Climbing to the very top of the golf ladder with PGA Tour member Callum Tarren
Callum Tarren is officially a member of the PGA Tour. Take a moment to let that sink in, it takes a little while. For the man who has spent five years chasing his dream thousands of miles from his home in Darlington, it still hasn’t fully hit home.
“To tee it up as a member of the PGA Tour for the first time was amazing. Every day I drive to the golf course and say in my head, ‘you’re a member of the PGA Tour’. I still can’t quite believe it,” says Callum when we catch up at Rockliffe Hall during one of his brief visits home to the North East.
Callum realised his dream at the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Championship – the second event of the Korn Ferry Tour Finals, which award PGA Tour cards for the following season to the top 25 players over three events. To earn a card through the Finals is a monumental achievement on its own as the events bring together the top 75 players from that season’s Korn Ferry order of merit and the 126-200 ranked players from the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup. To do so after returning to the US the day of the first Finals event having flown home for the birth of his daughter is the stuff of dreams.
“To be there for the birth of my daughter and then get my hands on the little card they give you as a graduate of the Korn Ferry Tour was a very special couple of weeks,” says Callum.
“To get my card in Ohio was amazing. Once everything was confirmed, I was over the moon and could phone home to tell my family and the people closest to me. Even then it didn’t seem real, it was only when I teed it up in Napa, my first PGA Tour event, that it hit home I was playing the tour I’d always dreamed of being on.”
For Callum, getting his hands on a PGA Tour card has been an international journey. It began in 2016 on the PGA Tour China, the third rung of the PGA Tour ladder. In his third season in China (2018), Callum topped the order of merit to earn his place on the Korn Ferry Tour in the US.
“I had a lot of success in China and remember my three seasons out there really fondly. They moulded me as a golfer. Going to the qualifying school in 2016 was a risk, but I learned from every event and got better every season.
“Going to China was essential to where I am today. It was a big risk and it cost money, but I don’t think I’d be where I am without that experience. It helped me mature as a person and offered me four-round tournaments on demanding golf courses. Combine that with the travel and managing tough playing conditions, and I toughened up out there.”
Having made it to the US, Callum’s stock continued to rise. In 2019 he qualified for the US Open at Pebble Beach and narrowly missed out on the top 75 in the Korn Ferry regular season ranking, which meant a trip to Q School to secure his full playing rights for the 2020 season.
“The end of the first round at Q school was the most upset I’d been as a professional,” he admits. “I’d started well and gave seven shots back at the end to drop through the field. I spoke to my coach after the round and he simplified things down and told me to go out and shoot three six under-par rounds to bring myself back up. I just about did that – shooting six, five and six under par to get my card for 2020.
“I’ve continued learning and stepping up on the Korn Ferry Tour as well,” he adds. “Coming from China, where the golf courses are incredibly narrow, I had to do some work to bring my ball flight back up and hit the driver a bit longer again to suit the courses. Once I got that, I was ready to push on.”
With the 2020 and 2021 Korn Ferry calendars combined into a single super season due to Covid – meaning there were 46 regular season events and three Finals events – earning one of the first batch of PGA Tour cards – given to the top 25 players on the order of merit and the end of the regular season – was always going to be tough. Callum finished in 42nd spot in the regular season rankings for 2020/21, guaranteeing his full card on the Korn Ferry Tour for 2022 and setting him up for his maiden trip to the Finals.
“Knowing I had my card for 2022 lifted everything off my shoulders and I saw the Finals as a free hit to go for my PGA Tour card. I arranged my season around being ready for the Finals and while those plans changed with my daughter being born in August, I knew it was still a huge opportunity.”
Having arrived back in the US at 2am on the first day of the Albertsons Boise Open, Callum had little time to prepare.
“I was teeing off at lunchtime, so I got some sleep, got up at 7am and headed straight to the range. I got it round in one under-par on Thursday and settled in. I was just inside the top-10 going into Sunday and didn’t manage to get it done, shooting one over-par on a tough day to fall back to T26.
“That stung a bit, I knew how big that opportunity was.”
Callum didn’t spend too long ruing the missed opportunity. In the second Finals event, the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Championship in Ohio, he opened with rounds of 66 and 68 before shooting 70 on Saturday.
