Walters on his way up
From securing his European Tour card to playing without his own clubs in a matchplay event, it has been a long season for South African golfer Justin Walters.
Walters was the only South African to earn his 2013 European Tour card, after finishing 15th on the European Challenge Tour moneylist, and he left it right to the final event to secure his playing privileges for next season.
Walters was 23rd on the moneylist going into the final event in Italy and needed to move inside the top 20 to guarantee his card.
He finished fifth to ensure he made it under extreme pressure, and it was by the narrowest of margins. If he was two shots worse for the week, he may have missed out completely.
“I had about eight events left to secure a card and I left it a little late,” Walters said at Serengeti Golf and Wildlife Estate where he is playing in the 102nd SA Open which started on Thursday.
“I had to get it all done in the last one, but it's just truly a hard tour to do all that.
"But once you get it through that tour you get a really good opportunity the next year.
“With the card I have, I get ranked ahead of Q-school in Europe, so I will get plenty of playing opportunities, and I'm trying to secure my place for the following years on tour.”
It was also his 19th event in 20 weeks, and to get over the final hurdle at the end of a gruelling schedule was good reward for the 32-year-old.
“After a year on that tour I can certainly see why they call it the Challenge Tour," he said.
"It really challenges you on every level you can imagine.”
As for his goals for next season, Walters said he would first have to learn the ropes before making targets.
“I'm lucky that there's a big tribe of South Africans playing there (on the European Tour).
“I've already spoken to a couple of the players and the caddies asking if they can take me under their wings and show me the ropes. I'll be relying on them as much as I can and hopefully in a year's time I can sit here and tell you more.”
Walters returned to South Africa in October to play in the Sunshine Tour's SA Matchplay Championships, and having come straight from Italy, he had to deal with the airline temporarily losing his clubs.
“I came straight from Italy and arrived the night before and the airlines didn't have my clubs.
"I went into my room and grabbed a couple of clubs, and whatever I couldn't find I went to my brother and matched a set together and managed to win the first match.
“It was an interesting experience because I was in my ninth week in a row and I didn't have clubs. It was a pretty gutsy performance to at least get through two matches.
“I hit a wall in the third round and bowed out gracefully.”
He turned professional in 2003 and can still recall the first event he played – the British Masters – where he narrowly missed the cut.
“A funny story that. My cousin came to watch with a newborn baby and on the 10th hole – I was a couple of shots inside the cut – I blocked my tee shot.
“She came to look and she pushed her pram over the golf ball, so everyone was looking for the golf ball and my five minutes ran out.
"Once the time was up she pushed the pram and they found the ball, but it was a two-shot penalty and I just missed the cut. It certainly changed my frame of mind.”
Walters has had a steady rise through the ranks since then, and now with the aid of his countrymen, he hopes to add his name to the brood of successful South African golfers campaigning abroad.