After spending a challenging time in the US, this South African has turned his sights to Japan, writes MIKE GREEN in Compleat Golfer.
When a player with four wins on the Sunshine Tour sets his sights on the PGA Tour, you’d think there would be a good chance he’d be able to play his way on to the US circuit.
But Jacques Blaauw got something of a wake-up call when he decided to parlay his collegiate experience into an effort to get on to the PGA Tour through the Web.com Tour.
For someone who looks as if he belongs on the world stage when his game is on song, the statistics from his two years (2017 and 2018) in the US make for grim reading. He made just seven cuts in 39 starts, and but for the fact he had three top-10s in the three cuts he made in 2017, he wouldn’t have been able to play a second season there.
‘Life on the Web.com Tour is hard,’ he says as he looks back on his time in the US. ‘The scoring is unbelievable and the cuts are super low. The cut one week was six-under par after two rounds and you needed to be 20-under par to get into the top 10 for the same tournament.
‘The kids who come out of college all hit the ball 330 yards off the tee and their short games are really good. So that is the reason the level of play on that Tour is just as good as the PGA Tour.’
Of course, none of that helps when you’re in a bad place with your own game, either. ‘I was driving the ball great – the best I ever have – and my stats were proving it. I was hitting a lot of greens but I wasn’t hitting it close enough to the hole. I averaged 23 feet from the pin.
‘Then my putting stats … I ranked outside the top 130 on Tour. My average for putts per green in regulation was 1.8 and that does not make for good scoring. So it would have taken just one putt per round less to turn my whole time around.
‘I have gone back to the armlock [Matt Kuchar-style] putter. I putted with this style last year and have been doing so recently too. I know my putting is the only thing that is preventing me from scoring well, but I am more comfortable over the putter and feel I can have more success with it.’
A pair of seasons like Blaauw’s would probably give a lot of professionals pause for thought, and they would take a long, hard look at their career. But the experience made him more analytical. ‘I would never quit!’ he says. ‘I just had to take a breather.
‘It felt like most of things I did worked against me. I felt that when I practised more, I would end up playing worse than ever. I tried everything and nothing worked. I sat down with my caddie and we had a good conversation about my game, and that gave me some insight from a different perspective. So it’s been great being home for the past three months. I practised less but spent more time on the things that weren’t sharp in my game. It’s still not where I want it to be but it feels like it is trending in the right direction.’
Blaauw’s results on his return to the Sunshine Tour certainly implied that things had turned around. He jumped straight into the top 10 with a share of 10th at the Sun Wild Coast Sun Challenge in trying conditions.
He followed that up with a share of second and of fifth at the Vodacom Origins of Golf events at Selborne and Arabella. He was 16th, missed the cut and was 38th for the next three tournaments, and then he vaulted back towards the top of the leaderboard at the Vodacom Origins of Golf Final at Pinnacle Point, where he shared fourth.
‘Being back home is always good, because you see your old friends and I spend a lot more time off the course than on it,’ he says. ‘In South Africa, I know most of the courses we play and I’m comfortable on them.’
Surely the same could be said of how he felt on the Web.com Tour, given that he spent two years at Oklahoma City University playing college golf there? ‘Well, being in the US for college golf was all about a sense of freedom,’ he says. ‘You go to school and you play golf. I didn’t really worry about anything besides golf, but playing on the Web.com Tour was like, I knew a couple of good weeks out there could change my life. I constantly felt that I was so close to the PGA Tour and also played with some of the best golfers in the world. It was just tough getting my head around that and I made it bigger than it was.’
Like many players at that level, it is perhaps just one simple insight that can help change the way things are going, and Blaauw has taken that with him in a quest to qualify to play on the Japanese Tour – inspired by the success of Shaun Norris on that circuit.
It speaks to the problem many top players face in South Africa: The currency just can’t support the depth of talent the country produces. ‘Unfortunately, you have to play outside South Africa to make a living, which is very sad because it is such a great country,’ says Blaauw.
‘Believe me, most golfers would never leave if we played for decent money here. I am sitting in Japan for the final stage of Q-School here. That is my short-term goal.
‘South Africa always seems to produce great golfers. I think it is because we can play 365 days of the year. We have great golf courses, good coaching and the junior programmes are managed pretty well.’
The Norris example is just one which inspires players like Blaauw. Of course, there was the seemingly incredible luck of Justin Harding, who went to Asia on an invitation and promptly won his first two tournaments on the Tour.
That gave him a leg up internationally, and now he finds himself in the top 100 in the world. He’s also managed to play at World Golf Championships events and at The PGA Championship.
‘I don’t think luck has anything to do with it,’ says Blaauw. ‘The guys who play on the Sunshine Tour are good. It’s a question of using whatever opportunities you get given, and Justin is a great example of that.’
And while the Sunshine Tour might lose Blaauw to Japan, we can still sit back and remember moments like his final-round 61 at the 2015 Tshwane Open that catapulted him into second place. Had his total been good enough to hold off home favourite George Coetzee, Blaauw would have been on the European Tour, and perhaps the Web.com experience would never have happened.
– This article first appeared in the January issue of Compleat Golfer