John Huggan: Going the distance

NOT everyone is, or can be, a Rory McIlroy. Back in 2007, the then 18-year-old Ulsterman clinched his European Tour card for the following season in only two events.
Big-hitting David Law has the drive to reach the top, and his plunge into the pro ranks is paying off. Picture: GettyBig-hitting David Law has the drive to reach the top, and his plunge into the pro ranks is paying off. Picture: Getty
Big-hitting David Law has the drive to reach the top, and his plunge into the pro ranks is paying off. Picture: Getty

But the supremely gifted are, by definition, hardly typical. For the vast majority, the path to golf at the highest level is longer and invariably involves more than a few twists and turns along the way.

Take David Law, for example. When the then 20-year-old Aberdonian joined the paid ranks at the end of 2011, he did so after ticking most of the boxes required of anyone looking to make a good living from the esoteric pursuit of batting small white balls around fields with sticks. His CV is impressive. Scottish Boys’ and Amateur champion in 2009 (an unprecedented feat), Law repeated as Amateur champion in 2011. And, perhaps even more impressively, he beat a field of experienced Tartan Tour players to lift the Northern Open title. The only disappointment was a controversial omission from the Great Britain & Ireland Walker Cup side for the matches held at Royal Aberdeen.

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“When I first turned professional, I did so on the advice of Paul Lawrie,” says Law, who this week is competing in the second stage of the European Tour Qualifying School in Spain. “Until not long before I did make the switch, I was intending to stay amateur. But Paul felt I should be learning my trade as a pro. I was lucky enough to have a few sponsors willing to back me, so that made sense once I thought about it.

“Paul felt it was better to learn young. By the time I am 25 I will have made quite a few mistakes and be ahead of the game. Which is so true. I played a lot of amateur events funded by the Scottish Golf Union and Paul’s foundation [for young golfers]. So I had an idea of what it would be like. But only an idea. Going abroad occasionally is a lot different from doing it week-in and week-out.”

Indeed, former Open champion Lawrie, pictured below, has proved to be something of a mentor for Law, an invaluable sounding board as he makes his way up the professional ladder. Starting out on what was formerly the European Professional Development Tour and is now the Pro Golf Tour in Germany, Law has made steady progress in 2013 after struggling a little the previous year. Courtesy of his fifth-place finish on the PGT money-list, he is guaranteed a card on the 2014 European Challenge Tour.

“I played well in the winter series on the PGT,” continues Law. “And, again on Paul’s advice, I didn’t take up the invitations I had to play on the Challenge Tour. Trying to get a card on there from only a few events puts too much pressure on you to perform in those weeks. As it turned out, we made the right decision.

“The Challenge Tour is definitely a step up from the PGT. There is more depth. I had a few weeks this year where I finished in the top ten but, playing the same sort of golf, I’d have been struggling to make the cut on the Challenge Tour. There’s a lot more depth. On the ‘feeder’ tours there are maybe 40-50 guys in the 120-man fields who could win. On the Challenge Tour that number goes up to 100 probably.”

All of which sounds like the Challenge circuit is the place where Law should spend most of 2014, further learning his trade before hopefully moving onwards and upwards. But the potential rewards available to those who play well over the next fortnight or so – the 108-hole final tour school is later this month – make Law’s presence in Spain well worthwhile.

“I’m at the second stage of the qualifying school this week for two reasons,” he explains. “One, if I make it through this week I then have a chance to play myself on to the European Tour. And two, if I get to the final school and make the 72-hole [stage] I will at least boost my category on next year’s Challenge circuit. So, instead of just 17 or 18 events, I’d be exempt into every single tournament. Again, that makes a big difference for two reasons. I’ll be in the big-money events for sure and I can plan my own schedule with no doubts as to where and when I’ll be able to play.

“Plus, if I do get my card for the European Tour, I’ll be able to play in all the South African events in December and January. I know it would be tough playing at that level of competition but golf is a funny game. One really good week in one of those and I can almost tie up my card for 2015. That’s a big incentive.”

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So what are Law’s chances? Does he have the all-round game to get the job done?

“My good golf isn’t that much different than it was when I turned pro,” continues Law. “But, back then, I was a bit more wild off the tee than I am now. And my short game was quite a bit below average. It isn’t amazing now but I have improved a lot around the greens, as I have off the tee. In other words, my bad shots and bad rounds are better now. All of which has made my scoring a bit more consistent. I certainly don’t shoot many high scores.

“I was inconsistent as an amateur. I’d have my good weeks but plenty of others where I wouldn’t even ‘sniff’ the leaderboard. You can’t be like that as a pro. It’s all about consistency.”

Well, maybe not all. In a world where most players make 90 per cent of their income in ten per cent of their tournaments, the hitting of “home runs” is not to be underestimated. And Lawrie is one who thinks his young protégé has the potential to do just that.

“David is a streaky player,” contends the two-time Ryder Cup player. “Right now, he has weeks where he plays at European Tour level. But he also has weeks where he’s not that good. He’s the sort of player who would likely miss a few cuts then pop up and finish second somewhere. Which is no bad thing. Some say that’s the way to do it, actually.

“It might not be the worst thing for him to spend the next year on the Challenge Tour, but, if he were to get his [European Tour] card, he’d be able to kick on, I think.

“His long game right now is his strength. Tee-to-green he is very good, his ball striking is impressive. If he struggles anywhere it is with his chipping but he has improved hugely there in the last couple of years. He’s a streaky putter. He has spells where he holes bundles of putts, then times where he doesn’t. In that respect at least, he’s a ‘normal’ golfer.”

Still, there is nothing normal about Law’s level of ambition as he steadily goes about fulfilling his dream of becoming a European Tour player. He’s aiming high and happy to take his time about getting to the top. In golf, patience really can be a virtue.