THINK HARD BEFORE TURNING PRO
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.