27th consecutive season on the DP World Tour as the Scot tees it up at INFINITUM this week for the return of the Qualifying School Final Stage.
The six-round marathon of golf will be played for the first time since 2019 and tension is building for the 156 players in the field, all of whom will battle it out for the 25 spots on offer to compete in the 2023 DP World Tour season.
Four-time DP World Tour winner Gallacher is one of four former Ryder Cup players in the field at the acclaimed Spanish venue, which will host the famous event from November 11-16. He is joined by fellow former Team Europe stars David Howell, Jarmo Sandelin and Chris Wood, forming an experienced quartet which boast 17 DP World Tour titles between them.
Gallacher: “You have to handle it like any other event”
The most recent of Gallacher’s four attempts at Qualifying School came 13 years ago, when he earned the third card on offer to bounce straight back after a disappointing 2009 season. He will be hoping he can repeat that feat this week at INFINITUM, a venue he has already played this year when the ISPS Championship in Spain was staged in April.
“You’re here for a reason and you’ve just got to handle it like any other event,” Gallacher said.
“You want to finish in the top 25, you want to win it and work your way around it. It’s six rounds and it’s a big mental battle more than anything, physically too. But I’ve done it three times and I’ve got my card three times so hopefully that trend continues.
“It’s been a whirlwind since 2009, I’ve reached my career goal with the Ryder Cup, I’ve had three wins, one of them with my son, and I’ve had my lows as well. But that’s golf, I got my card for the first time at Qualifying School in 2005, so it’s 27 years. You’re going to have your ups and downs, so I wouldn’t change anything.
“It’s a different chapter and you never know, you win here and you could win again next year – it could be the catalyst to work harder or figure out something.”
The tournament will be held over INFINITUM’s two 18-hole Championship courses, the Hills course and the Lakes course, both of which provide completely different challenges. Gallacher has been extremely impressed by the Tarragona resort and thinks it is a perfect fit for Qualifying School Final Stage.
“The Lakes is a great track and they’ve obviously reseeded it, changed it aesthetically as well, it looks really good and the greens are fantastic on both courses,” he said. “At the Hills, you’ve got to plot your way around, hit it in certain positions and it’s a lot tighter with more trees, whereas the Lakes is windier and dead flat.
“They pose very different challenges and you’ve got to adapt to both of them really. I quite like that; you’ve got to think all the time. They’re both challenging golf courses and you have to use your head.
“It’s exactly what you want for Qualifying School, it’s a great finish at the Lakes too. The 13th is a driveable par four, then you’ve got a good par three and then a couple of tough holes into the wind and then a reachable par five at the end. It’s got all the drama and everything you need, and I’ve no doubt the best players will get through at the end on this six-round format.”
Final Stage qualifying is the last opportunity for hopefuls to win their DP World Tour playing rights for the 2023 season and follows INFINITUM’s hosting of the ISPS Handa Championship in Spain earlier this season, over the Lakes course.
The 90-hole qualifying marathon has provided the platform for some of golf’s most famous names to go on to worldwide success, with Major champions José María Olazábal, Retief Goosen and Sandy Lyle among the list of previous winners since it was first held in 1976.
Final Stage qualifying was first played at INFINITUM in 2017, with England’s Sam Horsfield claiming victory to regain his Tour card along with 32 other players.
A year later, Spain’s Alejandro Cañizares and Zander Lombard, from South Africa, headed a list of 27 players who won their playing rights. Denmark’s Benjamin Poke topped the leaderboard in 2019 – with another 27 joining him in qualification – before the Covid-19 pandemic forced the postponement of the event.
Set to the west of the beautiful city of Tarragona on the Costa Dorada, INFINITUM is regarded as one of Europe’s most popular golf and lifestyle facilities in an area of natural beauty, and the 156-strong line-up will face two very different golfing tests next month.
The venue’s Lakes course was designed by Greg Norman and runs around the wetlands of the Sequia Major. As its name would suggest, water is the layout’s chief defence, testing players and their positional play on no fewer than 14 holes, while players will find the course in outstanding condition following extensive maintenance work this summer to upgrade the fairways from Rye grass to the more sustainable Bermuda Tifway grass.
The neighbouring Hills course poses an altogether different test; several elevated tees and tight landing areas are surrounded by mature, natural pine trees