• Grounded in Oz

    Ryan Cairns in Australia
    Hanging with Ricky Pointing

    Life in Australia begins like those of most Zimbabwean families who emigrated to Australia in the early-2000s.

    Last month I touched on life in Australia leading up to the beginning of my career on the Federation Tours.

    Those couple of years in Oz were a gritty and dark time in my golfing life, but in hindsight they also set the tone and prepared me for the realities of living out my dream of becoming a tournament-playing golf professional.

    The story begins like those of most Zimbabwean families who emigrated to Australia in the early-2000s. Sell up, pack up, then land in a foreign country with little more than the comfort of each other to get through the tough times.

    Less than six months before taking up my first job, packing boxes at a retail distribution centre in Brisbane, I had closed out the AJGA (American Junior Golf Association) Order of Merit ranked six in the country, after a tie for seventh at Doral and a tie for fourth (alongside Rafa Cabrera Bello) at the season-ending ‘Junior Orange Bowl’ in Miami that December.

    With 15 college scholarship opportunities to choose from, including a ‘full ride’ to the No 1-ranked college in the US at the time – Augusta State University – life could not get better. It could, however, get a lot worse. The NCAA, the governing body of college athletics programmes in the US, has a ‘Clearing House’ to determine which student athletes qualify to receive their scholarships.

    Despite passing my SAT exams and being admitted to my chosen university in Orlando as a student, the Clearing House turned down my scholarship grant to play on the team – due to what was later proved to be a ‘miscalculation’ of my high school results, but by which time my hopes of playing college golf in the United States were over.

    After parking my forklift job at Coles, I wandered back into the golf industry and found myself working in the bag room at the Hyatt Coolum Golf Resort on the Sunshine Coast. Having not hit a single ball in months, it was difficult to be around a golf course, let alone clean other people’s shoes and clubs, but it paid the bills.

    After a few weeks, a couple of the other employees asked me to join them for a sunrise nine holes before our shift the next day. Looking back, it is clear that walking on to those amber-lit, dew-covered greens that morning was what brought me out of the state I had been in for the better part of a year. Before long, I even enjoyed my shifts on the driving-range buggy, collecting balls.

    Late one evening, during the Australian PGA Championship, as I drove around in my routine zig-zag pattern clearing up across the open expanse of the Hyatt Coolum’s driving range, a ball landed and spun towards the flag. Swivelling around in the cage, I caught a glimpse of the tall, lone figure of multiple Ryder Cup player Stewart Cink in the far right corner of the hitting bay.

    Due to the fact he was aiming towards a flag surrounded by the only patch of balls yet to be collected, I turned around and parked a few metres from the green to watch him finish his practice session. I sat there for an hour in silence, fixated on his routine and consistent ball flight before he wiped his wedge clean, packed up and headed back to the clubhouse. I often think of that moment and wasn’t surprised when he went on to win the 2009 Open Championship.

    Two years after that experience, I landed in South Africa and played my way through the Sunshine Tour Q-School. Almost 10 seasons after that, I got an unexpected gift. The Sunshine Tour had been offered 10 spots at the Australian PGA Championship. The next email I opened was my invitation to attend the event, as a competitor.

    Supported by my wife and family, with my brother Brendon on the bag that week, I took up a spot in the far right corner of the hitting area after every round, before packing up my bag to the fading sound of a range buggy, zig-zagging its way into the distance each night.

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