Stuart McLaren set to 'give it a bash' in professional ranks

Just over a year ago, Stuart McLaren was talking about trying to make the most of a final fling with competitive golf before letting work and marital duties take precedence. He did, indeed, tie the knot before Covid-19 kicked in, but there's been a dramatic change of plan as far as golf and work are concerned.

Bruntsfield Links amateur Stuart McLaren pictured in action during last week's PGA EuroPro Tour Qualifying School final at Studley Wood in Oxfordshire. Picture: Matt Lynch/PGA EuroPro Tour

The 25-year-old has just secured a full playing status for next season's PGA EuroPro Tour through the third-tier circuit's Qualifying School. That success has also made him eligible for Paul Lawrie's Tartan Pro Tour. Though not straight away, the Bruntsfield Links man is set to join the professional ranks.

"I made hard work of it," said McLaren of needing to cover 22 holes in seven-under-par, including three birdies to finish, at Studley Wood in Oxfordshire to become a PGA EuroPro Tour card holder. "But it was job done as it was about getting full status for next season."

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McLaren works as an account manager for Royal London Insurance and was back at his desk on Monday morning. With the PGA EuroPro Tour having a spring start, he's in no rush to give up that job and rightly so.

"I've not really had that discussion with my work," he admitted of his plans. "It depends what support, if any, my work can offer. My plan is to work through until April-May time on a full-time basis. After then, I'd have that chat with work and go from there."

McLaren won the 2018 North East District Open before adding both the East of Scotland Open and South East District Open titles last year, when he also shared top spot with clubmate Eric McIntosh in the qualifying for the Scottish Amateur at Crail. But, even then, there was no hint whatsoever of having a crack as a professional.

"I think this plan of action came into my mind, to be honest, when I got the knock back for the Home Internationals last year," he said of being overlooked for a Scotland call up. "I thought, 'you know what, if I'm playing good golf and not getting a look in at the top level in the amateur game, then let's see what I can maybe do elsewhere'.

"It was never a thought of going to have a crack at the full circuit. But, and I know it's different playing on your home course, I had a wee run where I played 11 competitions at Bruntsfield and I was 58-under-par after lockdown.

"I said, 'you know what, you are playing good golf, you've managed to follow it up from last year whilst still working full-time, why don't you see where your game is at at the next level'. That's when I decided to give it a bash.

"The beauty of it was that working full-time there was no real pressure that it was an all or nothing then. I could then make my mind up depending on what happened."

McLaren, who won the Bruntsfield Links club championship for a record fifth year in a row in the summer, was among nine Scots to secure full cards, the others including Scottish Par 3 champion John Henry, rising star Tom Higson and former Walker Cup player Michael Stewart.

"I'm trying to put together a business plan/sponsorship proposal," said McLaren. I've got a couple of people helping me with that at the golf club while Iain Stoddart (of Edinburgh-based golf management company Bounce Sport) has also kindly said he'd look over that plan/proposal.

"Bruntsfield Links has a massive network and everybody has been so supportive. It's been nice to spend more time at the club this year than I normally would. It's a great club with that kind of support mechanism and it's now about going to speak to them about an opportunity and how they can support me going forward."

Richard Brian, the club's PGA professional, has already played his part and McLaren will be continuing to lean heavily on him as he opens a new chapter in his career. "Richard has been a massive help," said the plus-5 handicapper. "He's always there to tell me what I'm doing wrong but, equally important, tell me if I'm maybe getting ahead of myself and bring you back to reality.

"He's great in terms of the mental side, as well as the technical stuff. The relationship we've established over the past few years has definitely enhanced my game. I've not been playing my best golf recently, but it's been encouraging that I've still been able to get the job done in terms of what was needed re playing rights for next season."

While a career change wasn't really on the radar when they got married in February, McLaren is being fully supported by his wife, Natalie. "She realises that I had got to the point where I needed to give it a go," he said.

"I don't want to be looking back in 10-15 years' time and say, 'I wish I did it'. A lot of people have probably done that, so the fact my wife is behind me and supporting me is great."Next season's PGA EuroPro Tour schedule has already been released. It comprises 15 regular events, including a return to Montrose Links in June and a first visit to Leven Links in September.

All the events will carry prize pots of just under £50,000, with the top five players on the money-list at the end of the campaign securing Challenge Tour cards for 2022.

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