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It's a big week for one young Irish golfer hoping to earn a place at the game's top table

Ruaidhri McGee can secure a European Tour card for next season with one more strong performance in Oman.

THE FINE MARGIN between success and failure at the highest level can so often be defined by seizing an opportunity when one presents itself.

After five years on tour, battling for his survival, Ruaidhri McGee has waited patiently for his and now he’s determined to grasp it with both hands.

260464_m16 Ireland's Ruaidhri McGee is in the hunt for the holy grail of a full tour card over the next few days. Source: ChallengeTour/Twitter

While the game’s elite will be in Shanghai this week for the next stop on the lucrative Final Series, those further down the ladder will be vying for ascension 4,000 miles west in Oman.

At the top-level, money is less of a motivating factor, particularly when a lingering season begins to wind down, but on the Challenge Tour, the next few days have the potential to define a player’s career.

The Road to Oman Rankings, the Challenge Tour’s equivalent to the Race to Dubai, will be decided at the NBO Golf Classic Grand Final in Muscat – and the stakes couldn’t be any higher.

The top 45 ranked players from 2015 are in town primed for one final tilt at achieving the goal they all started the season with – to head into the winter break with a European Tour card in their back pocket.

McGee, currently ranked 27th on the standings, has battled hard over the previous ten months to work his way into contention and now one more strong display this week could be enough to earn him a place at golf’s top table.

“I’m looking forward to the tournament,” he told The42 before making his final trip of the year. “Obviously I have to try and go out and get a good result but I’m not over thinking it.

2014 Irish Open Golf Championship - Day 1 McGee is currently 460th in the world rankings. Source: Diarmuid Greene/SPORTSFILE

With the top 15 finishers on the Race to Oman securing a place on next season’s main tour, McGee will need to finish inside the top three this week to climb into the coveted berths.

“I’m just going to go out there and play the best I can and if that’s good enough than brilliant but it’s not the end of the world,” the 24-year-old continued.

“It would be brilliant to know your schedule for the year ahead because it’s the uncertainty which is the hardest part at the minute. To play with Europe’s top players week in, week out would be hugely beneficial too.”

McGee has enjoyed a progressive year on the Challenge Tour, earning €53, 427 in prize money, largely thanks to top three finishes in Spain and Belgium, but his season threatened to peter out.

“I had a good start but feel like I didn’t really do much in the middle of the year. It’s difficult to keep playing well for so long over such a long period of time.”

While those in the upper echelons of the sport are handsomely rewarded, life on the second tier is far more challenging. McGee has spent much of the year on the road, travelling between countries, trying to justify his existence.

“The travelling also takes its toll but you get used to it. If you struggle on this tour, it’s going to be very difficult to survive if you do make the step-up.”

Although he has yet to register a professional win, McGee has come tantalisingly close on two occasions this year. A tied for second finish at the Challenge de Madrid in April gave his season some early impetus but a bout of hayfever hindered his progress.

A dip in form followed and his encouraging early-season results seemed a million miles away as McGee battled with fatigue, illness and his own game.

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IMG-20150420-WA0005 McGee has changed his diet and is beginning to reap the rewards.

But as the weeks passed, the Derry-born golfer rediscovered his form and he staged a late assault on the rankings, including a top ten finish in Geneva.

He pocketed €6,000 for that performance but prize money on the Challenge Tour is a fraction of what’s on offer on the European Tour.

“It’s tough if you’re not playing well,” McGee concedes. “You feel along way from home when you’re in a less than glamorous hotel room in China and you’re not playing well.

“It’s a tour you don’t really make money on because travelling is expensive. Unless you’re winning, you’re not going to make much money at all.

“Basically you’re on it to get off it as quickly as possible.”

It can be a lonely existence too. Having spent five years on tour, McGee has formed friendships which make the long trips to all corners of the world somewhat easier but at the end of the day, everyone is only there for one reason.

By his own admission, there’s not much appeal to the lifestyle he lives – but the hunger and determination to forge a career for himself drives him on.

“You do sometimes ask yourself ‘what am I doing,’ he adds. “If the results aren’t coming to cover your expenses, it’s dispiriting. There’s not much appeal for a sponsor because publicity is limited on this tour.”

McGee begins the opening round of the year’s final event at 12.36pm Irish time on Wednesday morning. He’s snagged one-off sponsor’s invites to top-tier tournaments throughout the season to concentrate his efforts on the Race to Oman.

mcgee1 24-year-old McGee is eyeing the first full card of his career. Source: EuropeanTour.com

It reaches its climax this week and although he’s not in pole position, McGee won’t be overly concerned if he doesn’t get across he line this time around.

“If you told me at the start of the season I’d be in this position, I would have taken your arm off. I would have been really happy with it,” he says.

“You have to believe in yourself. I should have won this year but it just didn’t happen, for whatever reason. It hasn’t knocked by confidence.

“If it doesn’t work out this week I don’t think it’ll be much of a setback. I’m still young and have plenty of time. If I have to go back to the Challenge Tour next year then so be it.”

Patience is a virtue but McGee has reached a stage in his career when he needs to make the next step. There’s no doubt the 24-year-old has the talent to cut it at the top level but now he needs to put it all together.

It wouldn’t be a bad week for everything to click.

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Ryan Bailey

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