By Alex Narey published
‘If We Are Not Playing, We Are Not Working’ – Pro Admits To Financial Fears After Joburg Open Fiasco
For Andrew Wilson, it should have been a career highlight: making his debut on the DP World Tour at last week’s Joburg Open. Instead, it was a timely reminder that for young golfers who are chasing their dreams of playing at the top level, things can quickly descend into a nightmare.
After carding an opening-round 76, Wilson, one of 20 graduates from the Challenge Tour, had just woken to prepare for his second round on the Firethorn Course. With a morning tee time, he had gone to bed early the previous evening and so was unaware of the news that had broken in the middle of the night.
“I played badly, terribly, in fact,” Wilson says of his Thursday 76. “I needed to get an early night’s sleep, but when I woke up at 4.30am to find out that South Africa had been red-listed because of the Omicron Covid variant, that’s when the fun really started!
Wilson, of course, is being sarcastic. Knowing he faced not only a critical decision to withdraw from an event that had been thrown into chaos if he was to get back to his home in England, but also knowing just how difficult that would be with the clock ticking to avoid the red-list hotel quarantine deadline of 4am the following Sunday morning.
“Because I had gone to bed early and the news broke as I slept, quite a few guys had got a head start when it came to booking flights and getting out of there,” Wilson says. “We got to the golf course at about 5.30am Friday, I pulled out at 6.30am and tried to start booking flights. But it was a nightmare. The flights were flying off.”
What transpired was a 39-hour journey that saw Wilson and his caddie Connor Winstanley drive to a covid testing centre, take connecting flights from Johannesburg to Nairobi then out to Doha, before finally boarding a flight to London and arriving at Heathrow at 8pm on Saturday evening. The quarantine deadline had been met, but due to another overnight stay, it would still be another 20 hours before Wilson arrived home in Darlington.
Twenty six players would withdraw or retire from the event, which was eventually reduced to 36 holes with South Africa’s Thriston Lawrence claiming victory and the €138,981 in winnings.
But for Wilson, South Africa has not been a happy hunting ground; last season he flew out to Johannesburg as a reserve player and spent a week kicking his heels only to not get in. It was a gamble that cost the best part of £3,000.
This time round, his top-tier debut would leave a hole of around £5,000, and much worse, with the following two events on the South African swing being swept off the table, his hopes of earning enough to bankroll himself for the next stage of the season have been dealt a huge blow.
“Five grand! You don’t need to be blowing that kind of money on your first week on Tour,” Wilson says. “For me, that could be the best part of playing three events.
“The finances are a big deal. It might not be for top players with the backing, but I heard some silly figures being thrown about, like Dale Whitnell paying out £16,000 to get home as economy seats had all gone, so players had to pay for business and first-class.”
Wilson is quick to praise the European Tour and believes, by and large, Wentworth HQ has had a good eye on its players in terms of a support network during Covid, although he hopes the Tour are able to offer more support, especially over the coming weeks with many players sitting at home unable to play.
“If we are not playing, we are not working,” Wilson says. “During the first lockdown I got a job at Morrisons for two months, just as a delivery driver to supplement my income.
“When you are playing you can win a lot of money, but equally you can lose a lot too. I look at the schedule and we don’t even know when we are going to be playing again. There is obviously Asia in January and Qatar – but you almost have to look at the next month as being written off with no opportunity to earn money.”
Wilson admits to “not being skint” after a solid return last season on the Challenge Tour, but says even being financially stable offers little more than a bit of “security” to play in future events. Life on the DP World Tour brings greater earning potential and exposure for better sponsors, but there is an initial outlay players have to consider when plotting their season’s path. Caddies – a requirement for all players – can come at a minimum cost of £50,000.
And he believes many young golfers have to persevere, their options limited with little else, education wise, to fall back on.
“You start from such a young age and a lot of guys, as they are chasing their dream, don’t stay in education. A lot of players are very reluctant to quit because they don’t have many other options. That is the risk you take when you want to be an elite sportsperson; you have to throw all your eggs in the one basket and just give it a go.
“A bit of money in the bank does not mean it is easy. It might be easier, but it’s never easy. I lost two and a half grand in South Africa last year and somebody suggested I could: ‘Just claim it back, surely?’
“What planet are you on? That’s £2,500 gone. I am never seeing that money again. I’m not complaining; I’m realistic about golf and nobody is expecting handouts but there are no allowances or special treatments for Challenge Tour players.
“You need so much disposable income just to get around. In two months you could play eight events and lose – hypothetically – 20 grand, so you need money sitting there; you can’t just go out and start splashing the cash. You just don’t know when you will need that money.”
To help with the financial support, Wilson has earned a number of endorsements for his maiden season on the Tour. Trak Employment, a recruiting agency in Swindon, is one of those and he admits life would be borderline impossible without sponsorship. “Two bad weeks and your bank balance will be gone,” he says.
With no guaranteed golf on the immediate horizon, Wilson will be looking to sharpen up his game so that he is ready to hit the ground running in the new year, wherever that may be. And, despite the Joburg Open setback, he admits to being “unbelievably excited” for the journey ahead and the challenge that will come from playing alongside Europe’s best players, week in, week out.
But for now, his only immediate concern is getting through his ten-day isolation period, which fortunately he can at least do from his own home, rather than a soulless hotel room on the outskirts of an airport.
“It will at least give me a bit of time to look over my accounts to see where I am at,” he says. “Mind you, that might be a bit dangerous now. I don’t think I’ll bother.”
Alex began his journalism career in regional newspapers in 2001 and moved to the Press Association four years later. He spent three years working at Dennis Publishing before first joining Golf Monthly, where he was on the staff from 2008 to 2015 as the brand's managing editor, overseeing the day-to-day running of our award-winning magazine while also contributing across various digital platforms. A specialist in news and feature content, he has interviewed many of the world's top golfers and returns to Golf Monthly after a three-year stint working on the Daily Telegraph's sports desk. His current role is diverse as he undertakes a number of duties, from managing creative solutions campaigns in both digital and print to writing long-form features for the magazine. Alex has enjoyed a life-long passion for golf and currently plays to a handicap of 13 at Tylney Park Golf Club in Hampshire.