Golf: Wakey shines at school of hard knocks

Simple for Simon at the European Tour Q School?

Simple for Simon at the European Tour Q School?

At the end of September Staffordshire’s Simon Wakefield stood on the 72nd

tee of the Duke’s Course at Woburn needing a par to secure the 100k Euro

prize-money that would safeguard his lucrative European Tour playing card for

the 2005 season.


With Simon’s close family and friends watching nervously from the fairway,

this mild mannered 30-year-old with among the best statistics on the Tour

for accurate driving went and drove the ball out of bounds. Disaster.


It wasn’t meant to come to this. This wasn’t in the plan. But the long and

short of it was that Simon would now have to take his place among the 168

entrants of the dreaded Qualifying School in Spain to fight it out for just

35 places on next year’s European Tour schedule.


Not nice. Not nice at all. If only he’d hit the bloody ball straight at

Woburn. The mental scars must have been horrific, probably still are.


The atmosphere as you arrive at the Q School is unlike anything on the

golfing calendar. For starters there’s hardly any spectators, only a few

anxious family members and friends who can afford to travel or take the time

off work to support their loved ones.


On the practice putting green located directly in front of the handsome San

Roque golf club clubhouse there’s little of the happy banter among the

players that is the norm at regular Tour events.


A lot of the players themselves look different. They look a touch shabbier,

their golf shoes look more worn, their clubs look older, their clothing

isn’t freshly pressed or straight out of the wrapper. For heaven’s sake a

lot of them don’t have caddies. These truly are the forgotten men of the

European Tour.


All this set against the backdrop of the magnificent Bermeja mountains and

piercing blue skies of southern Andalucia. Is it right that such brutality

should be played out in a venue of such beauty?


The first I saw of Simon in action was on day two of the six round purgatory

the players must endure. He was going very well indeed, four under par after

21 holes and leading the tournament.


His anxious looking father, Ian, was the sole person following the three

ball group that comprised of Argentina’s Jorge Berendt and Aussie Matthew

Ecob. Only at Q School would you get one spectator following the leader of

the tournament. Nobody else was interested. Not even the gardening staff of

the dozens of muliti-million Euro villas that lined the course would have

given a charred chorizo for events out on the course.


“I’d have brought some oatcakes if I’d known you were coming,” was Ian’s

hilarious introduction as he learned that I too, was from the Potteries.


For the closely associated watching a sporting event can often be more

nerve-wracking than actually playing and that looked the case here with Ian

quite visibly playing and replaying every shot that Simon struck over and

over again in his head.


What puzzled me was why after Simon hit a shot Mr Wakefield continued

watching his son, rather than following the flight of the ball as it soared

in the direction of the green.


“I’ve forgotten my specs, so I get a better idea by watching his reaction,”

he said.


Happily, Simon’s reactions were very positive on 95 per cent of his shots

and the Trentham Park lad remained as clubhouse leader at six under par by

the end of day two.


Under the circumstances it was a wonderful round of golf by player who

agonisingly missed out on securing his card by just 1000 Euros. From

tee-to-green he is such a solid player, with surely only his putting holding

him back from breaking into the top 40 of the European Order of Merit. If

his dad was putting for him maybe he’d be there already.


No sooner had son sunk the final putt Mr Wakefield was straight on the

mobile to mum back in the Westlands. “I know what she’s going through, she

won’t look at the live scores on the internet as she thinks it brings bad

luck,” he said as he wandered out of earshot to pass on the good news to the

wife via his mobile.


For Jorge and Matthew, the news wasn’t good. They were soon to be preparing

for long journeys back to South America and Australia in heartbreak.


As Simon headed off to the driving range for extra practice with caddy Andy,

myself and Ian headed off to the giant scoreboard located infront of the

putting green.


“They call it the wailing wall,” he said. And as I looked around at the long

faces of players and family members staring disconsolately at the scoreboard

it was easy to see why. Only the second day and some players had racked up

scores well into their teens, more than 20 shots behind the leader. Their

dreams and hopes dashed already.


For those players, it was almost inevitable that they would be looking for

alternative forms of income for the following season. This place truly is

the school of hard knocks.


Over six rounds of golf the best players will always come to the fore on two

exacting courses like San Roque’s New and Old. Wakefield played like a demon

for the five consecutive days to thrust himself well clear of 35th place.

And by the morning of the final round the his name was still top of the pile

at nine under par alongside joint leader Frenchman Francois Delamontagne.


To the neutral observer it was clear that Simon was going to secure his

place in the top 35 but dad, never one to count his chickens, was having

none of it.


“You never know, anything could happen yet, he could drive the ball out

of…” daring not to finish the sentence. It was clear the wounds of Woburn

were still very sore.


Simon did little to ease his own or his father’s nerves with an iffy start

that saw him four over par after the opening eight holes. Caught between a

Roque and a hard place? Just when things looked like getting out of hand

Wakefield dug deep and rallied towards the end of his round to secure a

superb overall second behind the fast finishing Swede Peter Gustaffsson.


As he holed his par putt on very last hole it was clear the pressure of a

very long week had taken a tremendous toll on the Wakefield family.


Dad was straight over to embrace his son and the tears quickly arrived.

“It’s been so hard on us all with what happened at Woburn,” said Simon

straight afterwards. It was interesting to hear him use the word ‘us’ rather

than ‘me’.


“But it’s all been worth it in the end,” he said happily.


The ghost of Woburn banished this truly was Wakey’s time to rise and shine

in the Autumn Spanish sunshine.

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