Post by Sam Kirk.
A lot is said about the amount of talent needed to realistically have a shot at making a career out of the game of golf.
Down at my local club there seems to be a lot of pressure on the young players with low handicaps, with the questions and comments always flying around from members about their potential, what they have seen them do, the amount they play and practice and the scores they produce.
This has led me to wonder, what are the signs and characteristics required for a youngster with talent to convert their potential into a career and ultimately financial reward?
We hear the stories of Tiger Woods and his natural and incredible talent for the game. Having won all the junior honours available and achieving all there is to achieve at the pinnacle of amateur golf he then moved into the professional game with consummate ease and subsequently went on to dominate the world.
Fair enough, this is a rare example and perhaps one that although inspiring could be misleading. With that amount of skill his rise to the top was inevitable more than remarkable. However the interest for me lies with the stories of the professionals at completely the other end of the spectrum.
Those who were dismissed and never given a hope of becoming a high calibre player or one who could take their game to the most intensely pressured and glamorous environments the world of golf has to offer. Those players that fought and scratched for every pound or dollar in order to travel the world to try and make a name for themselves in the game.
Determination seems to be an incredibly underrated asset and it, from a shortsighted view, does seem that unless you can pull off the most incredible shots and shape the ball in ridiculous ways you are written off from a serious career at the top. But what is ‘good enough’? Such a vague phrase should not put one off and result in him/her shelving their ambitions of making it. Bob Torrance once said of Padraig Harrington that ‘he was not the most talented pupil he had ever worked with, but he was by far the most hard working’, and for me this was something that jumped out. Torrance had coached the likes of Ian Woosnam and Seve Ballesteros to major triumphs, but it was Harrington who completely went about re-shaping his swing and turning himself from an average tour player into a three time major champion. He believed in it so much that at times of despair and when he was a million miles away from glory, trophy winning moments, having his picture over every golfing magazine around and being someone who was deemed too good to leave out of a Ryder Cup team by Colin Montgomerie, that he kept his head down and proved that great things can be achieved with the right tools.
A more obscure example of achieving unlikely success from the game is that of peasant farmer turned security guard turned professional golfer Zhou Xunshu. Dan Washburn, an American writer based in Shanghai, came across his remarkable story whilst in the process of writing his book on the development of golf in China and it really is proof that although golf has an ‘upper class’ tag attached to it, every year it is becoming more and more accessible and appealing to those from even the poorest backgrounds.
Said Zhou: “I worked at a golf club as a security guard and I was head of the security team, I learned about golf through the club. I realised that I could earn more money as a golf player than in my present job at the time. “I moved to the city of Chongqing and although it was only a developing city I could see it was somewhere that I wanted to be as the golf industry was about to grow. It was hard for me to adjust in a new environment by myself. I had the idea that I should just go home, but I didn’t, I survived.”
Dana Quigley is also a name that might be familiar to some. Dana’s is a story about making a good living from the game of golf despite his best finish on the PGA Tour coming way back in 1980 when he finished sixth in the 1980 Greater Milwaukee Open. He was an unremarkable youngster, and during his years at high school remembers trying out for the golf team and shooting 105. He didn’t even get into his university’s golf team when he was in his first year there, but he kept going. Dana’s philosophy was that hard work would bring improvements and that’s the way it turned out for him as he practice for hours on a field next to the college gym trying to imitate players who played to a higher standard. He then worked as a house painter as well as a club pro and he never won anything bigger than the Rhode Island Open. However one winter, on a whim, Dana decided to enter the PGA Tour’s qualifying school and to his shock, he got through.
Although not possessing all the talent in the world, Dana made a living for himself out of the game of golf. Despite quitting the tour after five years, he rejoined tournament golf at senior level where he found he could not only compete, but also win. He won a total of 11 times on the Champions Tour, with his most recent victory coming in 2006. He is proof that you don’t have to set the world on fire to be a professional golfer, but you do have to have grit, determination and mental strength to stand a chance.