You might think that getting some financial backing would be straightforward for a European Tour player. You'd be wrong, as Dale Whitnell explains
Go back 12 months and Dale Whitnell had enough status for just three starts on the Challenge Tour. That’s now 14 thanks to a play-off win in Belgium – he played his last three rounds in 22-under-par – and ended the year with a European Tour card by coming through the six-round slog of Q School.
Anyone playing on the main tour has earned their playing stripes but the 31-year-old from Essex has certainly done it the hard way – 10 years a pro, eight visits to Q School, the majority of his time trying to make ends meet on various mini tours and the occasional doubt of whether his efforts would all be worth it.
You’d think that a European Tour card would equate to some sort of financial help. On the PGA Tour new additions are pointed this way and that in terms of potential sponsors. In Europe the reality is very different; Whitnell doesn’t have a manager so he’s spent part of his time since Lumine trying to drum up some much-needed cash.
“Callaway have given me a deal for the year which was nice but otherwise nothing. You either have a management company and they will contact people who you don’t know or you do it yourself and contact someone or a company that you know.
“When I got my card some people made some positive noises but unless they put to paper nothing is a done deal. I’m currently working on a local company and trying to get them involved.
“It’s difficult knowing who to approach and how to approach them so I’ve been writing a lot of letters explaining how I can promote their brand, help with client days and hopefully get their name out there on the TV.”
Away from the top end of the money lists and courtesy cars life is almost unrecognisable where players like Whitnell somehow make ends meet through their playing skills and resourcefulness.
“I think I will get a minimum of 18 starts and that would cost me up to €50,000 with a caddie. Luckily, in a way, I didn’t play too many events on the Challenge Tout last year. I earned about €50,000 so I made a bit there, had I played a full year I probably wouldn’t have earned as much.
“I played the Portugal Pro Golf Tour in the winter and had five free starts through the Jamega Tour and made €15,000 and that only cost me about €3-4,000 so I made another €10-11,000 there.
“I actually won the tour championship in Portugal and the prize for that was five Challenge Tour invites for the winner – and one of those was Belgium where I won.
“I only got the invite the Sunday before the event and things then snowballed from there so it’s amazing how things sometimes work out.”
For Whitnell, once the leading amateur in England and a member of the 2009 Walker Cup team, he can’t wait to get going.
“I’ve had some really tough times and wondered whether to carry on and I feel like I’ve done the hard yards. I played in seven events when I turned pro in 2009 and I played in the 2012 Open at Lytham,
“I was only young at the time but I felt comfortable in that position and I knew it was just a matter of time to get back there.”