ACCORDING to experts – or at least a quick search on Google – one of the toughest school exams in the world is a college entrance test in the Chinese education system called Gaokao. By all accounts, it’s harder than The Herald’s cryptic crossword. But hang on just a second. These experts, or Google, have obviously never heard of the qualifying school examination for an over-50s golf circuit.

Between the Champions Tour in the US and the Legends Tour in Europe, only 10 players can make the grade – five for each tour – and earn playing rights among the golden oldies. You’ve probably got better odds of cracking open the vaults of Fort Knox with a pumice stone. It’s a paltry amount from a vast, global entry of hopefuls so hats off to the intrepid, indefatigable Scotsman, Greig Hutcheon, who finished third in the q-school test for the Legends Tour in Turkey earlier this week to earn himself a place among Europe’s veteran elite.

The well-kent Aberdonian, a dominant and enduring force on the domestic Tartan Tour, will reach his half century just before the 2023 season tees-off and is relishing the prospect of a new chapter in his sporting life.

It’s a lovely reward for Hutcheon, who served his apprenticeship alongside Paul Lawrie in the Banchory pro shop over 30 years ago, chipped away at the coalface of the European scene for many a season and suffered a career-ravaging injury in his early 30s. Amid golf’s fluctuating, fickle and fiendish fortunes, Hutcheon has never lost his enthusiasm or competitive zeal.

“I suppose it’s a story of perseverance,” he said of a career which featured three European Challenge Tour wins and mighty haul of home-based honours.

“I always kept trying and giving up was never an option. I continued because I simply love the game, even though it has kicked me in the nuts on many, many occasions. As all golfers know, this game makes you look silly every day. At some point you’ll hit a bad shot, duff a chip, miss a short putt. But I’ve always loved the challenge of golf. Getting on the Legends Tour is a bit of a reward for the toil and it’s going to be a real honour for me to go out and play with some of those greats of the game.”

Having turned pro in 1991 and worked as the “dogsbody” at Banchory, Hutcheon would eventually earn a licence to tour the European circuit in 1998. It was an eye-opening experience. “You had the likes of Monty, Torrance, Woosie, Seve and Faldo out there,” he said. “I’d walk on the range thinking ‘Holy moly, this is a scary work place, what am I doing trying to play with this mob?’ There were so many great players.”

Despite reeling off a trio of wins on Europe’s second-tier, Hutcheon never established a sturdy foothold on the main circuit. An unfortunate shoulder injury caused by some innocent horseplay didn’t help his cause. “A pal jumped up on my back when we were walking but we slipped on ice and he landed on top of me and I separated my shoulder,” he said. “At the time, I felt I was getting to the point in my career where I could establish myself and at least become a decent European Tour player. But that injury was a huge set-back.”

Hutcheon would slowly retreat from the European stage although he still popped up now and again with occasional forays. Only last year, for instance, he played in six DP World Tour events as a reward for winning The PGA Play-Offs. In 2013, meanwhile, he fired a fine 67 in the third round of the flagship BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth to surge into the fringes of the top-20 with a round to go. “I drove in on the Sunday and realised that I could pay off my mortgage with one more good round,” Hutcheon reflected.

“The potential for life-changing money was there. But it was a mistake to think like that and I got too tense.”

Hutcheon would sag to a closing 79. It was another case of golf’s what-ifs, maybes and might have beens. Here in 2023, though, opportunity could come knocking again. “I would’ve loved a main tour win,” said Hutcheon. “But, fingers crossed, maybe I could do it

among the old boys? You never know in this game.”