ALMOST exactly six years ago, Callum Macaulay did something remarkable. Playing in only his fifth European Tour event as a professional, the then 25-year-old – and still reigning Scottish Amateur champion – birdied eight of his last nine holes in the final round of the Madeira Islands Open. His inward half of 28 and course-record 64 catapulted him into second place, one shot behind Estanislao Goya of Argentina, and earned the lad from Tulliallan a cheque for ¤77,770. Not bad for a rookie making his way in the game.
Things change, though. And not always for the better. This past week the same Macaulay, who was one third of the winning Scottish side at the 2008 World Amateur Team Championship in Australia and holds a Liberal Arts degree from his time on a golf scholarship at the University of Mississippi, didn’t play golf of any kind. With a four-month-old baby son at home, a mortgage to pay and no status of any kind on any tour, he had neither the spare time nor the necessary cash. Which is why, since last October, he has been driving a taxi in Paisley.
For a man who, as recently as 2013, held full playing rights on the European Tour, this represents quite a change in circumstances. But Macaulay’s story is far from unique. For every Rory McIlroy – OK, every Scott Jamieson or Marc Warren or Chris Doak – there are countless others who fail to climb even into the foothills of professional golf’s increasingly steep mountains.
Still, where Macaulay is different from most is that he did the hard part, twice playing his way on to the world’s second most lucrative circuit through the tortuous qualifying school. And yet, only two years later, he finds himself struggling to support his family. What happened?
As ever with elite golfers – a generally highly-strung bunch – the answer can be found in a mixture of physical and psychological shortcomings. A technically sound swing is only going to take a pro so far if his head is not equally in the game. And even the most self-assured individual is not going to be on tour long if his swing is fundamentally flawed.
“The toughest part of the Q-school is the mental aspect,” says Macaulay, whose wife, Claire-Marie, is a fully qualified PGA pro based at the Paisley Golf Club (where her brother is the head pro). “Back then, that was my strength. But not now. My swing has always been unorthodox and distinctive. It has never looked good alongside other guys on tour. But my thinking on the course was well above average. I knew how to play and score.
“Now my head simply isn’t ‘there’ any more. I’ve lost all confidence as far as my golfing ability is concerned. And because my swing is the way that it is, I’ve got nothing to fall back on technique-wise.”
This wasn’t an overnight thing, of course. It rarely is in golf. Macaulay had been feeling financial pressure for quite a while before he stepped away from the game – at least temporarily – at the end of last season.
“When I first turned pro, I was staying at home and had no real worries about anything,” he says. “I was in free-flow. In 2009, I was doing OK on the European Tour and suddenly all this money began to appear in my bank account. I thought I should do something with it. So I bought a nice car and a flat. Then I got married. All of sudden, my responsibilities changed. Bills started coming in. Which made me think I’d better play better to pay for it all. I was experiencing ‘real life’ for the first time.
“So my mistake in 2009 was thinking too much about how much money I would have to win to keep my card. That was silly. It was the first year of the ‘Race to Dubai’ so the big names were playing a lot in Europe and no one really knew how much cash it would take. Like everyone else, I was guessing.
“Anyway, I remember finishing about 35th in the Dunhill Links and feeling like I was within touching distance of keeping my card. That was fine, but I had gone from trying to win to trying to make the cut – a massive mistake. I could write a book on how many errors I made back then.”
On the course, Macaulay also began to harbour doubts about just how well his individual style of play could compete with the galaxy of stars – many of whom he had idolised as a youngster – surrounding him.
“I was always one for watching other lads on the range,” he admits. “I was in awe of some, to be honest. But I wanted to learn and get better. And it didn’t take me long to pick up on the fact that most of the guys on tour hit the ball high, long and right-to-left. I’ve always been short off the tee, hit the ball low and left-to-right. Which meant I had to change – or so I thought.
“I soon enough learned more about the golf swing than I needed to know. My swing changed – and not for the better. And the more I tried to force things the worse it all became. I used to be a great driver of the ball. I was always a little ‘over the top’ and I always hit a little fade. Which was fine, as my results proved. But I got too analytical. I used to look at my divot marks and think they were pointing too far left. So I started to try and swing more in-to-out through impact. It was amazing how much sh*** went through my head.”
Changing for the sake of changing is a temptation many golfers have fallen for over the years. For every Nick Faldo who made himself great by altering his swing, there must be thousands of promising players who have disappeared into obscurity through fruitlessly searching for a better way.
Ironically, too, Macaulay was well warned about the dangers of messing with what he already had. At Muirfield during the 2008 Home Internationals, the Scottish side was treated to a talk from Colin Montgomerie. A man well versed in the art of doing things his own way – Monty’s swing has basically never changed throughout his golfing life – the eight-time European No.1 was specific in his advice to the young Macaulay.
“I always looked up to Monty,” he says. “I asked him for the most important thing he would tell anyone about to turn pro, as I was. He said only three words, ‘never change anything’. But I didn’t listen.”
Looking forward, Macaulay is less than upbeat about his short-term prospects of returning to his currently former profession. As ever in life, there is a good reason for his pessimism. And that reason – yet again – is money.
“The plan going forward is to feel right inside myself before I can think about golf,” he says. “Playing on the tour seems a million miles away right now. I really need to save some cash and give myself time to practise. But I have my wife and son to think about. I have to do what is right for them.
“What keeps me going is that, if I get my head right, I know I could still do it. But this is not the time. I will come to the inevitable crossroads at some point and have to make a firm decision either way. I’m not looking for any sympathy. I am where I am because of my own silly mistakes. What I do know for sure is that I want to be involved in golf, even if I’m not playing. I can’t really live without it.”
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