JAMIE McLeary, who will become a fully-fledged European Tour player today after an eight-year apprenticeship, has revealed he was on the brink of turning his back on golf.
The 32-year-old is among eight Scots taking part in the opening event on the 2014 schedule – the South African Open at Glendower Golf Club in Gauteng.
It follows McLeary, who lives in Bonnyrigg, earning a step up to the top circuit through finishing in a card-winning position – 15th – on the Challenge Tour last month.
That success marked the end of a long and arduous journey for the former European amateur No 1 since he joined the paid ranks in 2006 – and it came in the nick of time.
“I’d already decided that I was quitting after this year because I’d had enough of never getting off the Challenge Tour,” he told The Scotsman of reaching a point in his career where he was starting to fret about being able to support his fiancee, Cheryl, and their two young kids, Millie and Coben.
“It’s a harder Tour than people give it credit for,” added McLeary, who beat Edoardo Molinari to win the 2009 Scottish Challenge at Macdonald Spey Valley in Aviemore only to then see his progress stall as the likes of Craig Lee and Chris Doak used the second-tier circuit as a stepping stone to the European Tour. “You get such a saturation of talent because of the way the Tour works and how it is fed from above and below.
“My family are growing up and I was starting to worry about the financial stability for my family in the future. I was spending half the year away from the three of them and there was no reward at the end.
“It seemed okay to sacrifice seeing them all the time if I was chasing a better life for all of us, but it seemed like that life would never come. Therefore I had decided that I was going to quit at the end of the year to be with them more. My fiancée and kids mean the world to me and spending that amount of time away from them only seemed worth it if I could get on to the European Tour.”
Now finally there, McLeary admits it wouldn’t have possible without the support he received through Team Scottish Hydro for the last three years and, more recently, sponsorship from Asset Assured, an Aberdeen-based financial investment organisation.
“I think that’s the hard bit done and I’m now looking forward to getting started on the European Tour and working my way up the rankings,” said the former St Andrews Links Trophy winner.
“I have to thank Scottish Hydro for helping me during three very difficult years for me. Having broken my hand in 2011 and then it still giving me problems in 2012 was tough for me. However, Hydro decided to keep supporting me and I’ll always be grateful for them keeping me going. It’s been a long road but I’ve finally got there and I’ve had so many people help get me there.
“I’ve been supported by Asset Assured since the start of July and from then I’ve made a massive jump of 700-800 places in the world rankings. They believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself. I’m eternally grateful for the support they’ve given me and I don’t think I’d have got my card without them.
“Of the £65,000 I won last season, £58,000 of that was after they started helping me. I signed a five-year contract with them at the time and it took so much pressure off me – I felt like I could just go out and play golf.
“I’m glad that Asset Assured stepped in when they did, because I would have really missed being a pro as it’s the only thing I’ve ever seen myself doing and I always thought I could make it if I had the security in my life to be able to do it.
“Golf is not like football, in that you get paid just for turning up. In individual sports, people work so hard for everything they get and deserve the rewards they get. Thankfully, I’ve finally got the rewards for all my persistence.
“I’m really looking forward to being out on the European Tour, where I feel I deserve to be.
“I’ve had a much longer apprenticeship than I expected, but I guess the trying is what makes the promotion extra special.”
Among those keeping a close eye on the scores on the European Tour website today will be Neil Colquhoun, the professional at the Merchants of Edinburgh Golf Club and McLeary’s coach.
“When I first went to see Neil in the middle of last year I was in total disarray,” added McLeary, now one of 12 Scots to hold a European Tour card for 2014.
“My shots were uncontrollable and I had absolutely no idea how to fix it. Now I can stand over every shot and I can feel exactly the swing I want to make to produce the curve I want.
“He’s given me the knowledge to fix my game when it goes off and what the correct moves are to control my trajectory and curve.
“It’s great to be back in control of my game and I’m now looking forward to showing what I can do out on the main Tour.”
Joining McLeary at Glendower is Scott Jamieson, bidding to record his second win on South African soil in just under 12 months, as well as Craig Lee, David Drysdale, Peter Whiteford, Chris Doak, Alastair Forsyth and Doug McGuigan.