2005: PGA European Tour - Lone American accepts the Challenge
Brad Sutterfield is trying hard to find positives in the season just past. There are many. He’s just having a difficult time identifying them.
Not many American professionals have passports that bear the stamps of countries such as Panama, Peru, Portugal, France, Russia, Spain, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Denmark, Germany, France, Italy, Switzerland, Austria, Kazakhstan.
Not many can claim 100,000 air miles traveling back and forth across the Atlantic to earn a living. Sutterfield can.
Sutterfield, 36, was sitting at home last winter wondering what to do with his career after missing out at the first stage of PGA Tour Qualifying School when he received a phone call that stopped him from putting his sticks away for the winter. It was the Canadian Tour telling Sutterfield he was eligible to play in the Panama Open and the Peru Open, a pair of events cosanctioned by the European Challenge Tour.
Sutterfield, a former BYU player who won the 2004 Barton Classic on the Canadian Tour and finished fourth on that tour’s money list, saw it as little more than a two-tournament gig to earn some money. Then, he won in Peru.
That’s when he made the difficult decision to play the European Challenge Tour full time. Difficult because a year in Europe meant long stretches away from his wife, Tanya, and young children, Drew and Camryn.
Sutterfield had never been across the pond, but he packed his bags and headed for Europe’s junior circuit, intent on earning one of the 20 cards onto the 2006 PGA European Tour and getting a crash course in European culture.
The sacrifice seemed destined to pay off after Sutterfield won the Open de Toulouse, the third-to-last event of the season. That moved him to 18th on the money list. He entered the Challenge Tour Grand Final in late October in the 19th spot with a good chance of earning his place among Europe’s elite.
Four birdies in his last six holes helped Sutterfield to a tie for 20th. It wasn’t good enough. Irishman Stephen Browne finished six shots better to leapfrog Sutterfield into the 19th spot on the money list, and Finland’s Toni Karjalainen finished three shots better to hold onto the 20th spot.
Sutterfield finished 21st and missed his card by only 1,047 euros (approximately $1,231). He then missed the cut by 15 shots at the final stage of European Tour Q-School. A year of tramping around the backwoods of Europe had been in vain.
“I think I’m over it,” Sutterfield said from his Utah home late last month. “I mean what do you do? I gave it my best and just came up short. I know finishing 20th would probably not have got me into too many tournaments next year, but it was an important milestone. I’m trying hard to find the positives, but it’s difficult.”
Many American players have used the European Tour as a potential stepping-stone to the PGA Tour. The trend is dying. The last American to play the European Tour full time was Tom Gillis in 2002.
Gillis, a Michigan native, missed Detroit Tigers baseball games and classic rock and roll. For Sutterfield, it was the simpler things in life.
“It was hard being so far from my family, my wife and kids, living in hotel rooms,” he said. “I’d spend six weeks away, then home for two, then four weeks away, then home for two, then another five weeks in Europe. The tough times were when I missed the cut, because I couldn’t just pop home for the weekend. I’d practice, then do the tourist thing. I got to see Geneva, Vienna and a lot of historic places.
“The biggest problem was not having the convenience of life in the States. I loved Europe. I loved the culture and the diversity, but it was a little harder to get around.”
Sutterfield found out just how hard when he went from London to St. Omer in Northern France, a trip that included a train journey, a bus ride, a ferry across the English Channel and another bus trip. Twelve hours later, an exhausted Sutterfield arrived to find out he could have shaved hours off the trip if he’d taken the tunnel that links England and France.
Or the time he fought his way through rush-hour commuters in Belgium while changing trains on a journey from France to Germany. Sutterfield lugged his bags and his clubs through the station and found the correct platform for the next train only to discover he’d left a knapsack full of valuables on his previous train. Like a fish swimming upstream, he turned around and hauled his luggage back through the throng to the first train to find a guard, who did not speak English and wouldn’t let him on the train. Sutterfield eventually managed to persuade the guard and retrieved his valuables.
He knew language would be a barrier, but not with fellow English speakers. Sutterfield discovered that the U.S. and Great Britain are two nations separated by a common language.
“The hardest guys to understand were guys like Michael Hoey (Northern Ireland) and Marc Warren (Scotland),” Sutterfield said. “It took me a while to understand Hoey, but half the time I did not know what Marc was saying.
“It did build a lot of character and patience. Experiences like that were new to me because I’d never been to Europe before, and I pretty much had to work everything out for myself.”
Sutterfield isn’t sure what the future holds. He didn’t sound too convincing when he talked about returning for another crack at the Challenge Tour, saying he would play a few events early and base his decision on results. He got off to a good start at the season-opening Abierto Mexicano Corona event Dec. 1-4, shooting a final-round 66 to tie for 10th.
Sutterfield gained his PGA Tour card for the 1997 season but made only four cuts in 20 starts and finished 243rd on the money list with $18,649.
But Sutterfield’s PGA Tour dream isn’t dead. He is driven by the same hope that drove Todd Hamilton to spend years in Asia before he gained U.S. success.
“If I’d finished way down the money list, then it might be time to head down a different road,” he said. “But I was so close. It seems the door is halfway open, and all I need to do is give it a good kick. There’s a lot of guys on the PGA Tour that I’ve played with, and I know deep down I can compete with them.”