Turning professional at 50 can be more fulfilling and fun as Roger Roper explains to Alan Hedley
The line between amateur and professional golf once drawn so deeply has become so blurred now as to be almost indistinguishable.
To cross that line in the past was a momentous decision for a player, but at the elite end of the game top amateurs are now actively encouraged to view playing for their country and in the Walker Cup as a stepping stone to the pro ranks.
There are now also so many pro tours on which to compete. While the focus is, naturally, on the young bucks of the game, there has been a quiet revolution at the seniors level.
Dropping the qualifying age to 50 for the European Seniors Tour has prompted an influx of new blood, many of them seasoned club and tour professionals, and persuaded a number of talented, established amateurs to give it go.
Gary Wolstenholme is a proven case in point and now Rockliffe’s Roger Roper is treading the same path in the hope he can emulate his former England colleague on the Seniors Tour.
And he already has one senior professional win in the locker in his first year with victory in the Slovenian Seniors Open. It may not have the kudos of victory on the European Seniors Tour but a win is a win and as the man in question said: “It’s the biggest win so far or my pro career!”
Roper’s amateur record may not match Wolstenholme, but it’s none too shabby especially with a string of national mid-amateur titles, including four French, three Austrian, the England and Scottish crowns, plus two Estonian Amateur Championships and the Brabazon Trophy (English Strokeplay Championship) shared with Peter Baker back in 1985 at Seaton Carew.
More titles and more England caps could have come his way but a busy career with the family business – Ropers Caravan World – possibly restricted his opportunities and the urge to make the switch to the pro ranks.
That was as much a conscious choice as anything else. “I thought about it for many years and a lot of people have asked me why I didn’t turn pro when I was younger,” Roger told me as we talked in the palatial Rockliffe clubhouse.
“I think there were many other ways in which I was going and my golf really wasn’t quite of a high enough standard to be successful immediately as a professional. Also, I didn’t really need to earn a living dependent on how good I was at golf, so I really just ended up playing amateur golf reasonably competitively, running a business and just living my life.
“I remember back in the 1980s discussing it with a friend in France at the France v England match and we talked about the fact we weren’t going to turn pro now and we would wait until we were 50. Every time we met up we recalled that conversation and now here we are.
“Life for me is a bit different now. Because I’m fairly financially secure, it’s a little bit easier to do what I’m doing.
Enjoyment therefore seems to be the key for Roger, as it has been throughout an amateur career which brought plenty of success in the North East with multiple wins in open scratch events, recognition and success at county and national level on the back of game based on being long enough off the tee and a very good short game. His golf began at Catterick Garrison, where he first started to play after being introduced to the game by his late father Roland, and he’s also been a member at Wike Ridge in Leeds and now Rockliffe near his home in Hurworth, Darlington.
He is convinced Rockliffe will eventually host major tour events.
He’s teed it up on the PGA European Seniors Tour already and the recent tournament at Slaley Hall left him with a taste for the tour and wanting more.
“I’ve really enjoyed my first experiences of it,” he added. “The people I have met and the players have all been very kind and supportive.
So are there any targets for the year? “I’m at the bottom of the ladder and I look to take steps up that ladder. Some may be small steps, some may be bigger, but when you’re at the bottom, it’s easier to take steps upwards.
“At the moment, I’m getting relatively few opportunities and I need to qualify for tournaments like the British Seniors. I need to get into the order of merit and that will get me more opportunities to compete.”
There’s always “doing a Wolstenholme” to kick-start the new career, i.e. win a tournament and then just keep on going, but failing that there is also finishing high enough in the order of merit or getting through tour qualifying school as Matfen Hall’s John Harrison did with some style.
“I have a lot of scope for advancement,” said Roger. “I’m in good shape physically – I work hard on my strength and flexibility – and I think I’m mentally strong and those strengths will, I hope, take me forward.
“I think I’m also a bit hungrier for success than some of the guys, but they have earned their rights to play on the tour and I have yet to prove that. What I need to do now is improve my scoring ability and make fewer mistakes. I feel I’m a much better player than I was a few months ago.
“The top guys on the seniors tour are very good at scoring. They may hit the ball inconsistently at times, but they are in control of that ball for a lot of the time and the top guys do not make many mistakes. I’m starting to learn how I can do that and where I need to improve.”