Last week’s NatPost column…
Byline: Robert Thompson
Column: On Golf
Alan McLean is one of the top 600 golfers in the world. In any other occupation he would surely be among the most successful in his field, likely wealthy and comfortable. The problem is that as a professional golfer blessed with tons of ability, but with few professional wins to show for it, McLean is at a crossroads. Now, the London, Ont., resident has to decide whether to continue to chase his dream of playing professional golf or pack it in and pursue another vocation. “My wife asks why, if I’m so talented, I haven’t achieved,” says McLean, 35, who moved to London with his young daughter and wife, Laura, earlier this summer. “It is a hard question to answer. Money has something to do with it. The best players just play. I have to consider my bills. It is a different mindset.”
A year ago, McLean was just another golfer struggling to make it in golf’s minor leagues. At the time, the affable long bomber, who was raised in South Africa and played alongside the likes of Ernie Els and Retief Goosen before moving to Canada nearly a decade ago, had a card for the Nationwide Tour, golf’s top developmental tour. The PGA Tour seemed within reach. His putter, however, was suspect and by the end of the year, he was off the Nationwide Tour.
While his status may be gone, his talent remains. If you teed it up next to McLean, you would likely think he was the best golfer you had ever played with.
Last week, McLean teed it up with me during an early morning round at Eagles Nest Golf Club north of Toronto, one of the most challenging courses in Canada. On a wet day, McLean played it from the tips — almost 7,500 yards — and manhandled the course en route to a 68. At a facility where David Hearn and other top Canadians have tried their luck and failed to break par, McLean’s round bettered the course record by one.
Unfortunately, his ability to overwhelm courses may not be enough to allow him to push forward with his golf career. In many ways, McLean is the prototypical golf journeyman. He’s plied his trade just about everywhere but the PGA Tour, including the Canadian Tour, the South African Tour and the Nationwide Tour. Lacking prominent sponsors, he’s made enough money to scrape by. Needless to say, there are plenty of others like McLean.
That’s not to say McLean has not tasted success. Earlier this year he went back to South Africa and won the Dimension Data Pro-Am. For the win, McLean received the equivalent of $30,000. It was enough to pay his debts and get him back to break-even. Now, six months later, he’s again deeply in debt. Credit cards are maxed and without a strong showing at a Canadian Tour stop in Montreal this week, some bills for the McLean household will go past due.
Despite the financial hardship, McLean isn’t prepared to toss his dream away. He is ranked 530th in the world (for the record, that’s only 15 spots behind former Masters winner Nick Faldo and ahead of the likes of Canada’s Glen Hnatiuk) and wants to try his hand again at the PGA Tour’s dreaded Q-school. His success at qualifying school in 2004 put him on the Nationwide Tour in 2005, and McLean sees no reason why he couldn’t get back there next year. He has also been invited to the HSBC Championship in Shanghai next November, to compete along with Tiger Woods for a US$1-million first place prize.
McLean’s not sure how he’ll afford the trip, but he’s willing to risk it all for the chance at big-time golf.
“I want to play golf. It is my passion. How many people can say they know what they want to do for the rest of their life? I can.”