Andrew McArthur is hoping to join the likes of Mark O’Meara, Jimmy Walker, Miguel Angel Jimenez and Jason Dufner as one of golf’s late bloomers after securing a full European Tour card for the first time at 36.
It’s taken 10 years chiselling away at the Challenge Tour coalface for the Glasgow man to earn that opportunity, and he was accused by his wife, Laura, of “burying his head in the sand” during troubled times financially along the way.
The former Scottish Amateur champion admits himself, however, he was close to giving up on his dream until the combination of much-needed support as a Team SSE Scottish Hydro member and Paul McGinley pulling out of an event at the last minute through injury helped his career start moving in the right direction again.
“I certainly had discussions, particularly at the start of last season ,” replied McArthur, one of the 15 Challenge Tour graduates set to take up a seat at the top table in 2016, to being asked how close he’d come to quitting life as a Tour professional.
“Having practised all winter and even getting myself into the gym, feeling I was doing everything right, I must have missed seven or eight cuts in a row. Essentially, I had my living expenses from the first week of November 2013 until April 2014. I had a family of three, Laura was pregnant, so it was just building up. Understandably, Laura was getting quite stressed about it. I think she said something like ‘you’re just burying your head in the sand here, pretending it’s not happening’. But I knew the situation was getting getting worse and worse. It was costing me £1,000-£1,500 a week.”
A late chance to play in the Irish Open was too good to turn down, but it was onlythanks to his dad and “biggest fan”, Iain, that McArthur made it to Fota Island, where he secured a much-needed pay-day. “I said to my dad, ‘do you want to caddie for me?’ He said that would be nice, just book the flights. Then I said ‘any chance you could book the flights?’ And ‘any chance you could book the hotel?’ It was that sort of thing.
“I played well after that for about six weeks, especially every Friday, which meant I managed to make five or six cuts in a row. Probably the best one was the French Open. I shot five-over-par the first day, but five-under the second on what is a very strong golf course.”
Yet, with a new caddie, David Meldrum, on the bag that week, McArthur almost didn’t get to play at Le Golf National, where the 2018 Ryder Cup will be held. “I drove there as first reserve and was still first reserve after the first wave of players went out on the Thursday,” he recalled. “Then, with only 50 minutes before he was due to tee off, Paul McGinley pulled out with a shoulder injury.
“I was sitting about 15th after round two before finishing in the mid-50s, but, on the long drive back from Paris, Dave was going, ‘if you keep playing like that you’re going to win, you’re going to win’. Drive for another hour and he says, ‘you’re definitely going to win.’ I did win two weeks later (the D.D. Real Slovakia Challenge). I’d had no confidence, but when you get somebody for seven hours in the car telling you you’re going to win…”
Despite the fact he was one of Scotland’s brightest talents when he joined the paid ranks in 2005, Lanark-born McArthur hadn’t received any financial support other than that provided by his dad until he became a Team SSE Scottish Hydro member in 2012 – the year after the support initiative was launched at Edinburgh Castle.
Without that backing in 2014, he’d probably have had to pack his clubs away before the Irish Open and now McArthur has earned his step up to the main circuit along with Jamie McLeary – they finished 12th and 15th on the second-tier circuit’s money list after the recent Grand Final in Oman – after both were granted an extra season’s support after the intial criteria had been set for three years. Initially worked out on expenses, the backing now involves players receiving two instalments per year and they then decide how that is best utilised. In McArthur’s case, he spent a large chunk of his money this year on having a caddie, which, at around £750 per week for 20 events, is certainly not loose change.
“It’s been crucial,” admitted McArthur, who will wait until the Middle East Swing in January to start his 2016 campaign rather than head to South Africa for next week’s Alfred Dunhill Championship, of the support mechanism that has now helped Scottish players secure seven European Tour cards.
Craig Lee set the ball rolling in 2011, since when the Stirling man has retained his place at the top table, while subsequent step-ups have been made from either the Challenge Tour of Qualifying School by Chris Doak (2012), Callum Macaulay (2012), Jack Doherty (2013), McLeary (2013 and 2015) and, of course, McArthur. In total, 16 players have been part of the set up over the past five years, its success story also including two LET victories, both delivered by Kylie Walker last season.
As McArthur moves on, he does so feeling confident that he can handle the step-up better than 2010, when he held a card that offered limited starts and finished 198th in the Race to Dubai. He can plan his schedule this time around and should get into all the regular full-field events. Asked if he felt his best years still lay ahead of him, he replied: “Definitely. I’m not saying I’m at their standard by any means, but look at the likes of Jimmy Walker, Jason Dufner, Miguel Angel Jimenez and Mark O’Meara – they’ve all blossomed late in their careers. I’m 36 now and there are guys out there in their mid-30s on who have had unbelieveable careers, so it is possible.
“I’m still young in golfing terms – but I need to get to the gym this winter. After the start I made in 2014, I stopped going and the fatter I got the better I played. But I’ve taken it too far!”