It’s the end of year, and time for reflection from Compleat Golfer’s playing editor.
The year started off with a bang when I finished second at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic. It was the perfect way to start the year. It also provided me with an opportunity to play at a WGC event in Florida. But there was a problem – my US visa had expired.
With Covid taking hold globally, all the embassies were closed. After two weeks of begging, I finally got a visa appointment for the Thursday a week before the event. I received my visa only on the Tuesday of tournament week, so I had to get halfway across the world in little over a day.
After travelling for 33 hours I arrived at my hotel around 11pm on the Wednesday. I did a Covid test at 7am and somehow found myself on the 1st tee only four hours later. It was an extremely stressful experience, but having the opportunity to play at a WGC event was completely worth it.
I then found myself on my way to Qatar. But my travelling saga didn’t get any easier.
Due to the fact I booked my return flight from Johannesburg, when I disembarked in Qatar I had to pay a ‘fine’ for altering my journey details. I was shocked when I found out the amount was $3,500. How they came up with that figure is beyond me, but I had no choice. I also had to book another flight home for $1,500. Nothing like spending $5,000 after all that drama with visas and flights, etc.
The next part of my season found me driving halfway across the United States, from Miami to Houston.
I tried my hand at a few PGA Tour Monday pre-qualifiers, which are no walk in the park. I had a stroke average of 68 and didn’t get into one event. That’s crazy.
During the road trip I found myself back in Austin, Texas, where I went to college. It was the first time I’d been back to the campus since 2012 and it was everything I remember and more. It was great catching up with head coach John Fields after so many years and I enjoyed using the incredible practice facility at the University of Texas Golf Club. It’s a major reason for all their success in the golfing world.
However, more visa issues cut our road trip short. Teagan, my caddie, had an expired European visa. The only way we could get him a new one was to return home. So we did.
We were fortunate to play at a few Sunshine Tour co-sanctioned events in Limpopo, Cape Town and George. I found myself hoisting the Limpopo Championship trophy at Euphoria Golf Club after an intense four-man playoff. It was one of the highlights of the season. There’s nothing quite like a victory to build some confidence.
I never knew this then, but it would be the last time I’d see the fairways of South Africa for over eight months.
Those long months would see me spend a lot of time in the US and Europe. We were fearful that if we went back to South Africa, and another ‘South African variant’ was discovered, we wouldn’t be able to get out of the country. Which, funnily enough, would happen later in the year. But we’ll get to that.
My European season ended quite early, at the Dunhill Links Championship in October, mainly because I was trying my hand at the Korn Ferry Tour.
I’d had to start at the second stage of the Korn Ferry Q-School in Florida. I’d managed a bogey-free two under par on the last day to advance to the Finals, by making a beautiful up and down on the last.
The Final Stage was a little bit of a nightmare. There were many weather delays and brutal playing conditions when we did get out on the course. In fact, the weather had been so poor that we had to finish the event a day later, on the Monday. This created extra stress for me as I’d booked my return flight for that Tuesday.
I ended up making a meal of the back end during the final round and losing out on my full status by a couple of shots. The good news, though, is that I’ll be able to play quite a few events on the Korn Ferry Tour just by making it to Final Stage, which is great.
After 28 hours of travel I finally found myself back home in South Africa. I got to see my family, my dogs and friends I had missed so much. I also may have consumed around 5kg of biltong. But, the season wasn’t done just yet.
There were three massive Sunshine Tour and DP World Tour co-sanctioned events in the Joburg Open, SA Open and Alfred Dunhill Championship.
This is where our season-long worry became reality. The panic around the ‘Omicron’ variant’ saw the Joburg Open reduced to 36 holes, the SA Open being stripped of its DP World Tour sanction and Leopard Creek disappear altogether.
This decision angered the players. Many felt it was a complete overreaction, which took place over no more than 24 hours. The DP World Tour’s decision to withdraw from the South African swing threw away all the hard work Thomas Abt and his team had put in over the year. It felt like an extremely panicked decision, with almost no regard for the Sunshine Tour and its players.
This change in the schedule meant the SA Open at Sun City would be my final tournament of the year.
Sun City is always a great week. We don’t need the DP World Tour for it to be a success. Being able to enjoy Gary Player Country Club in the sun is always a treat. As far as last weeks go, this will do for the rest of my career.
Looking back at the year, it was definitely one that has left a mark on me as a golfer and a person.
As a golfer I’ve seen my game mature and develop, and I had the opportunity to ply my trade in the US as a result. Finishing in the top 60 on the Race to Dubai, having played my fewest number of events in a single season, was a great achievement in itself.
From a personal perspective it was an extremely challenging year.
Spending so much time away from loved ones was exceptionally tough. I’ve always been one who really enjoys time with family and friends. Coming home has been a way for me to reset physically and mentally before heading for the next stint. Not having that reset took its toll, more mentally than physically I’d say.
The year was tough. I’m also certain in saying that feeling was common. But, what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. I’ve learned so many things this year that are going to serve me moving forward. And that’s what we focus on – moving forward. Let’s go!
– This column first appeared in the January 2022 issue of Compleat Golfer magazine. Subscribe here!
Photo: Warren Little/Getty Images
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