It is the time of year when many players are forced to consider their futures on tour with the final showdown having started in Western Australia this morning.
It sounds pretty exotic and more than inviting to those of you settling in to a long winter. I know that those Irish players involved with the ultimate challenge of trying to retain their playing rights on tour in the space of one last tournament would much rather be safely back at home with their immediate futures secured, no matter how bleak it is outside.
There is one exception to this and that is Kevin Phelan, who must be full of the joys of an expectant and talented youth first to tee it up in Australia this morning with an outside chance of getting his tour card. His performance last week in Hong Kong would suggest that he has risen to the challenge of proving himself.
For Peter Lawrie and Gareth Maybin, the reality of life on tour has probably never been as stark as it is now. With children at home and being on the other side of the world facing an arduous battle there must be a real sense of isolation. Gareth has had the torture of missing out by one place in getting into last week's Hong Kong Open. He had to lurk around east Asia in hope of one player dropping out in order for him to get a start.
By his own admission he made a basic mistake of not entering the event out of forgetfulness. At the start of the year when he entered all his planned events he was not anticipating that the Hong Kong Open would be such an important one in which to play. Scheduling your year is really pot luck when you have a plan based on reasonable results and then just a survival instinct when things don’t go your way.
As difficult as it is to try to win a tournament with all the pressures of leading and fearing failure, there is nothing that compares to playing for your professional survival. Ask the surprise winner of the Dunhill Links Challenge a few weeks back, Oliver Wilson, which pressure was greater, that of trying to win when you had already finished second nine times in your career or trying to win to keep your playing privilege on tour.
I know many people with regular jobs have faced harsh challenges in recent years and have had to make tough decisions about their future options due to unforeseen circumstances, but trying to stick to the simple process of hitting each shot at a time and blocking out everything else in your anxious mind is a decision that the battling player must make every time he goes to hit the ball.
Is there life after golf? Of course there is, but a struggling player would prefer to make that decision rather than have the game make that decision for him. There are hundreds of ifs and buts. These last few weeks have got relatively miserable prize funds. If Phelan finished in the same position in St Andrews a few weeks ago as he did in Hong Kong he would have made his card. The low prize money this week has made it even more difficult for the life saving mission. To secure their cards Kevin needs to finish in at least fourth place, Gareth in the top 10 and Peter will need to win to guarantee his future. I suppose David Higgins is envious of them all at least having one last shot at it. His fate is sealed as he is not exempt for the event so his only avenue for next year is via the tour school.
Of course I am painting a rather fatalistic picture of the Irish trio’s last stand in West Australia, they do have the option of the tour school to resort to. Depending on where their final standings are on the Order of Merit by Sunday next they will have to go through the second stage of the school or if they finish higher up they go directly to the third stage in PGA Catalunya at the end of November.
Many of you may well say that if you have had all year to prove yourself and you have left it to the last minute to salvage, perhaps the golfing gods are telling you something.. This, of course is open to interpretation, depending on your philosophy. Have a look at Mikko Ilonen and George Coetzee as winner and runner up in the Matchplay event last week. They have catapulted themselves up into the stratosphere of the rankings, with bonus events and all sorts of end of year junkets to look forward to as a result of their success.
It is the lure of the tour that has the boys fighting their own personal battles in the final showdown in Perth this week. In a game with an abundance of tournaments to play in, there always seems to be next week to look forward to if things don’t go your way this week. Well this is next week for Gareth, Kevin and Peter. They know what they have to do and they need to dig deep and use all their strongest mental resources to enable them to overcome a challenge that is probably more demanding than simply trying to win a golf tournament. They are playing to save their careers.