THINK HARD BE­FORE TURN­ING PRO

Golf Digest (South Africa) - - Contents - By Stu­art McLean, Edi­tor stu­art.mclean@new­me­di­a­pub.co.za

This is a time of year when many tal­ented young golfers, and sev­eral older ones, too, turn their thoughts to be­com­ing pro­fes­sional tour play­ers. Q School events fol­lowed the end of the Sun­shine Tour sea­son in March.When you’ve grown up watch­ing the PGA Tour and Euro­pean Tour on Su­perS­port, the lure of that seem­ingly glam­orous life is ir­re­sistible. And par­ents fancy the idea of their sons be­com­ing the next Ernie Els.

Of course, we know that the odds of be­com­ing a PGA Tour pro are slim, par­tic­u­larly for any­one born out­side the United States, be­cause you have to be exceptional to get there in the rst place.

How­ever, break­ing on to the Sun­shine Tour is a more at­tain­able goal, which is why there were 181 en­tries for the rst stage of Q School, not to men­tion an­other 153 at theVusi Ngubeni Q School for golfers from dis­ad­van­taged back­grounds. From the rst stage, 43 quali ed to join 64 al­ready ex­empt for the main event.

The rst stage was in­tro­duced by the tour to elim­i­nate the cha , lowhand­i­cap golfers with delu­sions about their real abil­ity un­der tour­na­ment pres­sure. Such as the young man with a +1 handicap who av­er­aged 80 at rst stage, and then went home to play in his club cham­pi­onship where he posted a score of 92.

Pro golf is a hard game, which can de­press you should you fail, and there is no bet­ter il­lus­tra­tion of how tough it is to suc­ceed than the story of the Ir­ish­man who won the Bobby Locke Tro­phy as the Rookie of the Year on the 2017/18 Sun­shine Tour. Dubliner Neil O’Bri­ain, at 31, doesn’t t your typ­i­cal rookie pro le. Be­ing older, though, might have made him more res­o­lute. Over the last year he proved that per­se­ver­ance can pay o , and that the va­garies of golf are what drives us all to keep at it.

O’Bri­ain now has ex­empt sta­tus on the next Sun­shine Tour, and his jour­ney is worth record­ing. He came to South Africa last March for Q School, and clinched his card with aT-22 nish.Trips from Ire­land to Zim­babwe and Zam­bia in April and June were fruit­less.Then, af­ter a mis­er­able stretch play­ing the Euro­pean Chal­lenge Tour, he re­turned to South Africa in Oc­to­ber. His seven-week stay earned him R5 865 from mak­ing one cut.

Christ­mas must have been cheer­less as he re­viewed his year in golf, but our man had stay­ing power. Un­daunted he re­turned here in Fe­bru­ary for the Eye of Africa PGA. Note that O’Bri­ain wasn’t guar­an­teed a spot, but had to pre-qual­ify. He scraped in af­ter a playo with a 72 at Glen­vista. Mak­ing the cut earned him R12 900, hardly enough to pay his ex­penses. Straight af­ter Sun­day’s nal round he drove 12 hours overnight with his caddie to Ge­orge to tee up on Tues­day at Fan­court in the pre-qual­i­fy­ing for the DiData Pro-Am.

“It was a hellish drive,” he said.“We had the car doors closed and locked, and couldn’t get rid of this beep­ing noise for the en­tire jour­ney. I nearly lost my mind!”

The Ir­ish­man man­aged a 69 on the Mon­tagu course to qual­ify, and kept up his good form for the rest of the week, tak­ing a lik­ing to the re­sort’s three lay­outs. He opened 68-68, then 72 at the Links to stay within the top 20. He be­gan his nal round on the Mon­tagu with four birdies in the rst ve holes, avoided hav­ing a bo­gey, and a clos­ing 66 gave him third place and a cheque for R332 000. Con­sid­er­ing that his en­tire win­nings in 2017 amounted to R50 000, this must have felt like get­ting lucky in the lot­tery.

It was back to the real world af­ter that, which is what pro golf is all about at this level.A drive to Cape Town, where he missed the cut, then back to Pre­to­ria, fail­ing to pre­qual­ify for the Tsh­wane Open. I will fol­low his fu­ture for­tunes with in­ter­est.

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