People always want to know about the difference between amateur golf and professional golf. Why do some make the step up and some don’t? Why do some of the best amateurs in the world fall off the radar? Why do players you’ve never heard of keep their card year after year? Why do players who have struggled on feeder tours for their whole careers suddenly win on the big stage?
I don’t have the answers to all of that (if I did, I wouldn’t be writing a blog post wondering if anyone is actually going to read it), but I do know one of the most obvious changes can be one of the most problematic. You tick a box or sign a letter to say you’ve turned professional, and suddenly there’s a cheque being waved at you with every event you play. Initially, that just seems like an incredible bonus… you’re doing exactly what you’ve always done, the thing you love, the thing you’ve put sweat and sacrifice and into… and now you’re getting paid for it. Unfortunately that novelty wears off pretty quickly because you realise just how many expenses you have. You realise exactly what position in what tournament you have to finish, just to break even. Just to make the life that you want, the life that you can’t imagine not doing, financially viable. Going from a little thrill of excitement when you check your bank account or see the ‘earnings’ tab next to your name on the leaderboard, to doing all you can to avoid mentally or physically comparing the relentless ‘money out’ column to the lonely ‘money in’ one. Or repeatedly logging in to your accounts page, desperately hoping the payment has gone in, so you can find something else to worry about for a few days. And that’s if you’re making cuts…
Even though I feel like the money side of things will make my head explode sometimes, I’m pretty lucky that I’m still young enough to not have my whole life revolve around which bills I need to pay. And at the highest level, golf can be an incredibly rewarding, even ludicrous sport from a financial perspective. But not at every level. It almost amused rather than irritated me last year as I realised that making a profit by playing on the Access Series is damn near impossible. (If anyone is interested, I’d say you pretty much have to finish top 5 to have a chance of breaking even in each event). But that’s not a dig at Access, because feeder tours are exactly what they say they are: feeder tours. You shouldn’t be able to sustain your career by playing them for the rest of your life. In my mind, sport, and life, are about pushing yourself to be the best you can possibly be… I can’t understand people who ever get comfortable with mediocrity.
Playing Access was my only choice last year; it was the only tour I was guaranteed playing opportunities. That was far from how I envisioned moving from the amateur ranks to the professional ones, but I will tell anyone who will listen now that it was the best thing that could have happened to me. And maybe it was because of the limited prize money that I was able to play myself into a much better position in a year… to improve mentally and physically. I read something recently about how providing a financial, or external, incentive has been proven to lessen your intrinsic motivation. Maybe playing a tour where it’s pretty impossible to be driven by the financials is actually a benefit; you can’t get distracted by a reason you didn’t fall in love with something in the first place. Your only choice is to concentrate on getting better…. Maybe that’s part of why there can be more hunger on feeder tours than on bigger tours.
But I also think there’s a lot of pressure, whether self-inflicted or not, on players who have had a good amateur career, and think they are ready to make their mark in the professional world. Social media is all about the superstars; the players at the top, the players who make instant breakthroughs as if it was the only logical next step. The reality is that there are a million and one ‘next steps’ that you can take.. and they can come at any point in a player’s career. Quite often, they might feel like a step back. But actually, if you keep your eyes forward, it doesn’t matter what direction each individual step goes in. Ultimately, you’ll end up exactly where you are supposed to.