All the tees in China

Callum Tarren reflects on a successful first year on the PGA Tour China and looks ahead to the new season with Dean Bailey

At the highest level, golf is truly a global game. World Golf Championships are now played in Mexico and the Far East while the best players in the world make annual pilgrimages to Australia and the Middle East to escape the worst of winter in the Northern Hemisphere.

For 26-year-old Callum Tarren that world seemed a million miles away 12 months ago.

Back at Rockliffe Hall having started his season in March with two events on the PGA TOUR Latinoamérica, Callum reflects on the route to finding his feet as a tour player in 2016.

“I was working and practising at Rockliffe in December 2015 and was really struggling to find a balance between working and playing. I got talking about China and thought it was a great idea to get away and concentrate on playing tournament golf.”

Callum flew out for January’s Qualifying School and secured full playing rights for the PGA Tour China with a fourth place finish – giving him access to the 13 events on the third-tier tour which offers Tour cards to the top five players on its season-ending order of merit.

“Getting a full card on a satellite tour was always the plan for 2016,” he says.

“It’s hard not knowing when the next tournament is or where the next cheque is coming from, but you have to accept the pyramid and know that getting to the top is worth the hard work.

“I had worked and played when I could with the money I had, but to compete with the guys who are playing these tours full-time I had to give myself the time. Getting that card in China meant I could concentrate on playing golf.”

Returning to China in May for the first run of six events, Callum admits the tougher golf courses and the quality of each field was a shock to the system.

“I didn’t know what to expect when I first went out there other than seeing pictures of the golf courses online,” he says.

“The standard of the tour is so high and the courses out there are designed to be as tough as possible. It’s a race to see who has the most difficult course so you have to play well to be up there each week.”

In his first three events Callum found himself battling around the cut mark with one poor round in each four-round event costing him progress through the field. His first top 10, a sixth place finish in the Cadillac Championship at the end of May, boosted his confidence ahead of returning to the UK for the first break in the season.

“I got it to five under-par through nine in the final round and jumped up to second place. I tried to push on but made a silly mistake at the 10th which cost me a double bogey. Though I fell away from the lead down the stretch, that tournament was a big experience.”

Buoyed by his first top 10, he returned to Rockliffe and sought the advice of experienced tour players, including European Tour winner Graeme Storm.

“I was pushing too hard on the weekends,” admits Callum. “I spoke to a few guys about how they coped with it and things really improved when I flew back out.”

On his return Callum found his stride, recording 40th, 12th and ninth place finishes in his next three events to jump to 21st in the Order of Merit.

“I didn’t push too hard in that second spell. I was more relaxed and just let things happen really,” he says. More good results followed as Callum set his sights on securing a top five finish and a spot on 2017’s Tour.

Heading into the final four events of the season he knew a win or series of top five finishes would be enough to secure his step up. Another top 10, eighth in the Putian Open, was followed by a course record 62 at the Clearwater Bay Golf & Country Club en-route to a second place finish in the penultimate event of the season.

“That second place finish gave me a huge confidence boost. The goal all week was to stay patient on a really tough golf course as people were having high numbers and getting flustered around me. I was over the moon to play so well at the sharp end of the season.”

Finishing the season with a tie for second place at the Buick Open to be just outside the Tour cards in eighth place, Callum was happy with a year of incredible experiences and finding his feet as a tour player.

“I had my back up against the ropes a bit at the start of the year and grinded through to get some good results. I managed to work out how I could get the ball around and stay in a tournament without having my best game. I then added to those with some really good scores when I did have my best game.”

That progress, which has been added to with a winter of practice back at home in Darlington – he admits he was back on the range within two days of the end of his season – is sure to serve him well on his return to China this season.

“I’m a better player now. I’d played at a decent level for 10 years but I hadn’t learned how to compete without my A game every week.

“I’ve been burnt enough times now and thrown events away by going for everything. Last year gave me a better understanding of tournament golf; it’s not about one round, one lot of nine holes, or even one hole – it’s about putting 72 holes together.”

With the season just around the corner, Callum can’t wait to head back to the Far East having worked with ex Middlesbrough Footballer Stuart Parnaby during the off season.

“After a really good first year I’ve learned a lot about the Tour and my game. I now want to push on and win the order of merit. The dream is the same as it was when I was 15 years old, I want to make it the PGA or European Tour and be on there for a long time.

“It would be awesome to be out there playing with the best players in the world. I just need to keep doing what I’m doing and hopefully this year will be a big year for me.”

With a return already set for this month, there’s not long to wait now.