Peter Whiteford to launch Challenge Tour bid

Peter Whiteford is focusing on the second-tier circuit, starting with this week's Madeira Islands Open. Picture: Getty
Peter Whiteford is focusing on the second-tier circuit, starting with this week's Madeira Islands Open. Picture: Getty
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IT WAS a wild day in his native Fife. “The bins are flying up the street at the moment,” reported Peter Whiteford of the howling gales that were making him yearn to be jumping on a plane for his first event in 2015.

By this time last year, the Kirkcaldy man’s golfing travels had already taken him to South Africa, for five tournaments, and the Middle East, where he played in all three events on the European Tour’s ‘Gulf Swing’.

I’ve been able to take around three months off and that was well needed

Peter Whiteford

For five seasons in a row, in fact, Whiteford was accustomed to spending the winter months in warmer climes, but his name has been notably absent in the fields for the dozen or so events thus far on the circuit’s 2015 wraparound schedule.

The main reason for that is simple. The 34-year-old lost his full playing privileges for the European Tour after finishing 144th in last season’s Race to Dubai, therefore didn’t come close to getting into most of those tournaments. As for the handful he could have played in, Whiteford wasn’t interested.

His focus this year is the Challenge Tour, the circuit where he cut his professional teeth and chalked up three victories – two in 2006 and the other, the end-of-season Grand Final, a couple of years later.

Having come close to making the breakthrough on the main Tour, notably when he missed a five-foot birdie putt on the 72nd hole before losing to Australian Brett Rumford in the 2013 Ballantines Championship in South Korea, it’s not where Whiteford ideally wanted to be at this stage of his career.

He’d seen the enjoyment from playing his sport drained from him last season, though, so the enforced break from tournament golf has been just what the doctor ordered and now he’s ready and raring to go as the second-tier circuit cranks into action for the first time this year with the Madeira Islands Open starting tomorrow.

“It is a bit strange not to have played competitively so far this year but, to be honest, it’s probably the best thing that has happened because I’ve been able to take around three months off and that was well needed,” said Whiteford. “I wasn’t enjoying the way I was playing. I wasn’t competing and not playing anywhere near how I know I can perform.”

Like he did when finishing a career-best 63rd in the Race to Dubai in 2011, for instance. That season produced five top-10s, a feat he also achieved when finishing eighth in the 2012 Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open at Castle Stuart. Even last year, Whiteford shared the lead going into the final round of the Russian Open before finishing fifth, but that was a rare highlight in a season of struggles.

“I lost the enjoyment because I wasn’t anywhere near where I want to be,” he added. “My swing was in all sorts of trouble, but I’ve managed to put my finger on what was going wrong during the time I’ve had off and it definitely feels a lot better again.

“I’m still working with Donald McKay (who is based at the Whiteford family-owned Wellsgreen Golf Centre between Kirkcaldy and Leven) while Stuart Davis, who used to be my room-mate on the Challenge Tour, also came up over the winter to have a look at my swing. He’d not seen me play for two or three years, so he could see straight away what wasn’t right and was a great help.”

Whiteford’s last regular event was actually the Perth International at the end of October. His only competitive outing since then was in the final stage of the European Tour Qualifying School in Girona, where he bowed out after four rounds.

“I could have got into a couple of European Tour events in the past few weeks, but I’ve decided to concentrate on the Challenge Tour,” he said. “I did that when I lost my card once before (in 2007) and hopefully doing the same thing will prove the correct decision again.

“I’ve been putting in a lot of work and I’ve been enjoying it again. I’ve also been playing quite a lot in bounce games with some mates up at Fairmont St Andrews, where the greens are excellent over the winter, while I’m also a member at Lundie (Lundin Golf Club) so have played there quite a bit, too, and that’s been good.

“I’m itching to get away again, which I didn’t think would be the case given how I felt at the end of last season. I’m reasonably confident for the year ahead, though it could take me a couple of tournaments to get going again as it’s been four or five months since my last event.

“Hopefully it will all come together and I start performing more like I know I can play. That will do for me, for starters. Whether that is good enough to win tournaments or even compete we’ll just have to wait and see. I have faith in my own ability, but you can never think too far ahead in this game. All I’m concentrating on at the moment is having a good season on the Challenge Tour. I don’t want to be scrapping about like I did last season.”

This season’s Challenge Tour schedule currently boasts 25 events, with Macdonald Spey Valley in Aviemore staging the Scottish stop for the eighth year running at the end of June.

In addition to Whiteford, the tartan contingent setting out in Madeira tomorrow in the quest to secure a step up the ladder next year includes Jamie McLeary and Jack Doherty, two others to fall off the main Tour.Also in the field at Santo da Serra are George Murray, Scott Henry, Andrew McArthur, David Law, Duncan Stewart, Wallace Booth, Elliot Saltman and former winner Alastair Forsyth.

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