A GOLF qualifying school tends to be the kind of arduous, perilous trek that would make Hannibal’s epic hike over the Alps look like a quick dash between the pub and the bookies.

It’s no wonder then that Gemma Dryburgh is looking forward to kicking back on a Florida sun lounger and reflecting on a job well done.

Having negotiated eight nail-nibbling, stomach-churning, mind-mangling rounds to earn full playing rights on the LPGA Tour for the 2022 campaign, the Scot deserves her period of rest and recuperation.

Many seasoned observers will tell you that the q-school process is golf’s ‘torture chamber’; a punishing, prolonged questioning of a player’s mental and physical resolve which would make the Spanish Inquisition resemble a quick Q&A session. Whoever said your school days are the best of your life obviously wasn’t a pro golfer scrambling for a tour card.

“It feels like it goes on forever,” gasped Dryburgh of this sapping marathon which took place over two exacting weeks. “We are used to playing back-to-back events but q-school is totally different. It’s more a mental grind than a physical one. It’s not a normal event and nobody enjoys it.

“You go to a regular event and see other players on the putting green and say ‘hi’ and all that. But q-school has a totally different vibe. You can feel the tension in the air and it is a very cut-throat affair. Everybody is playing for their careers. 

"I remember playing the Curtis Cup as an amateur and I was so nervous I couldn’t feel my legs. Thankfully I didn’t have any of that at q-school. I can handle things a bit better now. This was my third time at the q-school so I knew what to expect. But I don’t want to do it again. Now that I’ve got the job done, relief is the big feeling. A big weight comes off your shoulders.”

The 2021 season was Dryburgh’s fourth on the most lucrative tour in the women’s game. While she was forced to return to the dreaded q-school to regain her place at the top table, there were still steps in the right direction.

The 28-year-old’s share of eighth, for instance, in September’s Portland Classic saw her compete in the final group on the final day. It was uncharted territory for the Aberdonian but now that she’s experienced affairs at the very sharp end, she’s eager for more.

“You always learn from something like that,” she reflected of a final round in the company of eventual winner and LPGA Tour No1, Jin Young Ko. “It was the marquee group, my first time in it and you had all the cameras and the on-course commentators walking with you. Now that I have that experience under my belt, I hope it will stand me in good stead. Once you’ve had a taste of it, you want more.”

A higher finish that week could’ve spared Dryburgh the rigmarole of the qualifying school. Instead, she missed the cut in her next two events as the prospect of q-school loomed with increasing menace. “When you only have limited starts, as I did, during the season there is so much more pressure to perform and it really builds up” Dryburgh added. “I knew I had to do something in my last two tournaments but the thought of q-school does become a distraction.”

With that particular distraction now out of the way, Dryburgh can look forward to a much more stable schedule in 2022. The LPGA Tour will boast an overall prize fund of almost $90m, the biggest in its history, while a ground-breaking visit to Muirfield for the AIG Women’s Open in the summer will be one of the highlights of the year. There’s plenty to stir the senses.

“This is my sixth year as a pro and when I was just starting off, the goal was always to reach the LPGA Tour,” said Dryburgh, a three-time winner on the Rose Ladies Series. “The fact I’ve managed to play on it for a few seasons now is very pleasing. I do feel like I am improving each year and, importantly, I feel that I belong at this level. I just want to push on and make next year my best one yet.”

For the time being, though, Dryburgh can enjoy that sun lounger.