The Nosebleed Section #5
Can there be a tougher sport to make it in than golf? Perhaps not. Players need to be in the right physical and mental form at the right moment to make it big. They need a bit of luck to win and consistency to stay at the top. All sports have similar demands, but young golfers are often going it alone and there's a risk they'll fall short due to a lack of support.
I had the privilege of playing a round with young pro, Tyrone Ryan, at The Els Club at Copperleaf on Sunday. Okay, it was actually a matchplay competition which I lost 9&8! It was all courtesy of the Sunshine Tour which has taken its marketing and media strategy up a notch by adding an annual Media Challenge to the calendar last year. The event is a real treat for amateurs and hopeless 'wannabe' golfers like me who really don't deserve to play well on any given day. But non-the-less a fun day and more importantly, hugely insightful into the careers of pro golfers, most of whom are yet to break into the really big stage.
23-year-old Ryan is one of those players who have seemingly missed a trick after graduating from the amateur ranks. He's still a prospect and only turned pro about two years ago. In 2010 he won the SA amateur strokeplay and matchplay titles! Only three golfers have done that. He is hungry for more success and frustrated that it's taking longer than expected.
Confidence, he does not lack and it shows in his game. He has a particularly long tee shot and a relaxed all round game with little room for fatigue or poor form. That's my largely unqualified view of his golf game. Ryan, who plays out of Bryanston, believes, or more accurately, knows he will make it. His question is when and my question is who else is driving this ambition.
You see Ryan does not have an agent or manager, which is also the case for many other young pros. They don't have much, if any support staff. They book their own travel, rationalise their own finances and effectively run their careers like businesses. I for one cannot see that as being conducive to creating champions. At least it does not make it easier, but perhaps that's the sieve which separates potential major winners from the also-rans.
So it's the hard yards that matter for these youngsters who put up with disappointments (like Ryan not being selected for the SA team after winning both matchplay and strokeplay titles!), financial struggles (thank goodness for equipment sponsors) and perhaps the biggest challenge - limited opportunities to play. Pros need to qualify for tournaments or get invited and it's no play, no pay in this game.
The strategy is to play well enough to get invited to the big tournaments. If not you'll find yourself relying on a sponsors' invite or begging the tour for a spot. It's a very competitive environment and rightly so. Players need to be challenged and fight for opportunities. When it all comes together at a big event they will get noticed and from there, hard work and talent will start paying off.
The silver lining for young players like Ryan is that the tour measures its success by the prospects that have made it big across the globe. Branden Grace's phenomenal success this past year is celebrated as a product of the Sunshine Tour. It's true and there are many more examples. The Sunshine Tour is also doing much more to add events to the calendar, which I mentioned earlier is one of the big challenges to creating more top level players.
Ryan tells me changes to the US Q-School, where players try to earn the right to play on the US PGA Tour, have made it tougher to crack it, but also opened up more opportunities to get into American professional golf. He welcomes this and I don't doubt that we will see him on those fairways eventually. For now his likely option seems the Asia Tour which has been a stepping stone for South African golfers as well.
In the meantime, the struggle continues and a player who set the amateur scene alight two years ago remains unsure of when his big break will come. I find it strange that Ryan only started taking the game seriously late in his teens after realising tennis is not going to satisfy his ambition (he played when Kevin Anderson was coming up!) He is a self taught pro and continues to seemingly get by on his own steam. That ambition combined with patience will see him succeed in my opinion and I for one will be keeping a close eye on Tyrone Ryan's career. Remember the name…
Wesley Petersen is the EWN Sport Editor.