Wilson – a mature student of the game

Andrew Wilson takes a break from his packed summer schedule to tell Dean Bailey about life on and off the golf course, the student life and what’s next

For Andrew Wilson, fitting in interviews is a scheduling nightmare. An England international, the 22-year-old has spent the summer travelling across the UK playing the amateur circuit.

When we meet, he has just returned from the English Amateur Championship at Ganton, and having moved out of his student house in Jesmond, is packing to leave for the European Amateur Championship in Estonia in the morning.

“It’s been a busy few weeks with some big highs and some lows,” admits Andrew as he relaxes in the sunshine at Wynyard. “Finishing fifth in the qualifying for the British Amateur was a huge success. It’s one of the biggest amateur events in the world and playing well in that field gave me a big confidence boost.”

Wilson made it through to the matchplay rounds at the amateur after a course record-equalling 66 at Pyle & Kenfig and a second-round 75 at Royal Porthcawl.

“I’d been struggling in the week before and I didn’t go up until late on the Saturday so didn’t play a practice round at Pyle & Kenfig. In the first round, I knocked in a couple of 30ft putts, double bogeyed the fourth and then made an up and down par at the fifth after a drop, so it could have been a lot better…or a lot worse,” he adds.

Having recorded such a low score in the opening round, Wilson admits his second round was more about making it through than shooting a low score. “I definitely got nervous, but I get nervous in every competition I play. I’m pretty good at controlling it now and played steady enough to get through.

“My nerves are something I’ve grown to deal with. Still getting nervous shows how much I care about what I’m doing.”

Spaniard Alejandro Del Rey knocked out Wilson in the first matchplay round, though he understood what was needed going into the match.

“It was frustrating to qualify so high and then get knocked out in the first round, but you know you’re going to get a hard game no matter where you qualify and I didn’t play my best.”

That honesty and openness about his game is a recurring theme. An assured 22-year-old, Wilson acknowledges staying in the UK to study a Bachelors and Masters degree at Northumbria University has given him a different perspective than many fellow elite players.

“I used to get fired up on the golf course and felt golf was the only thing in the world. As I’ve grown up, I’ve learned there are so many ways to have a successful life and career.”

Not making the trip to the US for a golfing scholarship has also given him a different viewpoint.

“The golf here isn’t as strong all the way through as it is in the US, but there are some of the world’s best amateurs playing university golf in the UK. You’re still playing against internationals week in week out and you have to go out and play well and shoot the scores to win.

“Our events are played at some great courses too and we play our team golf through the winter which is great because I wasn’t one for playing too much in the colder months. It keeps you going and makes the start of the season a little easier.”

Wilson has been successful on the British Universities and Colleges Sport circuit, winning the league title with Northumbria as well as individual titles and finishing second in the Tour Finals at Crail Golfing Society in Fife.

Having finished the first year of his Masters in Business and Finance, the +4.1 handicapper has spent the summer playing the biggest events, from the Lytham and Brabazon trophies to the British and English Amateurs as well as representing England.

“I have a really odd schedule compared to a lot of my England teammates. It’s busy, but then I’ll miss all of May with exams. This year I headed into the practice round for the Lytham Trophy having not hit a ball in two weeks.

“It’s difficult for me to judge where I am against the top players at this stage as I’m the only player in the England Squad at university. I don’t play as much as I’d like to and it’s tough to go into these events with little confidence having not played.

“But, I’m happy to not be sharp for a couple events at the start of the season while I’m at uni. I chose to stay on and do my Masters and that’s given me a great perspective on golf and where it fits into my life. Whichever way I take my career forward that’s going to be really useful.”

A member of the England squad for two years now, Wilson has benefitted a great deal from the coaching system, though maintains his independence from too much coaching.

“The support and opportunities I’ve had through being part of the England squad have been unbelievable. There is a great balance to the coaching with the ability to take pieces from each session, which is great for me as I’m quite independent when it comes to my golf. I’ve always had coaching, mainly with Ralph Givens at Blackwell Grange, but we tend to work on a lot of fundamentals and making sure things are in the right place. Too many players get sucked into changing things too much – I’ve always tried to keep it simple and get the ball around.”

As well as working with Givens and the England team, Wilson has spent time with Close House’s Jonathan Lupton, who manages the Northumbria University squad.

“Jonathan has been a great source of information and he’s a really inspiring guy,” he adds. “He’s won the biggest amateur events and is now a successful pro. He’s always been great to chat to and ask questions about my golf and what I should be doing.”

A relative latecomer to the sport, he first picked up a club at Darlington, minutes from his home, Wilson’s progression to an elite player didn’t take long.

“I was a pretty good footballer as a kid and didn’t pick up a golf club until I was 13. I joined Darlington with 10 friends from school and everything went from there.

“My first handicap was 44 and I asked to be cut to 25 before my first competition. I shot 26 over-par and was devastated because I could have won by 15 shots. From there everything seemed to progress really quickly. My handicap dropped to 15 that year, then to six, three, and plus one in four years.

“I only played one year of Boys’ golf nationally before going into the bigger events, which were a huge learning curve. I went in at the deep end and it took a while to get into the swing of things but I won the North of England Youths at Brass Castle that year and things just went on from then.”

Coming towards the end of his season, Wilson starts a three-month internship in September which will limit his golf, he is happy with where his game is and looking forward to what the future holds.

“I need to sit down with my mum and my coaches, but I feel that after a fifth year of the top amateur events next season, I’m ready to try to earn a living playing golf. I don’t have any specific plans but I have a broad outline of where things are going. I’m going to finish my Masters then go to European Tour Qualifying School next September after another full season of amateur events.

“If I didn’t get my card, I don’t know whether I’d turn pro straight away. I’ve been at uni for five years and if I don’t make it at the first attempt I’d like to take a bit of time and assess what my options are and go from there.

“I’m not a big dreamer, I’m very realistic and know how hard it is to make it, but of course I want to win on the European Tour.

“It’s great to know I can give it a go safe in the knowledge I have my degree behind me and some good prospects off the golf course too.”