Behind every Tour star is a PGA Professional - PGA of Australia

Behind every Tour star is a PGA Professional

A flood of Australia’s brightest amateur talent has taken the plunge into the pro ranks; this is the process they went through with their coaches before making the jump.

Like parenthood, you can never be fully ready for what is awaiting you when you decide to be a tournament professional.

You can think you’re ready, only for the vagaries of life on the road to throw challenges your way that you could never have envisaged on your own.

For the PGA Professionals who guide young men and women through this exciting transition – players they may have been developing from a young age – the hope is that they have prepared them as best as they possibly can to be a successful tournament professional.

“It’s not something they should be doing because they are bored with amateur golf and think they are ready for that next step,” says Grant Field, who has guided the likes of Cameron Smith, Maverick Antcliff and Dylan Perry into the pro ranks in recent years.

“Sometimes I will get a comment that a player is keen to turn pro because they are bored with the amateur stuff when the reality is that if they are bored then, they’re going to be bored pretty quickly when they go through heaps of money in six months.

“It’s a readiness where we believe there’s almost no chance that they won’t get their tour card unless something untoward or unexpected happens.

“It’s not a matter of having a crack and seeing how we go. We need to be quite confident that there’s enough evidence that it’s a step we’re ready to take.

“Often they will have people around them telling them that they’re ready. Unfortunately, a lot of that is driven by a bias of wanting to see them turn professional.

“It’s got to come back to an evidence-based decision to support it. I’m sure there are millions of golfers who would like to be professional golfers but a very high percentage of them aren’t good enough to do it.

“There are absolutely no guarantees. There are guys who you would have thought would go on and transition really well and then there are other guys you have doubts about who end up outperforming the other guys.

“The best ones take their opportunity and make their own luck.”

More than the talent they displayed as amateurs, what has been most impressive about the current crop beginning to make their way is how quickly they have won in professional company.

Zach Murray’s win at the 2018 WA Open whilst still an amateur was the final confirmation that he was ready to turn pro. The Wodonga product then won the 2019 New Zealand Open in just his sixth start as a tournament professional to secure status in Asia and provide the foundation to finish second on the PGA Tour of Australasia Order of Merit, a result that earned the 21-year-old a 2020 European Tour card.

Lucas Herbert and Min Woo Lee have won European Tour events this year, Antcliff won three times on the China Golf Tour in 2019 and Brett Coletta narrowly missed earning his PGA TOUR card last year where 2017 Australian Open champion Cameron Davis is quickly establishing his credentials.

Perry and Anthony Quayle both kept their cards on the Japan Golf Tour in their rookie seasons and Jake McLeod, David Micheluzzi and Blake Windred have all featured near the top of the leaderboard in some of our largest domestic events.

But it’s not just the boys finding early success as professionals.

After turning pro in 2016 Hannah Green won three times on the Symetra Tour in 2017 to earn promotion to the LPGA Tour and is now a two-time winner on that tour and our most recent major champion.

Su Oh turned professional at 18 years of age and within 18 months was on the LPGA Tour but the most recent graduate from the amateur ranks is New South Wales’ Steph Kyriacou.

Kyriacou demolished the field at the ALPG-Ladies European Tour co-sanctioned Geoff King Motors Classic at Bonville by eight strokes in February, taking to Instagram to announce what she and coach, PGA Professional – Gary Barter had initially planned to do later in the year.

“She wasn’t what you would say a stellar amateur like a Minjee Lee but the one thing that I noticed with Steph which separated her was that she would regularly shoot really low numbers, and that’s a rare commodity,” Barter says.

“A lot of good players and good amateurs will shoot 2-under, 3-under but to shoot 6, 7, 8-under par, that’s a mindset. It’s innate. It gives me an indication that they are really good.

“When Steph dominated at Bonville and had those low numbers, that wasn’t surprising to me because I had seen that she had that pedigree.

“That is something that is very, very insightful when it comes to amateurs turning pro. That they can shoot those low numbers in big championships.

“For her future moving forward, that’s a skillset that is very rare and really important.

“As far as the timing of turning pro, to access that two-year exemption in Europe instead of waiting and maximising her value as a pro right now was really a no-brainer.

 “Steph, myself, PGA Professional Khan Pullen, Brad James, we all agreed that this was the right time for her to go.

“If you’re good enough, you’re old enough, so that was a pretty easy decision to make.

“If Steph keeps moving forward and doing what she’s doing, I see her winning a major one day.”

Like Murray’s WA Open win, Coletta’s catalyst for turning pro was his victory at the 2016 Queensland Open but it is not always that straightforward.

Starting with Coletta, PGA Professional Marty Joyce has overseen the move to the professional ranks of Murray, David Micheluzzi and Will Heffernan and said that he felt it important that prior to making the switch in September of 2019 that Micheluzzi wait another year before saying farewell to amateur golf.

“The simple part that is quite easy to measure is whether the skills are ready to take that next step and then you have to consider the other parts. Those other parts are very much individual,” Joyce explains, Micheluzzi and Blake Windred both turning pro following the Asian Amateur last September.

“Dave was an interesting one. He was ready. He’d lost to Zach (at the WA Open) and then was leading the Australian Open a couple of weeks later and finished fifth, so the skill level was there.

“He’d been playing very, very good golf for a good chunk of time domestically and internationally but Dave had a great opportunity to get to No.1 amateur in the world, which is not something that everyone does.

