HUGO Leon did not let the disappointment of being the first player to miss out on retaining his European Tour card linger for very long.
And the Chilean and is eager to tee it up at European Tour Qualifying School Final Stage which gets under way at Lumine Golf Club in Spain’s Tarragona, on Friday.
The South American would have retained his European Tour playing privileges for the 2020 season had Wentworth’s Steven Brown not won the Portugal Masters last month.
That bumped Leon from 115th to 116th in the Race to Dubai rankings – with only the top 115 players earning fully exempt status for next year.
“It was tough, but only for a little bit,” said Leon. “When I handed in my scorecard at the Portugal Masters, I had shot 68, 68 over the weekend – and I thought I was in.
“People were congratulating me, telling me I was in and I was stoked,” Leon added.
“I asked how I was looking, and then I was told I was the first man out, and just as I was leaving the recording area I watched Steven Brown, who is a great guy, hit that three-wood on 12.
“Driving off to Lisbon and finding out I had missed out, it was tough. I’m not going to lie I was gutted,” Leon revealed.
“I felt like I did a lot of things very well all-year long. Obviously being so close you look back and think ‘if I just did this’, or saved that shot there.
“But everybody is the same. I played hard all year, and I can hold my head high knowing I gave it everything.”
The 35-year-old, who has a passion for competing in golf tournaments, returns to Qualifying School Final Stage for a third time.
Two years ago, Leon was able to earn a Challenge Tour card after a strong week and last year, he birdied the 108th and final hole of the six-round marathon to seal the final European Tour card.
“Coming back and knowing the place, I feel like I don’t need to be running around too much to know what it is,” added Leon.
“I’ve got a feeling for the hole locations and how the week will go. Every time you come back to a place it’s more just corroborating what you had in your head, rather than trying to figure it out from scratch.”
With a track record of success on the two courses where the tournament will be contested – the Lakes and the Hills – Leon is relishing the opportunity to play an extended tournament, which he believes allows the cream to rise to the top.
“They got rid of all the 90-hole golf tournaments around the world and I still wish they had some of those,” he said.
“The more holes the better for a guy that plays well, that’s how I’ve always felt. That’s why Monday qualifiers are so tough.”
While he will be able to garner some starts on the European Tour, Leon will have the same goal as the other 155 players in Final Stage – finishing in the top 25 and earning full playing privileges on the 2020 European Tour.
“I’m happy to be here where I can play, Leon said. “Any time I get a chance to improve where I’m at, I’ll do it.
“It was such a beautiful experience to play on the European Tour and play with a lot of guys that I looked up to growing up and modelled my game after.
“Overall, there have just been a lot of great things in my life. I’m happy to be here, and happy to be in the position I am. I wish it would have been one better, but it’s still a great thing.”
Over the first four rounds, every competitor will play two rounds on each of the Lakes and the Hills, before a cut reduces the field to the top 70 players and ties, who will contest the final two rounds on the Lakes Course.
While the top 25 players and ties will receive European Tour playing privileges, the rest of the field who makes the four-round cut will receive full playing rights on the European Challenge Tour next year.
Leon will begin his pursuit of reclaiming a card at the 2019 European Tour Qualifying School, when he tees off on the Hills Course at 9.30am UK time, on Friday.
Gregory going again in Spain
Hampshire’s Scott Gregory, who earned his card by finishing 11th at Lumine a year ago, tees off at 8.40am on the 10th hole at the Lakes Course, which has proved the more difficult of the two in the past.
Gregory has struggled throughout 2019 making the cut in just three out of 18 events he played in, earning just €26,366 in the process to finish 274th on the Race to Dubai.
But last year, having played on the Challenge Tour, he came through all three stages at the European Tour Qualifying School to earn his card against the odds, having missed the cut at the US Open after shooting a 92 at Shinnecock Hills, in the first round.
The 2016 Amateur Champions has saved his best performances for Spain – he also reached the final of the Spanish Amateur that year, losing to France’s Romain Langasque, who has gone on to keep his card on Tour, having won the 2015 Amateur Championship.
Other English players who are through to final stage at Lumine, are Surrey’s Ross McGowan and Gary King, Kent’s Steve Tiley, who has a win on the Challenge Tour in 2019, Somerset’s and Laurie Canter, plus Sussex’s Ben Evans and Christopher Cannon.
Essex’s Dale Whitnell, who finally claimed his first Challenge Tour win after a decade of trying to earn a full Tour card, in September, makes up the players from the Home Counties in Spain trying to improve on their status for next season.
David Dixon, who also hails from Somerset, is the only past Q-School winner in the field, having finished first at San Roque, in 2011.
•For live scoring from the European Tour Qualifying School, click here.