The top 25 and ties at Infinitum in Tarragona after a marathon 108-hole test will secure main tour cards and be part of a 2023 campaign that will see members compete for a record prize fund of $144.2 million. They’ll also be guaranteed $150,000 under a newly-announced Earnings Assurance Programme.
“It’s a good time to be a professional golfer at the minute,” declared Craig Howie, who is among the card hopefuls on the Costa Daurada along with four compatriots, Stephen Gallacher, Liam Johnston, Craig Ross and Michael Stewart. “I know there’s obviously a divide in the game (over LIV Golf), but, where I’m standing, the prize-money on tours across the world is going up.”
The Peebles man is facing this test after coming up just short of retaining his full card, having been among the Challenge Tour graduates along with Ewen Ferguson 12 months ago. In comparison to Ferguson, who won twice, it was a less successful rookie season for Howie but far from disastrous, having finished 135h in the DP World Rankings, so less than 20 spots outside the safety zone.
“I’ve been pretty disappointed with how I’ve played recently as the last couple of months haven’t been good enough,” said the 28-year-old of missing the cut in his final three events and four out of the last five. “Because I didn’t get the opportunity to play the Rolex Series events, I had to play pretty well in some of the other big ones like Valderrama, Italy and the Dunhill and I didn’t really produce in those events, which is disappointing.
“On the whole, though, it’s been a fairly decent season; it certainly hasn’t been poor. When I’ve missed cuts, it’s only been by one or two shots and I’ve just been missing that one big result (his best finish was a tie for 12th behind Ferguson in the Commercial Bank Qatar Mastes). You need a top five or a top ten to push yourself up the rankings.
“I had too many decent weeks where I finished 20th or 30th and it just doesn’t move you anywhere. You need those big weeks with points. I was obviously disappointed where I finished, but it was one result away from being a good season, that’s the truth of it.”
Having finished in the top 155 in the standings, Howie has a category for next season and also skipped last week’s second stage, where David Drysdale failed to progress and now finds himself in limbo after sitting at the top for 18 successive seasons.
“I think because I didn’t do terribly last year and only just missed out on my card, my category isn’t too bad, so the mindset I have this week is that I am really playing to top up my events for next year, which is quite a nice position to be in,” said Howie. “It’s not an all-or-nothing week for me. I’m going to get a good number of events on the main tour next year and I’m just looking to add five or six events to that.
“Some guys are all or nothing, some guys don’t have any status and need to produce the goods this week. I want to do well and am determined to get a full card as I want to be able to pick my schedule next year, but I kind of have that slight luxury where it’s not all or nothing and that could be a good thing as it should make me less stressed about the outcome. I’m determined to do it, but it’s also nice that there is something to fall back on. It’s not do or die for me.”
The event is being played on both the Lakes and Hills Courses at Infinitum, where the ISPS Handa Championship was held earlier in the year, when Howie and four-time tour winner Gallacher both made the cut before finishing 30th and 69th respectively.
“I’d much rather not be here, but I don’t see any reason why all five of us can’t have a good week,” said Howie, who has Irishman Dave Corrigan on his bag as girlfriend Kerry gets a week off, of the Caledonian contingent.
“I’ve played the Lakes Course, the one we played four times in the event back in April, plenty of times, so I’m fairly comfortable here. The tour event had quite thick rough and tight fairways whereas I think it’s a bit more playable this week. I’d rather it was the way the tour event was set up, but it’s something I’ve had experience of playing that way at the Q-School in 2019.”
His younger brother Darren, is also facing a Qualifying School examination this week, but, in his case, it’s to try and secure a card for the Alps Tour, one of the third-tier circuits in Europe. “Yeah, hopefully he can have a good week, too,” said Howie of his sibling.
“There is obviously a little bit of uncertainty around what was going to happen after the EuroPro was scrapped, so he decided to go to the Alps Tour and try and get a card and have somewhere definite that he can go and play, which would be nice.” On the pair always receiving great support back in Peebles, he said, laughing: “It’s geat and much appreciated, but they’ll have double the stress this week!”
Others involved in the card scramble include former Ryder Cup player David Howell, 2018 Alfred Dunhill Links champion Lucas Bjerregaard and Thailand’s Kiradech Aphibarnrat, who also won on Scottish soil when landing the inaugural Paul Lawrie Match Play in 2015.