The perception is that once you've played on a Walker Cup side then the next step is to quickly join the professional ranks. The reality is quite different
England Golf men’s coach Graham Walker has some sound and pretty blunt advice for any Walker Cup youngster who is considering turning pro.
“I’ll ask them if they have a £1 million golf game because that’s what you’ll need. If you play on tour and you only play to 50 per cent of your ability, is that enough to keep your card?”
With this year’s edition of the biennial competition now slowly disappearing into their rear-view mirror two of Great Britain and Ireland’s side, Tom Sloman (22) and Euan Walker (24) have decided that now is the time to play for their living. Had Scotland’s Walker beaten James Sugrue in the Amateur Championship, and with it booked his place in nest year’s Masters and US Open, then Sloman might well be on his own.
Harry Hall (21) will give the European Tour Qualifying School a go as an amateur, something Sloman did last year, and keep that status if things don’t work out.
For Sloman this was always the plan, try and play Walker Cup and then turn pro. We spoke to the Taunton youngster earlier in the year and he had a cheery outlook on what the future holds rather than being too daunted.
“I think I’d be better playing for money. I don’t know why I say that but I think I could do alright. I don’t mind being away from home and I imagine it would be the same as a pro if you’re doing alright. I’d like to think that I could make some sort of living playing golf.”
On the contrary, when asked at the winners’ press conference at Royal Liverpool, five of the American hands went up with Akshay Bhatia (17), Brandon Wu (22), Steven Fisk (22), Alex Smalley (22) and Isaiah Salinda (22) all now heading to the pro ranks, hopeful of some PGA Tour invites in the fall season and then to Q School to try and earn a spot on the Korn Ferry Tour.
The anomaly, age-wise, is Bhatia who became the first junior to represent the United States in the last three Walker Cups. The left-hander signed off his amateur career with a 4&2 win over Sugrue and, for captain Nat Crosby, age is just a number.
“I’ve been telling him to tap the brakes about turning pro for the last year and a half but he’s ready to take the plunge after this week. I’m looking at how he’s navigating the wind with especially the crosswinds. He’s giving it enough height and enough borrow, he played nine holes and picked it up so immediately that you just stay out of the way.
“These guys are so talented and they’re so instinctive even though it’s a foreign type of golf. I guess six of the guys haven’t played over here, six of the 10, but they pick it up very quickly.”
One player who has no plans to join the pro ranks is Stewart Hagestad who was the only player to have featured in a Walker Cup before and who now has two wins to his name. The 28-year-old works at a real estate firm in New York and the lure of the PGA Tour is something that was never on his radar.
“If you were to look at my college resume, it was nothing. People asked why didn’t you turn pro? I wasn’t really in a position to turn pro coming out of college.
“I’ve actually found that when I lived in New York City after school, all of their events are during the summer, obviously, because of weather. What I’ve found is it kind of allows me to not really play as much really at all from October until the end of March and then to focus all that energy and effort once the sun comes back out.
“Conversely to what one might think, it allows you to kind of fully focus all of your energy and effort into it, and then after the Mid-Am, when the end of September rolls around, you’re almost kind of exhausted and you’re just ready to put the clubs away.
“It’s almost more of a mindset and you can focus on other parts of your life, and then when you come back to it, it makes it that much more enjoyable.”
The dream is to do what Bob MacIntyre is doing this year in Europe or what Collin Morikawa has done in the States in recent months. The flip side of the coin is a very different story as your Walker Cup heritage is quickly forgotten.
Aside from the likes of Hagestad pretty much everyone will turn pro at some point, one key factor is timing it right.
“I’ll always say to them is that you should want to turn pro and you should want to be good enough. Turning pro when you’re playing well is a big thing rather than doing it when you’re flat-lining. Some players decide to stay amateur for another year and then stop improving.”