Living the dream

Dean Bailey catches up with Andrew Wilson following his fast start in the professional ranks, including a first win on the EuroPro Tour at Linden Hall and a top 32 finish at The Open Championship

The step up from the amateur ranks to the professional game is a huge change for any golfer. Going from competing against talented youngsters to sharing a driving range with the best players in the world, while knowing your financial future is on the line, can prove too much pressure for even the most promising player.

This is what makes Andrew Wilson’s achievements since turning professional in November 2018, and his approach to playing golf for a living, so impressive.

Since joining the paid ranks and signing up as an attached professional at Rockliffe Hall, Darlington-based Andrew, 25, has flourished. An early win on the 1836 Tour at Dunham Forest in April and a second place finish on the EuroPro Tour in May showed good signs before he hit a rich vein of results in June and July.

In a 31-day stretch, Andrew won his first NENW PGA pro am title at Teesside Golf Club, came through a playoff at Regional Qualifying for the Open at Alwoodley, finished in the top 25 in the EuroPro Tour event at Dudsbury, won Final Qualifying for The Open at Notts (Hollinwell), won The EuroPro Tour’s Motocaddy Masters at Linden Hall, and played all four rounds at The Open at Royal Portrush – finishing in a tie for 32nd place in the season’s final major.

“I’m very happy with where I am,” he says. “To have a few wins and play The Open is a great start to my career and there are a lot of positives to take from the last nine months.

“The step from being an amateur, even playing for England, to playing as a professional feels like playing a different sport.

“I feel like I can deal with the pressure really well on the golf course. I’ve grown up a lot having been to university and I can honestly say I never feel particularly intimidated out on the course these days. I’ve felt a lot more pressure doing exams at university or dealing with things in my life outside golf than I ever have playing.”

The win at Linden Hall came in the middle of Andrew’s packed schedule. He played a practice round at Linden on Sunday, practised ahead of Final Qualifying on Monday at Notts (Hollinwell), played 36 holes on Tuesday to qualify for The Open then travelled back to Linden, arriving at 1.30am on Wednesday, before shooting 10 under-par over three rounds Wednesday to Friday to win the event.

“I wasn’t confident coming into the season. I wasn’t sure I’d made the right decision after spending five months waiting around and trying to practise in the cold. Since then, I’ve made the most of the opportunities I’ve had. I haven’t had the opportunity to have the Challenge Tour starts I was looking for, but I’m making the most of my time on the EuroPro Tour this season.

“It’s a good feeling to win, I only won two national events as an amateur in six years, so winning on the EuroPro Tour is a real highlight. I wasn’t expecting to win at Linden, having played so much golf, but getting the job done is always going to be a highlight when you look back.” 

Progressing to The Open is a highlight in the careers of many golfers and while Andrew learned a lot from the experience, he says he’s not planning on it being his only visit to golf’s oldest major.

“I’m very proud to have made the cut and finished in tie for 32nd place at my first Open. Of course that’s a great result, but I would have liked to have finished higher. I always expect a lot of myself, and there’s also a lot to be said for getting across the line and winning in golf, no matter what level you’re at. It’s a hard thing to get your head around, but I felt more satisfaction winning on the EuroPro Tour two weeks earlier because it’s so hard to win golf tournaments.

“I didn’t feel out of place in that environment. I wasn’t there as a fan, I knew I was there to work hard and perform on the golf course.

“There were some special moments out there though, like playing with Louis Oosthuizen in the final round and having the chance to chat with him a little bit – though the crowd was cheering a lot more for him, which my sister Joanna tried to make up for on her own. I was also two under-par through 10 holes in the first round and right up there, and shot a really good 67 on Friday to make the cut.

“I didn’t play well in the last two rounds and I think that had a bit to do with setting my goal for the week at making the cut. I felt fatigued on Saturday and Sunday, and struggled a bit, but I definitely want to play in a lot more majors in the future. It was an incredible experience.”

A week off has given Andrew time to reflect on the success of the last couple of months, though he isn’t planning to stand still for long and has his sights set on gaining a Challenge Tour card for 2020.

“I tend to be very critical of myself and I’m always setting my targets high, but I’ve had some successes very early in my career and they’re all important steps. From here I want to earn a Challenge Tour card for 2020, the first chance to do that is through a top five finish on the EuroPro Tour, which I’m not too far from securing. Then I’ll be heading to European Tour Q School at the end of the season to see what kind of card I can get through that.”

Though the change to the professional ranks has been a big one, Andrew says he feels comfortable playing at the top level of the game, and is looking to build on his experience quickly, having waited to turn professional while completing a degree in Geography and a masters in Business for Finance. He has recently decided to take a break from studying for his AAT Accountancy qualifications to concentrate on golf.

“Golf is going well and I’m happy with how I’m progressing. The aim is to build my career in the sport, but I’m very aware of how hard that can be. I’m lucky to be secure financially right now, but I’m also aware that can come and go. I’m prepared to walk away if golf doesn’t work out for me. Having options is really important and we’ll just see how things develop and how far I can go. My expectations are high.”

The season heads into its final stretch in the next few weeks, before Andrew will have a long chance to reflect on his first year as a professional and look ahead to 2020 – if this year is anything to go on, there could be even more big opportunities coming his way.