BENJAMIN Poke completed an emphatic six-stroke victory at the final stage of the European Tour Qualifying School, running away with the title as 28 players European Tour cards for 2020.
The Dane, who led from the second round at Lumine Golf Club, was in complete control throughout the marathon test.
He broke 70 each day to post rounds of 67, 67, 69, 67, 69 and 64 and seal victory ahead of three-time European Tour winner Grégory Havret, who came second on 19-under.
Poke, who finished 29th on the Challenge Tour’s Road to Mallorca in his rookie season, said: “To play on the European Tour is something that you always dream about when you are young. So to finally stand here with my card is unbelievable.
“I know that when I get it going I can shoot really low and that I’m playing well, but I was still really nervous going out there this morning.
“I kept trusting my game and trusted my swing and my game plan. I never relaxed though, because I know that anything can happen in this game, so it was a matter of just taking things one shot at a time.
“Some weeks on the Challenge Tour this year, I gave myself a good shot at lifting a title and unfortunately got beaten. But they were good weeks and good performances.
“Before this week I knew I had developed my game a lot since last year,” added Poke.
“I was happy to reach the Road to Mallorca Grand Final and I was thinking that anything I managed to do this week was a bit of a bonus.
“I managed to keep that mentality all week and not get too far ahead of myself – just focus on the day in hand.
“I’m planning to celebrate this moment for a while. You work so hard and then there are times when you are struggling and it’s not easy.
“But you’ve got to get up and carry on and celebrate the good times when they happen,” said Poke, who has graduated at the third attempt at Qualifying School.
The 27-year-old will be joined on the top tier by 18-year-old countryman Rasmus Højgaard, who overcame an opening-round 74 to finish in a share of fifth place on 16-under.
Højgaard, whose twin brother Nicolai finished in 51st place, said: “It feels amazing to have my European Tour card. It’s been such a long week to get it done feels very special.”
But despite his own success, as a typical twin, his thoughts were for Nicolai, having played in the Junior Ryder Cup together in 2018, they will not be on Tour together in 2020.
Rasmus said: “I kind of knew once Nicolai was on the back nine that he wasn’t going to get his card.
“It’s sad that he isn’t going to get his card and that we won’t be together on the European Tour next year but that’s just how it is sometimes.
“I can play good for a few weeks and then he can come in with a good few weeks. It’s different almost every week and that is how golf is sometimes.
“When I hit my tee shot on 17 then I knew that I was going to be OK and I just relaxed a little, and thought ‘I’ve got this now’ and to get a good drive away on the 18th was huge.”
It was a good day for the English as Somerset’s Laurie Canter finished sixth, 2013 Amateur Champion Garrick Porteous 12 14th, and EuroPro Tour graduates Marcus Armitage and David Coupland finished 16th and 21st respectively, while Sussex’s Toby Tree was in 24th spot
Essex’s Dale Whitnell, who finally broke his duck on the European Challenage Tour after a decade of trying by wining the KPMG Trophy two months ago, grabbed the last card in a share of 25th after making a birdie at the last.
But none of the five Scots who made the 72-hole cut could earn a card.
Europro Tour winner Daniel Young missed out by a shot despite finishing biride, birdie, while Craig Howie was 34th.
Three-time European Tour winner Marc Warren was 53rd while Ewen Ferguson was after a level-par sixth round ended his hopes of a late run.
Amateur Championship finalist Euan Walker, who turned pro after playing agianst the USA in the Walker Cup, at Royal Liverpool, in September, finished in 59th – his opening 67 was his only sub-70 round of the week.
All five Scots will be playing on the Challenge Tour in 2020 after earning full playing rights on the satellite tour.
Kim grabs card after thrilling 63
THE promise of a thrilling conclusion to the Final Stage of the European Tour Qualifying School was fulfilled again on the Lakes Course, as American Sihwan Kim carded an eight-under par final round of 63 to jump 38 places.
The 30-year-old who finished the tournament with a European Tour card in hand, as he cemented a share of 17th place.
Kim, the 2004 US Junior Champion, who was making his fifth visit to European Tour Qualifying School, said: “I knew I had to post a number.
“So I just went out there really aggressive, took the right lines and just swung at it.
“I’ve been in Europe for a while now, since 2012, so this is nothing new to me. I’m pretty tired but pretty happy about the score I posted.
“I knew what I had to do and I knew I had to post a really good number today so I just went out there and did it,” added Kim, who finished 133rd on the Race to Dubai, forcing his trip to Spain.
Kim’s fellow American Johannes Veerman also completed an impressive turnaround at the death.
After opening the week with a pair of 74s, the 27-year-old came storming back to close with rounds of 67, 67, and two 66s, to end the tournament on 14-under – booking his ticket to the European Tour with a tied 13th place finish.
The greatest excitement was delivered by Rikard Karlberg, who holed a 50-foot putt on the 108th and final hole to finish in a tie for 25th place, picking up the last available European Tour card.
The emphatic end to the gruelling tournament completed an emotional comeback for the Swede, who returned to professional golf in 2019 following a battle with a serious infection and depression.
Karlberg said: “I hit my second shot a bit further away from the pin than I wanted and had around 50 feet for birdie.
“I had a feeling all day that the number would be 12-under, so I knew I needed to hole it.
“When I hit it, I thought it should be good and then I saw it was tracing the line perfectly – and saw the speed – and thought ‘come on, just reach’.
“The euphoria I felt was just happiness. I don’t think anyone really likes this week. It’s horrible,” Karlberg added.
“It’s pressure all week and you’re walking with tension and you don’t have much room for error.
“This week has been so frustrating with my putter. I missed so many putts and then to be able to hole that one when I needed, it just feels fantastic.
“I think I am a better golfer now than I was then. I’ve played a few years on Tour, and I’ve learned about the pressure and I’ve learned that you need to hit the shots – even if you’re nervous.”
French quartet graduate at Qualifying School
THE French quartet of Havret, Jean-Baptiste Gonnet, Adrien Saddier and Robin Sciot-Siegrist all booked their tickets – equalling the record for the number of French players to graduate from Qualifying School.
Havret, who was runner-up to Graeme McDowell at the 2010 US Open, said: “I’ve missed the European Tour since last year.
“And even though I had a great time playing on the Challenge Tour this season it was make-or-break for me this week in terms of my career.
“So it’s a big relief to secure my card this week,” said the three-time European Tour winner, who dedicated the promotion to his wife.
“Our wives, so much of the time, are the most important people around us and that’s certainly the case for me.
“She wants me to go out there and live my passion as best I can, and she has always supported me with that, so this achievement is for her.
‘’I’m turning 43 on Monday so I don’t have too long left in my caree,” Havret added.
“But I’m going to take the positives from this week and come back out on the Tour a little bit fresher – and enjoy being back in the company of my friends on the European Tour.”
Welshman Bradley Dredge, who has two wins on the European Tour, retained his playing rights after finishing 122nd on the Race to Dubai.
The 46-year-old finished in 20th place after finishing under par on all six days – a feat achieved by just eight players in the field.
The 2019 European Tour Qualifying School was contested over 252 holes in three stages across 14 different venues.
A record number of 1,063 entrants bid for one of the coveted European Tour cards, surpassing the previous record of 1,026 from 2017.
•For final results at the 2019 European Tour Qualiyfing School click here.