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The Price of Money

What must it be like to be among the best at your occupation and not be able to pay the rent?

That’s the issue that constantly confronts Alan McLean, an occasional playing partner of mine who missed getting through the second round of Q-School by two shots. He’s won an event — the Dunhill in South Africa — and recently made $50K playing an event in China. By the time he’s paid his caddie, paid for a series of upcoming flights to South Africa and covered his costs, that money will be gone. It’ll be back to square one.

Such is the life of the marginal touring pro. Not that McLean appears marginal — he hits the ball very long and straight. But that’s not good enough when the putts don’t fall.

“I think I only had one 3-putt all week,” he told me on the phone this morning from his home in London, Ont. But they still must not have reached the bottom of the hole in time, I replied. Indeed, that’s the case.

“They lipped out, they rolled around, they didn’t fall,” McLean said.

If you are in McLean’s spot, the tough thing to get your head around is the “what could have been” element. What might have happened if that putt on the second day in Texas found the back of the cup? What if I didn’t bogey the first hole twice?

I pointed out to Alan that short hitting David Morland of Aurora managed to get through to the final round, despite playing on a course where no one in the field broke par.

“I don’t know how he does it,” McLean replied. He’s right — I can’t figure out how Morland does it either. But it appears if you hang around the fringes of the PGA Tour long enough, you eventually get a shot. Morland has had his opportunities, and maybe he’ll have another one.

Of course McLean isn’t the only Canadian (or kinda Canadian — McLean is listed as being from Scotland, though he lives in London, Ont.) who didn’t make it through. Highly touted James Lepp didn’t make it through. Neither did Chris Baryla. Surprisingly, Ian Leggatt, a former PGA Tour winner, couldn’t find a spot in the final round of Q School either.

McLean says it is easier for Leggatt though. The Cambridge golfer will get into a handful of events because he’s a past tour winner. McLean could be back playing the Canadian Tour — with its mixed bag of scattered events all over North America.

Alan seems to focused on that not happening. He’s off to South Africa to play in the events that are co-sanctioned with the European Tour. If he can make as much money as the 115th player on the European Tour, he’ll gain status in Europe. Since the HSBC event in China, where he won $50K, is part of the European Tour, he’s already off to a strong start. McLean will play and visit his coach, who also happens to be Trevor Immelman’s brother. With some luck, he could return to Canada with a fine Christmas present — a European Tour card.

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Robert Thompson

A bestselling author and award-winning columnist, Robert Thompson has been writing about business and sports, and particularly golf, for almost two decades. His reporting and commentary on golf has appeared in Golf Magazine, the Globe and Mail, T&L Golf and many other media outlets. Currently Robert is a columnist with Global Golf Post, golf analyst for Global News and Shaw Communications, and Senior Writer to ScoreGolf. The Going for the Green blog was launched in 2004.

6 CommentsLeave a comment

  • Sorry to hear about your accident. Hope nobody was hurt.

    I think what you point out in this blog is exactly the point that I have been trying to make over the last few months. There are no guarantees in golf. Professional golfers have no long term contracts. They eat what they kill. It is for that very reason that I have no problem with Tiger and Phil determining where and when they will play. They are independent businessmen, just like your friend. That is what makes golf so unique, compared to most other professional sports. With no guaranteed money, it is only right that the players manage their careers.

  • I don’t know Alan McLean but its obvious he can play. Tom Lehman “almost” made a lot of putts before they started to fall, I think he was working on the range at PGA West (I mean working, like picking up the buckets) while he was still trying to make it. I think its better Alan forgets the ones that missed and looks forward to playing in Europe, or Canada.

  • Rob, 99% of all golf Pro’s who have succeed have gone through what your friend, Alan McLean just experienced. This is just the entry point of what makes the difference in those who make it and those who don’t at the brutal Q-school. Alan is a fine young man and player with great potential, I believe he will make through his “Baptismal of Fire.” He should absolutely look at his resent successes and build on them in the marathon fight that is the life of his chosen profession. How a player utilizes his mind will directly affect their level of success. If any professional established a pattern of thinking of, “what could have been” or comparing themselves to others with resentment… they are simply dead men walking. It is not easier for Laggatt, it’s substantially different and McLean cannot comprehend the situation that Leggatt is currently in until he wins a PGA Tour event then loses his card, but to speculate on that will not help him at all. Moreland did it again because he has excellent experience in the extremely difficult PGA Tour qualifying system which is far more important than how far he hits the ball. Fringe players on the PGA Tour are excellent players who have been toughed up by adversity. Moreland has been put through the meat grinder a few times given his length off the tee and the years he’s been at it, (not to mention the cost of two divorces) but he bounces back, one should respect that he delivered. Alan is relatively new to the PGA Tour Q-school and is feeling it’s teeth, but I have him figured as a good learner. This shouldn’t detour him at all. My very good friend Jim Rutledge has had the talent of Fred Couples for 30-years and he is getting his first taste of the PGA Tour at age 47 after 20+ Q-schools. Talent in this situation is not in ability that can be seen when one hits the ball, but the ability to have control of your thoughts and emotions when everyone around you is getting slaughtered. it’s battle field toughness, which is a far more difficult skill to develop, and usually get missed by most. Have Alan call me, I would love to talk with him and help if I can.
    Warm regards

  • It’s my understanding that Alan McLean is an extremly long ball striker and can play a little but its my opinion that better players are very good at getting the ball in hole.

    David Moreland as of this day is a better player than Alan because he’s proven he knows how to get the most out of his game when the heat is on.

    I don’t know how old McLean is but if he’s in his 20’s he should get his short game in order to take advantage of his length or he’ll be just another one that could hit it long. If he’s mid 30’s it is what it is and he might have to be another Jim Rutledge and play the mini tours or wait it out for the Senior tour.

    Good Luck

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