Rookie Half Term Report

Keenan Davidse, starting to revel in the professional ranksWith the 2009 Sunshine Tour having reached the halfway stage, six months into the year, a review of the rookies performances provide a good indicator of the challenges facing young amateurs keen to make it in the professional ranks.

The rookies of interest are those nineteen players who were amongst the leading amateurs last year and who entered the professional ranks for the first time in 2009.

Leading the pack is Cameron Johnston. He is currently ranked 50th on the latest Sunshine Tour Order of Merit having won R121,944. The Cape Town based professional had a very successful amateur career, especially in 2008 when he won the SA Mid Amateur Stroke Play and was selected to represent South Africa in the prestigious World Amateur Team Championships in Australia.

Next is Johan du Buisson, from Stellenbosch, he has won R56,038 putting him in 77th position on the Tour’s Order of Merit. Both he and Johnston have played in all thirteen tournaments making up the Tour thus far. Du Buisson has made six cuts, one more than Johnston. However the Cape Townian won his biggest pay cheque in his first tournament as a professional, the Joburg Open, a co-sanctioned tournament with the European Tour. He finished 46th and won R71,170, a good start by anyone’s standards.

The rookie showing the most improvement is young Stellenbosch based Keenan Davidse. The former Ernie Els and Fancourt Foundation member has made the cut in his last six tournaments played. His best performance being 4th tie in the Vodacom Origins of Golf played at Pretoria Country Club. He has won R52,277 placing him in 81st place on the Order of Merit.

Perhaps the biggest surprise is the performance of Jacques Blaauw, the 2008 Glacier SA Amateur and SA Stroke Play Champion. He has played in eleven tournaments, made four cuts and won R39,685 putting him in 95th place. Much is still expected of this smooth swinging Paarl Golf Club professional.

As regards the rest, PG van Zyl (107th), Dewald Smit (126th), Riaan de Bruyn (129th), Lyle Rowe (136th), Ruan Botha (137th) and Ockie Strydom (148th) have all won money.

Perhaps the most interesting statistic is, of the nineteen rookies, nine of them have failed to make one cut. It cannot be said that this is from the lack of trying. Of these nine players one has played all thirteen tournaments, two have played twelve, five have played eleven and one has played ten tournaments.

People in the know will tell you that far too many young amateur golfers turn professional these days before they should or with no apparent hope of making it in the paid ranks.

In a recent conversation with Derek James, a fairly successful Sunshine Tour campaigner and now teaching professional at Southbroom Golf Club on the South Coast, he echoed this sentiment, but was quick to add; “But you know when David Frost turned professional general consensus at the time was that he was unlikely to make the grade in the pro ranks.”

Well, we all know how successful David Frost became and still is to this day.

Are we giving contradictory messages here to our young players?

These rookies’ earnings, up to now, are certainly starting to indicate that a large number of them are just good amateurs turning professional too early. Jacques Blaauw, currently ranked 4th amongst the rookies, has only earned an average of R3,607 from each tournament played.

What of the rookies below Blaauw on the Sunshine Tour Order of Merit?

Without the help of a kind hearted benefactor looking after their financial requirements, they appear not to have too much time left to pursue their dream of a taste for the trappings of the well publicised high life of a professional golfer.

One player however stands out in this half term report, young Keenan Davidse. This slightly built player, whose cocky demeanour hides his tenaciousness on the golf course, has a big heart. Could he be of the David Frost mould? Time will tell.

What is required of this class of nineteen rookies, in the next six months, if they are to make the grade?

The Sunshine Tour is what is known as an all exempt Tour. Players are allocated spots in the starting field, for a tournament, based on their Exemption Category. These Categories are ranked, with Category 1 being the highest. Past performances determine a player’s Exemption Category. In addition there are always a limited number of qualifying spots, but getting through a qualifying round is bit like roulette, a lot of players vying for a handful of spots.

According to information and statistical data supplied by the Sunshine Tour, it appears as if Exemption Category 7 is what these players should strive to achieve, as a worst case scenario, come end of December 2009. All players in this Category appear likely to get into most of the 2010 Sunshine Tour events, except the co-sanctioned (with European Tour) tournaments.

To qualify for Category 7 a player is required to finish in the top 70 on the Final 2009 Sunshine Tour Order of Merit.

Taking the 2008 Final Sunshine Tour Order of Merit as a guide where the 70th placed player won R120,084 in prize money, it is estimated that approximately R130,000, by end December 2009, should do the trick. As can be deduced from current winnings, perhaps only two or three of these rookies look likely to achieve this.

With all the advice going around in reckless abandon, it is hard to make sense of these statistics in establishing what to say to any young amateur who is an aspirant professional!

Perhaps it is prudent just to point out it is a risky business turning professional, you need good financial backing (someone who understands (which can be a function of hope) a drop in performance is temporary and will eventually dissipate into ‘good form’), you need a load of drive and determination and a sense of self belief so much so that when you do well you believe you belong at that end of the field.

This is enough to encourage any player to have a stab. The consequence of failure is far less considered or even understood and as a result seldom appears as a discussion point when weighing up whether or not to turn professional.

It is no wonder so many young amateurs line up each year, to the detriment of the amateur game!

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