THE FINAL WORD
Sitting around the dinner table at the San Roque Club, which was once the residence of the Domecq sherry family, the class for the European golf tour's Apollo Week (a crash course in what the young pro can expect on tour) looked as if they should be in bed by nine o'clock. So young, so impressionable, so talented. In a month or so they will be thrown into the real world and not all will survive.
At least Apollo Week, an admirable and unique concept, has helped to prepare them for life on the European Tour. In November they had gained their Tour cards through the gruelling Qualifying School and the next step, harder by far, is to retain membership. It can be an expensive and soul- destroying experience but the overriding philosophy of the young and hungry is simple: if we don't try it we'll never know how good we are.
In any case it has got to be better than the alternative. For Robert Coles, of Hornchurch, Essex, that meant getting up at 5am to work for his father's stall in Petticoat Lane or Leather Lane, selling women's clothes. Coles is a true-blue Cockney who thinks that the street market in Eastenders is an absolute joke. The trouble is that to play on Tour costs about pounds 1,000 a week.
"I don't know how I'm going to do it," Coles said. Like most of them he is looking for a sponsor. "Maybe I could sell shares in myself and if I win a few bob I could pay a return on people's investment." He will not be able to afford a caddie, at least not for the first two rounds of any tournament he manages to get into. If he makes the half-way cut and plays in the final two rounds, Tour regulations stipulate that a caddie has to be employed. It would not do to be seen pulling a trolley.
Of the class of '96 George Ryall, at the ripe old age of 28, has left it late. Ryall, from Weston-Super-Mare, is banking on the generosity of his bank manager. "It's got to the stage," Ryall said, "where I've borrowed so much money the bank can't refuse me further loans. If I stop playing I'll never be able to pay them back. This is like a lottery only we're paying pounds 1,000 a week for a ticket."
Prize-money on the European Tour totals about pounds 25m and is structured to reward success. The rich can become super-rich. Ian Woosnam was a regular to the Qualifying School, living in a camper van on a diet of baked beans. Now he lives in tax exile in Jersey and travels to tournaments in his own jet. Not so long ago Barry Lane, another habitue of the Q School, was an assistant professional at a public course in Berkshire. The other day he received pounds 666,000 for winning a thing …