I recently read an article about how the 1st year as professional has been a struggle for a golfer who had an outstanding amateur career. After reading this I thought I would share my own experiences and some of the transitions I had to make from amateur to professional.
I was very fortunate to be part of a very successful national amateur team in the late 90's which included golfers who have gone on to play Ryder Cups win major championships and a world number 1. I turned professional in October 1999 of a handicap of +3.5 which at the time was one of the lowest in the country but it wasn't until November 2002 that I managed to earn my tour card. So why did it take me 3 years to get on to the European Tour. Here are some the things that I had to deal with to make the transition from Elite Amateur to Touring Professional.
1. Team Environment.
As an elite amateur that is part of the national team most things were done a part of a team. The traveling to and from events, the practice rounds, eating breakfast and dinner and even the clothing was a often a team uniform. We were told what time breakfast would be taken. When the travel to the course would be and what time we would practice and play practice rounds and even the format the practice round would be. You would win a tournament and celebrate as part of a team and if you didn't win you would have the team around you to help pick you back up.
As a professional none of this existed. I had to make my own arrangements for lol of this. There would be no checking in for flights as a group. Long haul flights sat on my own. I remember spending Friday nights traveling home alone after missing a cut by 1 shot with only my own thoughts. Life as a touring professional can be a lonely place even if you play well. In the event that I managed to win on the Challenge Tour. The presentation took place with the tournament director, the main sponsor and photographer and myself because everyone had left for the airport. I then sat in the airport by myself with the trophy at my side. Travelled home alone and got home at 3am while everyone at home was sleeping. My celebration was a glass of water on the plane as I had to drive home from the airport.
Interesting some of the golfers that never made the grade at a national level as an amateur seemed to transition to the professional game quicker than some of those who were part of the national set up. They were already having to deal with the things touring professionals have to deal with.
2. The step up in standard
I recently played golf with an elite amateur who told me that he had been told that the amateur circuit was around the same standard as the Challenge Tour. I didn't respond but he has a shock coming when he turns professional. I remember my first event as a pro was a Euro Pro Tour event at a course called Dale Hill in the south east of England. I played some pretty good golf and managed to finish in the top 30 and just about make my entry fee back. I thought to myself wow. I played well there and lost money. I need to step up here. I then went to stage to of the European Tour School at Emporda in northern Spain. For the first time in my golf career I collected the day's pin sheet and tried to figure out which pins I could attack. To my horror there wasn't one. 3 from edge of the green was the norm and every hole location was a potential card wrecker. This was my first experience of a course set up by the European Tour. I shot 3 under par 68 in my first round and walked of the course thinking that was a great start. I finished the day just inside the top 25. I couldn't believe it. The standard was so high and it was even the Challenge Tour. These guys had taken the most challenging set up of a golf course I had played to pieces.
I would say it took me almost 2 seasons to learn how to shoot really low scores when playing well like these professionals did.
3. The different schedule
As a Amateur because some of the competitors had jobs a lot of events where 2 round tournaments at the weekend. Only the major events where 4 rounds and most of those were played over 2 days at the weekend. This didn't give you much time between rounds and it was almost play, eat, sleep and play again. As a professional 4 rounds are spread over 4 days starting Thursday's and ending Sunday's. Usually in a different country so this meant traveling either Tuesday mornings or Monday nights. This meant there was a lot of time spent at tournaments not actually playing. Finding ways to keep entertained became challenging there was only so much practice you could do. Sometime I would have a 7:30am tee time on Thursday the not play again until 12:30pm on Friday. This meant almost a full day in between rounds. I have lost count the amount of books I read and dvds I watched. When the tournament finished on a Sunday evening it was a mad rush to the airport and often resulted me getting home in the early hours of Monday morning. Monday was spent washing my kit and traveling back to the airport to go do it all over again. During a run of 4 tournaments I would probably see my family for around 10 hours during the 4 weeks. As I have said the life of a touring professional can be a very lonely life.
4. No one gives you anything. You have to earn it.
One of the best pieces of advice I ever received was playing good golf takes care of everything.
When I turned professional part of me expected my successful amateur career would open some doors for me. This was not the case at all. I did speak with management companies that said once I got a card on the European Tour they would be more than happy to put me on their books but until then they could do nothing for me. This really meant finding my own way. I received no invites to events I had to earn my place in them. I travelled to Asia to try and get a place on the Asian Tour I played the MasterCard Tour and Euro Pro Tour for a season before earning playing rights on the Challenge Tour and eventually the European Tour. There were no leg ups. My achievements were down to my own hard work resilience and desire to get there.
When I played in my first big event I was in awe of the enormity of it. The stands, the crowds, everything was on such a grander scale. There was also a lot my available for me to be distracted by. Equipment manufacturers with the latest driver to try, coaches and gurus with the answer to success. At the time I was playing the fitness side of golf was starting to become popular and there a lot of "fitness instructors" hanging about trying to make a name for themselves as the fitness instructor to the tour players. It became hard not to look for short term fixes to help me play well rather than stick to the plan and on a couple of occasions I made some poor decisions that led to me being distracted in a direction that did not suit me and ultimately cost me a visit to the Tour School at the end of the season.
From these experiences my advice to any elite amateur when turning professional would be to learn to enjoy your own company very quickly.
Build a team around you that you trust and are more interested in your success than their own.
Plan your schedule. It's very easy to think I need to keep playing week after week. The time spent recharging at home is very important.
Surround yourself with successful people.
Make a plan, adjust accordingly but stick to it wherever possible.
Believe in your ability. If it takes time it is not because you aren't good enough. It's because you are having to adjust to a different way of life and it's takes some longer than others.