DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – Europe’s elite may be teeing it up here this week in a battle that should see the title of European No. 1 come down to a duel between Lee Westwood and Rory McIlroy.
Fifty-eight of the 60 players eligible for the Dubai World Championship are in the field – only Paul Casey (injury) and Angel Cabrera (indifference) are missing. Despite the wealth of talent on display, there are a number of players in the field who seem as if they don’t belong.
The guys I am about to list are living proof that all it takes to succeed in the pro game is dedication and hard work. I hail the following players; to me they are Europe’s overachievers. They’ve battled against adversity and earned their place in the sun.
Here are my top 10 overachievers in Dubai this week, in alphabetical order.
Thomas Aiken, South Africa, 26. Hardly anyone outside South Africa had heard of Aiken before this year. Then he finished seventh at the WGC–CA Championship at Doral and everyone took notice. If that seemed a flash in the pan then consider this: the South African has six other top-10s this year, including eighth in the Open Championship.
Jamie Donaldson, Wales, 34. Donaldson was last man in this week. He made the top 60 on the bubble, finishing €7,381.37 ahead of Darren Clarke. It’s good going for a guy who had to return to European Tour Qualifying School three years ago. Donaldson has four top-10 finishes this season, including a runner-up at the SAS Masters. Moreover, his €542,115 in earnings represents his best season as a pro.
David Drysdale, Scotland, 34. After years as a nearly man, Drysdale is making up for years of sheer hard graft. For two consecutive years (2005-2006) the Scot missed out on keeping his tour card by the narrowest of margins – €586 in ’05 and €1,139 in ’06. He’s never finished better than 114th on the money list since he joined the Tour in 2001. This season he is 48th with over €600,000 thanks to six top-10 finishes, including a second and two third places.
Soren Kjeldsen, Denmark, 34. The slightly-built Dane looks like golf’s version of the 90-pound weakling. He looks like the sort of guy that if he turned up on the first tee you’d want to give him two strokes a side. Yet he’s one of the most successful European players in recent years. He has two European Tour wins, including last year’s Volvo Masters. This year he won the Andalucia Open and notched six other top-10s. He arrived in Dubai with over €1.3 million in earnings and 11th on the money list.
Peter Lawrie, Ireland, 35. The Dubliner looks like he should be playing in the club championship rather than the Tour Championship. Forty-third on the money list with over €650,000, Lawrie couldn’t add to his debut victory this year. However, he had four top-10s, including a runner-up at the KLM Open.
Gareth Maybin, Northern Ireland, 29. College golf fans will remember Maybin. He spent three years at the University of South Alabama. He’s also paid his dues in the minor leagues, including the Hooters Tour and the European Challenge Tour. Maybin got his European Tour card in 2007 and hasn’t looked back. He started this season with a bang, finishing second in the South African Open. Five other top-10s and €570,000 in earnings earned him a spot in Dubai.
Damien McGrane, Ireland, 38. McGrane looks like he should be giving lesson to 18 handicappers rather than playing alongside Westwood, McIlroy and the like. In fact, six years ago the Irishman was teaching handicap golfers. In 2003, he earned his European Tour card in his fifth attempt and hasn’t looked back. No wins this season, but a victory in the China Open last year is proof that perseverance pays off.
Robert Rock, England, 32. Rock is another who was giving lesson not too long ago. He paid his dues as a club professional at the delightfully-named Swingers Driving Range near his home in Lichfield. After five years of yo-yoing between the Challenge Tour and main tour, Rock got his just rewards this year. No victories, but three runner-ups and a slew of good results adds up to over €860,000 and 27th on the European pecking order.
Graeme Storm, England, 31. I watched Storm win the 1999 British Amateur Championship and thought I’d seen a star in the making. Injuries and troubles with management group ISM derailed his career. However, he’s fought back and is enjoying success. In 2005, he finished 16th in Europe and has played decently ever since. He hasn’t won since the 2007 French Open, but should add another victory in 2010.
Anthony Wall, England, 34. I once played in a pro-am with Anthony Wall and he played so poorly that he suggested I sign the scorecard as the professional and he sign as the amateur. He was dreadful. However, it just shows how fickle this game is. Wall only has one European Tour victory, the 2000 Alfred Dunhill Championship, but he’s a money earner. He’s never been off the Tour since 1998, and has never finished a season worse than 90th. This year he has seven top-10 finishes and over €670,000 in earnings.
Proof that consistency can make you a lot of money in professional golf.