Euro Tour grinder Elson hits stride at Joburg Open

Jamie Elson (file photo)

How long does a struggling professional have to struggle before he or she throws in the towel? Three years, five years, even ten years?

The question is relevant given the performance of England’s Jamie Elson. Had he opted for the shorter struggle period then he’d probably be working in some club pro job now instead of finishing second in the Joburg Open.

The former Augusta State player opened and closed with scores of 63 to fall one shot short of Branden Grace’s 17-under total. Elson’s consolation was a check for €149,500 that moved him to third on the European money list.

Not bad for a guy who seemed to have fallen off the face of the earth a few years ago.

Elson played on the same 2001 Great Britain & Ireland Walker Cup team as Luke Donald, Graeme McDowell and Nick Dougherty. Like that illustrious trio, he turned professional straight afterwards. Unlike them, he’s still waiting for his first European Tour victory. Judging by his performances the last season and a bit, he might not have to wait much longer.

Elson is either a salutary lesson in persistence for struggling tour pros, or false beacon of hope. In the nine years since he turned professional, Elson has encountered more potholes on the road to success than smooth tarmac.

The Englishman falls under the description of yo-yo player, as in he’s yo-yoed back and forth between the European Tour and European Challenge Tours.

The 30-year-old has made six trips to the European Tour Qualifying School. He’s been successful twice. He took the 15th card in 2009 but couldn’t maintain his status on Tour during the 2010 season.

He failed to get his card for the 2011 season at the Q School, yet still had a good year even on a limited schedule. Elson ended last season 128th on the money list with over €200,000 from just 20 events. He fell just 13 spots short of gaining a card for this year’s European Tour.

It called for another trip to the Q School. He waited until the last minute to secure his playing rights for this season. He holed a 40-foot putt on the final green to take one of the last cards. Now he’s hoping to make a permanent home on the European Tour.

I covered Elson in amateur golf and, like the many other amateurs I’ve written about over the years, I’ve watched his career with a lot of interest. I spent a lot of time talking to Elson last year and was struck by his inner belief. “I know I’m good enough to make it out here,” he told me. “I think I know the game better now, I think I know my swing better – what works and what doesn’t – it’s just a matter of putting it all together.”

I hope Elson’s right. I hope this year will be the start of a lengthy run on the European Tour. He obviously has the courage of his convictions. Why else would he still be chasing the dream?

As for others, it’s hard to tell when they should take an honest look in the mirror and have that “I’m not good enough to make it conversation.” A glance around the mini tours over here often makes for depressing reading. I see “names” – can’t miss kids – I covered in amateur golf still teeing it up on so-called development circuits long after they should’ve developed on the European Tour.

I think when you’ve kicked around the mini-tours for, say, four years and haven’t even been able to crack even the European Challenge Tour, then maybe it’s time for the conversation.

Sadly, too many don’t want to face the brutal truth. Like Elson they keep running at that brick wall. Unlike Elson, many don’t possess the same calibre to burst through it.

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