The European Tour Begins
After 11 long years as a pro, I’ve finally made it onto the European Tour after finishing fourth at Qualifying School last November. For those who don’t know much about me, I live in Bearsted near Maidstone, and played my amateur golf out of Bearsted Golf Club, where I still practice quite often.
I’m in my mid-30s, so quite a late developer, having left school many years ago to do a sports science degree in Cheltenham. When I finished I wanted to pursue my golf career – I’d wanted to before, but my mum and dad said I needed to get an education first – so I then spent three years playing amateur golf, got my handicap down to plus three, and made it into the England B squad.
I played all the big amateur events, and had a couple of half-decent finishes without winning anything major, then I turned pro at the end of 2003, basing myself at Cobtree Manor with Paul Foston.
Along the way, I’ve won a Europro Tour event, had a couple of seconds on the Challenge Tour in Russia and India, and quite a few wins on the PGA South Region circuit. I’ve played a few main tour events too, as I won the National Assistants’ title the year I turned pro, which got me into the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth. I’ve qualified for the French Open the last two years, and also the Scottish Open and Wentworth again last year, via the South Region.
This year I’ll be playing a few more, probably around 25, but it’s difficult to say how many, due to my low ranking. I’ll just have to take the opportunities when they come, because I won’t necessarily know in advance. I was hoping for all three of the Desert Swing events, because the player who finished fourth at Q School last year played them all, but I only got into Qatar, where unfortunately I missed the cut by a couple of shots as I struggled on the greens a bit.
I also played the South African Open at Leopard Creek, where I started nicely before falling away a bit. In fact, I’ve started well in all three events so far. I was four-under through 12 early on in Qatar, and at Leopard Creek I was third or fourth after a first-round 66. So I’ve had a few good rounds, but the consistency isn’t quite there yet.
It is a little strange at first, teeing it up alongside the top names, and I often find myself doing a bit of a double-take when I see some of the really big stars. That can be both a good and a bad thing – good because you realise exactly where you are, and bad because it takes you away from what you should be focusing on.
Obviously you don’t go into tournaments not trying to win, but my main goal this season is to keep my card, and I’ll do that by looking after the smaller day-to-day goals, rather than expecting to go out there and win. It would be a massive achievement for me to retain my card at the end of the season, but you can only do that by taking it one shot at a time. It may be a cliché, but it’s so true.
I haven’t got myself a regular caddie yet, although I am looking to sort that out. So far I’ve used local caddies, because you’re looking at shelling out £1,000 a week for a full-time one, and I don’t really have the finances in place for that yet. But I know a regular caddie would bring the benefits of greater consistency.
Talking of money, I need to say a big thank you to my main sponsor, the CK Group. They’re a specialist cleaning company that has sponsored the Southern Professionals tournament for a good few years, where I’ve enjoyed quite a bit of success. Their managing director, Ian Pether, has been a big supporter of the South Region, and I got to know him quite well through that. So I’m very grateful that he’s come on board with me to help me out on the Challenge Tour and now the European Tour.
There’s no doubt that the hardest part of my job is the travelling and being away from my wife and two young children, but the rewards are there, so I’ve just got to keep focusing and working hard, so that when I am away from them, I’m making it all worthwhile.
Next time, I hope to be able to report on taking some of my good first-round form on into days two, three and four! Fingers crossed.