• So near, so far

    Ryan Cairns
    Taking the long way round

    Life, travel, Peru and missing the mark by a single shot.

    Not too long ago I impulsively entered the PGA Tour’s Latin America qualifying tournament, threw some clothes into a backpack and booked a flight to Lima, Peru. 

    The path to the PGA Tour is by no means a glamorous one, but having made just a couple of cuts at our year-end European Tour co-sanctioned events, the timing felt right to take a leap of faith.

    My best friend lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, so two weeks on that side of the Atlantic to acclimatise and spend quality time with him before the ‘hop over’ to Peru was a given. Biting cold mornings in a Carolina winter meant midday practice sessions in mittens and an alpaca beanie, which I picked up especially for the Peruvian adventure that lay ahead.

    Welcomed once again by that good old ‘southern charm’, I was granted full rights to practise at Old Chatham Golf Club, located just outside Raleigh. The city and this immaculate, exclusive club are high up on the list of my friendly travel suggestions to golfing friends and family.

    The two weeks flew by and having just landed in Peru, one of Lima’s most accelerator-happy taxi drivers skimmed past a few curbs (and pedestrians) on our way to my accommodation for the week. The upside of social media, courtesy of a long-time friend, had put me in touch with a lovely couple who were based in the suburb of Mira Flores, located about 45 minutes from the tournament venue.

    Having thrown my cab driver’s handmade business card into the nearest dustbin on my way up the steps to Andrea and Eyal’s apartment, it was official – I had finally arrived in South America as the walking backpack, beard and beanie cliche, on the verge of a two-week, pantomime performance of, ‘I’m sorry, I don’t speak Spanish’.

    Country Club La Planicie was carved out of a mountain range, obviously – with every quality and challenge you would expect of a handpicked Q-School layout, awaiting the 144 hopefuls. Believe me, ‘Q-School’ is far from your regular Tour event.

    For starters, if you miss the cut at a Tour event, there is always the next week. Not in this format. Miss the cut? See you next year! There are 30 Tour cards available and you finish tie for 31st? See you next year!

    It is a grind, a marathon and the most mentally draining experience for any professional golfer vying to etch their name on to that Tour’s limited membership list. I won’t bore you with the hole-by-hole recount, so will cut to the chase.

    Having navigated my way through the two-day cut line before putting together a solid third round, I found myself within touching distance of a Tour card. That’s not to say the battle scars weren’t there, though, as over the previous 48 hours I had witnessed a devastatingly ruthless track chew up and spit out each player I had been paired with. ‘Stay calm, keep the ball in play and don’t be a hero’ was my mantra. It worked for the most part, but my putter never got the memo.

    Well, not until a ‘hallelujah’ 40-foot birdie on the final hole of the event to put me back in the picture!

    With no live on-course leaderboards, a nervous walk, filled with light banter (and a few silent prayers) began as we navigated our way back to the clubhouse and scorers’ tent. ‘What’s the number?’ asked my Swedish playing partner in the direction of the scoring staff. ‘Plus 6 looks good to earn a card,’ politely came the reply.

    I looked down at both hands, as my fingers automatically began racking up my 72-hole accumulative score like a fourth grader. Plus 7. Despite a timely intervention of my putting woes by the golfing gods on the final hole, I had missed out by a single stroke and was devastated. Not only that but I was thousands of miles and a few time zones away from my family and still hadn’t met a taxi driver who feared any version of an afterlife.

    The non-romantic version of what happened next? I jumped on a train to Cusco (which will forever be my favourite town on earth), checked into a cheap backpackers, hiked Machu Picchu and then ordered a pint of Guinness at the world’s highest Irish-owned pub and karaoke bar, before delivering an enthusiastic version of ‘Wonderwall’ with my new mate Tim to a mosh pit of beanie-wearing backpackers. Ah, Oasis.

    – This article first appeared in the June issue of Compleat Golfer, now on sale

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