“Going into Ohio, I was lying 18th in the Finals standings as the guys who already have cards don’t count towards the 25, so a good week would get me a PGA Tour card. I put some pressure on myself on Saturday, but instead of shooting over par and falling back like the previous week, I got it round in one under-par. I settled down that night and went into Sunday with the mindset of being back at Rockliffe or Wynyard with my mates and trying to enjoy it.
“I started well before a storm came in and we went off the course for a couple of hours. Just as we were heading back out, the tour tagged me in a tweet which said I needed a T10 finish to secure my PGA Tour card.
“I managed myself really well from there, turned in three under-par, birdied two of the hardest holes on the back nine, and held my position to finish T4.
“I’ll admit it now – my mind was racing all over the place on Sunday. Every time that happened, I brought myself back to earth and focussed on hitting one shot at a time. All that skill comes from everything I did in China and all the times I finished second out there. I’ve been close in my career and missed out. Over time I’ve learned how to be a better professional, how to manage my game and emotions to keep performing as the pressure builds.”
Card secured, Callum got to share the news with his family and closest supporters.
“I spoke to my fiancée, my mum and dad, James Maw at Rockliffe, my coach Lee, and my trainer Stuart. Those are the people who have been with me all the way through, my biggest fans and believers, and they mean the most to me.
“There are a number of things that have been really important in my journey. Growing up at Dinsdale, I was very close to Martyn Stubbings and he taught me so much in the earliest part of my golfing career. Stuart [Parnaby], my strength and conditioning coach, has also been a huge part of my professional career and helped me progress. My coach – Lee McCavanagh from Wynyard, who I met playing county golf for Durham – understands my golf swing and we work incredibly well together. My family have given me the opportunity to go out and live my dream, and my fiancée is brilliant and independent – to have her support to travel for long periods of time is so important.”
Before he made a brief trip home to spend some time with his fiancée and daughter, Callum teed it up in his first event as a member of the PGA Tour – the Fortinet Championship at Silverado Resort and Spa, Napa, California – where he missed the cut after shooting level par for the first two rounds.
“Things aren’t too different from a playing point of view, but there’s certainly a lot more people around and a lot more going on inside and outside the ropes,” he says of his first PGA Tour experience. “It’s all part of playing at this level and you get used to it as you come through the ranks. You also get some nice things as a member of the tour – like courtesy cars and access to the TPC courses and practice facilities – which is a nice option to have when you’ve spent years trying to practise in the North East in December and January.
“Progressing through the levels of the PGA Tour has been a big help to managing being out there. I don’t look at teeing it up in my first event as this big moment of experience – that just gives me an excuse for missing the cut. It was another little piece added to all the other pieces I’ve picked up in China and on the Korn Ferry Tour. Those were the hard yards that got me here.
“My two seasons on the Korn Ferry Tour were incredible. Added to my time in China, I’ve learned so much about the discipline required in professional golf. I’ve always been capable of having nine birdies and shooting two under-par, but going to China and playing in the US has taught me how to balance out those rounds. Sometimes out here, hitting it to 30ft is a good shot and you need to be disciplined in order to play four rounds.
“I’m still prone to putting three out of four rounds together, but I know when I have those weeks where four rounds come together, I’ll have a chance to win.”
Although Callum has a full card for the 2021/22 PGA Tour season, his priority is performing well in the run up to Christmas in order to move up the priority rankings and make it into the biggest events in 2022.
“Having a PGA Tour card is really the first step to having a career out here,” he says. “I need to play well and improve my category. Right now, I’m 28th among the 50 guys who came up from the Korn Ferry Tour so I should get five or six starts before the first reshuffle.”
While the reshuffle is his first priority, Callum has also reassessed his long-term goals.
“My career has been on an upward curve for five years and I want it keep moving forward. I’ve not had a period where I’ve questioned what I’m doing, so my goal is simply to keep climbing the ladder and getting better.
“Now I’ve got my PGA Tour card, my next objective is to keep it. To finish in the top 125 in the FedEx Cup would be huge as it would allow me to have a lot more control over my schedule and plan more than I can in my current category.
“After that, I want to win. It may sound insane coming from Callum from Darlington, but every time I tee it up I have that opportunity. I’m as hungry as I ever have been, I’m ready to work hard and I’ll be staying at it for a long time.”
If the last five years of Callum’s career are anything to go by, the next five are sure to be an exciting journey and we’ll enjoy following him every step of the way.