Lee Trevino once said that real pressure is the day you play a match for $5 when you only have $2 in your pocket.
Having lived through that ‘journeyman pro’ reality myself over the years, I would say that 95% of tournament-playing professionals would agree with that statement.
Like every fork in the road, there are only ever two options for a Tour player – either you make it into the big league, or you don’t.
The coming-of-age stories behind the successes of Branden Grace, Dylan Frittelli, Dean Burmester, Erik van Rooyen, Justin Harding and so many others who have graduated from the Sunshine Tour are beyond inspiring.
To be honest, seeing those stories unfold first-hand is also what keeps the fire burning for so many of us, week after week.
With the talent pool running as deep as it does in South African golf, in early July the Sunshine Tour was granted a long-term partnership agreement with the European Tour. With more tournament opportunities and an even clearer path to the European and PGA Tours in sight, rest assured the next wave of young local players is ready to pounce.
Trevino’s quote reminds me of a great story, which played out right before my eyes at the Montreal Open, back in my days of grinding it out on the Canadian Tour. There are always a couple of big guns who contend, week in and week out, on any Tour in the world. This story is not about any of them.
In a tournament week that featured guest appearances from Hank Haney, JB Holmes and the then World Long Drive champion Jason Zuback as the pre-tournament entertainment, not much could prepare the crowd, or players, for the fairytale Sunday about to unfold.
After a pretty average week on the golf course, a few of us joined the crowd gathering behind the 18th green as the leaders approached. Some guy who had just come off the back of a string of missed cuts (and was on the brink of losing his card) was the clubhouse leader. It goes without saying that journeymen pros like us will always root for the underdog. Just like we are the first to believe in magic and fairytales. But it was all becoming real, as we knew this guy. He was one of us and now he could win the Montreal Open.
Two of those ever-present ‘big guns’ both made par on the last green and a three-man playoff was set to begin. Our mate had been waiting in the wings by keeping himself distracted on the practice tee throughout the final-hole action. It was now showtime.
The scene was set and the options facing him were simple. Win the playoff and keep his Tour card for the following season. Lose the playoff and be forced to close the book on his dream of playing on the PGA Tour one day.
Well, Graham DeLaet not only went on to win the playoff that Sunday afternoon in Montreal, but within 15 months after that day, his ultimate dream also came true as he played his way on to the PGA Tour. Since then, he has also played on The Presidents Cup team, contended at multiple FedExCup playoff events and dozens of Major Championships and has amassed R164,317,155.12 in career earnings.
Whenever I tell this story to a young pro (who often needs to hear something like this), I ask myself what would have happened if that winning putt hadn’t dropped for DeLaet back in Montreal.
But to be honest, I would rather keep believing in magic, fairytales and all the other wonderful moments this great game has waiting around the corner.
– This column first appeared in the September 2021 issue of Compleat Golfer magazine. The October 2021 issue is on sale now.