“I wanted him to stay amateur for another year and had to sell the package in some respects. I provided him with a schedule of what he could play as an amateur and another of what it would look like if he turned pro.

“For Dave it helped going through that process because he would have had people at his home club or within the media asking why he wasn’t turning pro and he had an answer he could give them.

“He was quite clear on what he wanted to do.”

Factors at play

Steve Elkington’s grass allergy would seem a significant impediment to life as a professional golfer; Zach Murray’s aversion to travel has the potential to be just as debilitating.

Murray knows it is an aspect of his career that he will have to constantly manage and everyone who chooses life on tour will have their own cross to bear.

As they move through the elite amateur ranks, many aspiring pros are exposed to the benefits associated with working on the mental aspect of their performance.

Lucas Herbert credited his win earlier this year at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic to a session with his mental performance coach Jamie Glazier from Dare2Dream Performance and Glazier says it is crucial to be upfront with potential professionals about what lies in wait.

“One of the best tools is to prepare them for what their reality might be,” offers Glazier, who also works with Ryan and Gabi Ruffels, among others.

“A lot of young golfers turn pro with big dreams in their hearts and little sense of reality. It’s key to prepare them for what their reality could be. Professional golf is tough, with disappointments making up a high percentage of their performance.

“Helping young golfers understand that in the face of these disappointments, they are on track and progressing along the pathway to their goals.

“One area of vulnerability I see players having is an understanding that statistically it might take a really good amateur 5-7 years to make their way onto the PGA TOUR or European Tour.

“A lot of young golfers see the likes of Matt Wolff, Collin Morikawa or Viktor Hovland succeed quickly on the PGA TOUR and can begin to measure their own performance versus these guys, which just isn’t a fair comparison on themselves.”

In addition to dealing with disappointment, Grant Field believes it is important for players to be able to adapt quickly to their ever-evolving playing opportunities.

When he turned pro towards the end of 2016 at 23 years of age, forging his way in world golf via China was not part of Maverick Antcliff’s plan yet that is the path fate put in front of him last year.

“He went there originally to play a week in which he wasn’t going to play and then when he won early on and the carrot being what it is, we decided to focus our energies on staying up there for the year,” Field says of Antcliff’s Order of Merit win. “The outcome was a European Tour card.

“He could have played a lot of other events during the year but we made that our focus.

“Golf will sometimes lead you down different paths and you’ve got be adaptable and ready to say, ‘OK, we’re now going this way.’

“You’ve got be adaptable and take different roads. If it works keep going and if not, find a different path.”

Long-distance relationships

Two significant things take place when a player makes the decision to turn pro in terms of the relationship they have with their coach.

Where yesterday they were student and teacher the next day they become employer and employee with wages to pay and expectations to be met.

The other notable adjustment is that much of their communication will now take place from opposite sides of the planet.

Golf Australia’s Rookie Program provides the capacity for some of the expenses associated with having a coach on-site at a tournament to be covered but when money can be tight, much of the swing maintenance must be done over the phone.

“You get to know the players that well that I can tell in the tone of their voice the kind of mood they’re in or if they’re not telling the whole story,” Joyce says of the remote access.

“For me it’s about making sure I keep asking the right questions. If you keep asking the right questions in most cases you’ll get to an answer that’s pretty close.

“I speak to these guys on the days when they have poor days. You learn so much more about them and what’s happening on those days. When they’re playing well it’s quite easy, everything’s going well.

“If it’s been a struggle, that’s more what I need to understand.”

Given Kyriacou’s two-year exemption onto the Ladies European Tour and Blake Windred’s Challenge Tour status, Barter will split his time in 2020 between trips to see PGA TOUR winner Matt Jones in the States and trips to Europe on top of his duties as PGA Head Teaching Professional at The Australian Golf Club in Sydney.

“It will be a little bit more trying but because of my role to help them be the best they can be, I’ll definitely be there to support them as best I can,” insists Barter, who also has high hopes for Justin Warren who turned professional midway through last year.

“Obviously I travel to America 8-10 times a year with Matt for a week at a time and with Blake and Steph they’re both being supported by Golf Australia.

“Part of that funding is to help with travel costs so that does provide the opportunity to travel with me for one or two weeks a year, and that’s fine with me.

“I also coach Dimi Papadatos so the weeks I go to Europe to see Blake I can see Dimi at the same time so that helps to split the costs.

“The general public will look at Professional golfers and the opportunities they have and the money they make but the travel, the staying away from home, missing friends and family, missing four cuts in a row, being in a hotel room, those factors and capacity to handle that…

“To have the mental ability, the skill, the ability to handle the downtimes, the uptimes and to keep your job on that Tour for that many years in a row, you have to have so much respect for the players that can do that.”

The relationship between a player and a coach is a multi-faceted one but for Field the primary concern is their well-being as a person; what happens on the golf course will be a by-product of their state of mind.

“I like to see how they’re going in other parts of their life, not just their golf. A lot of the times those things will dictate their level of play too,” Field says.

“If they’ve got technical issues then we can talk about that using video but a lot of the time it’s just making sure that they’re happy and healthy.

 “Having that relationship with the player is hugely important and for them, feeling comfortable that you’ve got that relationship is more important than just swing advice.

“Ultimately for me it’s taking care of them as a person first. If you do a good of that then the other things tend to fall into line.”

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