Texas ranger

James Glenn tells Dean Bailey about his journey from Texas to Co Durham, and a phone call which saved his golf

Travelling across the Atlantic to play college golf has become a key part of many amateur golfers’ careers.

While some of the North East’s best young golfers have chosen to jump across the pond, 29-year-old James Glenn has travelled the opposite way – studying a masters in marketing at Durham University before embarking on a PhD.

“The decision was made within a week,” says James on his move to Durham, which he’d never visited – though he had lived in the UK for seven years before returning to the US with his parents to attend high school.

“My first round of golf back in the UK was at Gullane in a 40mph wind. I’d never seen anything like it. I didn’t know how to play; I hit a driver 180 yards and just couldn’t work out what was going on.

“Before I came here I’d never played golf in thermal underwear, a base layer and a Gore-Tex jacket,” he adds, explaining that he’s now close to playing in a polo shirt when it’s 10C, which was the minimum temperature for playing at all while he was at Tyler Junior College in Texas.

A member of Bishop Auckland and Brancepeth, James has been a big part of the Durham County team in the last three seasons – both on and off the golf course. “I loved team golf at college and the county matches here are fantastic. When you’re 2dn with four to play you’re not thinking about yourself – you’re thinking about the team result and your teammates. You’re not playing against the other guys, it’s only about the team and I love that.”

James says, despite his success this season with three wins and leading the Durham Order of Merit with one event to play, he struggled a great deal in the early part of this season.

“I wasn’t in that good a place,” he says recalling the period between April and May. “I was under pressure with my thesis, I knew I wasn’t going to be playing in the national events I wanted to, I wasn’t enjoying golf at all, and I wasn’t in a place to provide for my wife Amanda – who’d only recently come over to the UK.”

James admits this was the darkest period of his golfing career, one where he contemplated giving up the game – though team golf and his Durham teammates kept his playing.

From losing the enjoyment of the game he loved playing with dad as a child in Surrey and the game which had driven him to make huge decisions as a college student in the US, James received an incredibly important phone call while practising at Brancepeth. “One of my closest fiends called me up to tell me they were worried about me. They’d watched me play and couldn’t see any joy when I was on the golf course.

“That hit me pretty hard. I stood on the range at Brancepeth thinking about what they’d said and by the time I left I knew what I needed to do.

“I finally, at the age of 29, learned to compartmentalise what I’m doing – to put my thesis to one side and just play golf when I’m on the course. I’d forgotten what I loved about golf and why I wanted to play it. Without that phone call, I wouldn’t be where I am right now.”

A session with coach David Fletcher at Brancepeth followed as did his remarkable run of success this summer – including a second place finish at Oakdale, a club championship at Bishop Auckland and a win in the Moor Allerton Amateur Classic – all within a fortnight. 

He has also won the Ravensowth Bowl this season, and the Keith Shivers Bowl at Heworth – which James describes as unexpected having travelled back from a missed cut in the Lytham Trophy, slept for four hours then broken the course record in the morning round.

James is an accomplished amateur on both sides of the Atlantic, though his route has been rather unconventional. He played a bit with his dad, a chiropractor, growing up in Surrey but didn’t focus on his golf until well into high school, when he set the goal of securing a golf scholarship to pay for college.

He failed to attract a golf scholarship but was offered a full state scholarship as a Physics major a Clemson, a top-20 public school in the US. From there, James’ love of golf took back over.

“I was on an internship in Tyler and shot a 68 while playing with my dad and uncle. The pro at the club put me in touch with some guys who’d played for coach Sandy Terry at Tyler Junior College. 

“I had a try out, had an interesting conversation with my dad where I told him I was leaving Clemson to go to a junior college. He said some things I can’t repeat, but I was passionate about it and knew that I could play myself into a division one scholarship, which I’d always been told I wasn’t good enough for.

“After two years at Tyler I got my golf scholarship to Sam Houston State University, a division one school, and spent two years there.”

James admits his college career wasn’t a standout one, though he was the Southland Conference Student-Athlete of the Year 2011-2012. 

His grades had always been his priority having never thought of turning professional, though he had played well enough to plant the seed. A period of caddying at Whispering Pines followed graduation before James got a fortunate break and a job offer at Ferguson Plumbing in Houston.

“I had a good job but I couldn’t get away from golf. I’d dedicated five years of my life to it and then left it all behind,” James says.

“I managed to win the qualifier for the US Public Links Championship, went to Virginia and qualified 17th before getting knocked out in the first round of matchplay. I did that while sitting behind a desk 55 hours a week.”

James left Ferguson to return home and prepare for Web.com Tour Q School. Feeling unprepared, he abandoned the idea and began looking for work again when he came across the opportunity to study at Durham.

His three years in Durham have included numerous amateur titles and success in the British Universities order of merit this year – one of his main goals. Winning the Durham order of merit is also within his grasp.

“It’s been an incredibly successful season in terms of results, and disappointing to not be able to play in many national events because of the financial pressures of being a post-graduate student. I may not have set the grandest of goals but it was something I could afford.”

Though he set his sights on being a top amateur late, James feels ready to take on the next level of his golfing career – starting with European Tour Qualifying School in September and October.

“I wouldn’t change the route I’ve taken. I don’t think I’d be the same man today without all this experience. I’ve wanted to try Q School for so long and I’m starting to shoot the scores to justify giving it a go. I’ve got some backing from friends at Brancepeth and Bishop, and some family friends – all of whom have been incredibly generous.

“The opportunity is huge. I’ve spent the last five years preparing so I’m ready to take this opportunity when it comes.

“I’m going to try and play for as long as I can. I’m going to fight to make it happen. If I get to the point where I’m not good enough then hats off to the guys who are. But I’m going to do everything I can to get there.”

With so much experience, playing under real pressure on both sides of the Atlantic, we’re hoping to see James on the leaderboard in Spain later this year.