By Tony Jimenez
DUBAI (Reuters) - South African Branden Grace is still pinching himself after winning four times this year, the best record by a graduate of the Qualifying School in the history of the European Tour.
Grace grabbed the 11th card at Qualifying School but has done little scrambling since as he reeled off victories at the Joburg Open, Volvo Golf Champions in South Africa, China Open and the Dunhill Links in Scotland.
"This time last year I was heading to tour school - that seems so far away now," the 24-year-old told reporters on the eve of the DP World Tour Championship.
"It has been a great year... a dream come true. One thing led to another and I think after I got the confidence from the first win everything just fell into place."
Grace's first two victories came on home soil but the turning point came when he won in China.
"I really wanted to win outside South Africa because there was a lot of stuff written suggesting I might only win on home turf," he said.
"When I won the Volvo Golf Champions I think that was a big step for me. Now I think I can really play and I'm looking forward to what's to come."
Seve Ballesteros (1986), Nick Faldo (1992), Colin Montgomerie (1999) and Lee Westwood (2000), four greats of the circuit, hold the record for most wins in a European Tour season with six.
Grace said his brilliant campaign had made everyone sit up and take notice back home.
"I think I've been a great inspiration to most of the players on the Sunshine Tour in South Africa, showing that you never know what's around the corner," he added.
"One week can change your life out here on tour. I like to use that quote because it does change your life as much as you might think it does."
Grace said he was motivated by the exploits of his good friend and fellow countryman Louis Oosthuizen, winner of the 2010 British Open at St Andrews.
"I'm a very close mate with Louis," he explained. "He has definitely been showing me the ropes and giving me advice that might help me.
"We always have a laugh together. Louis has won twice this season and every time he has won I have pretty much won the following event.
"After his win at the Africa Open in January he said, 'Listen you're falling behind and have to catch up'. Then when I won for the third time I said, 'Now you're falling behind'."
One of the benefits of becoming a four-time winner on the European Tour is the kudos it attracts among fellow sportsmen, said Grace.
"When you achieve something in sport, they see it from the same eye," he added. "I've met a couple of footballers in Jonny Evans (Manchester United) and John O'Shea (Sunderland).
"I play golf with them on a regular basis when I'm in Britain and that's pretty cool. I'm also very good mates with South African rugby players Victor Matfield and Fourie du Preez.
"They ask you, 'How does it feel doing what you've done' and I say, 'Why are you asking me that stuff? How did it feel winning the World Cup?'. It's been great to have people like that following me."
(Editing by Ken Ferris)