So near, yet so far for Bradshaw
Many people believe that the sixth edition of the Africa Open began earlier this morning. A total of 156 players teed it up on a windy Thursday in East London, all chasing the €158 500 winner's cheque – one that can make or break a season.
But for 72 Sunshine Tour professionals, the week started – and ended – on Tuesday at the Fish River Sun in the pre-qualifying.
82 hopefuls made the long trip to the heart of the Eastern Cape to vie for 10 coveted spots in the tournament courtesy of a one-round shootout.
Paul Bradshaw, a category 13 member of the Tour, was one of these men looking to make the grade for the lucrative co-sanctioned event, and got his round underway bright and early just after 7am.
Under unimaginable pressures, the Johannesburg resident fired a four-under-par 68, and understandably felt good about his chances.
"Last year 69 was good enough to get through here, but it was windier then so it changes things," Bradshaw explained on Wednesday.
"I didn't have a specific number in mind – I just wanted to get off to a good start. You don't want to put yourself on the back foot, so you need to be at least a one or two under after five.
"I was really happy with my round. I didn't make a bogey and I had two birdies on each nine. I had half-chances of birdies at 17 and 18, but if you'd offered me a 68 in the morning, I would have taken it and probably been confident of going through," he added.
Bradshaw had been in the second group of the morning, and had to endure an agonising wait for many hours to discover his fate. Things began well, as, with half the field having finished, he found himself comfortably poised in second place. But as the afternoon wore on, that began to change.
"I kept checking the scores on my phone, and about three-quarters of the way through the afternoon, a flurry of good scores came in. But even then, it looked as though it might be nine of us in a playoff for seven spots, which isn't bad.
"I knew I could be more defensive if that was the case, and a par on the 10th (the first playoff hole) would probably be good enough," the 29 year-old said.
But it got worse, as more scores of 68 came in at the death. Suddenly it was nine men in a playoff fighting for three precious spots. Those with 67 or better could celebrate. For Paul, it was do or die.
"I made my par on 10, and three guys fell out. Then I took driver on the 18th (the second playoff hole), which was an aggressive play because I'd used an iron there in the morning. I hit a good one about 35 metres short of the green, but I couldn't make a birdie. Four guys did, so that was me. Now I'm at home.
"It's a really difficult one to take, because I was so close to playing in an event that could have changed my year, or even my career. These co-sanctioned events are such a big carrot for players like me.
"But the most frustrating thing is that my year hasn't even started yet. I've tried to pre-qualify for the Telkom (PGA Pro Am), Joburg (Open) and now this, and shot one-under, level and four-under in each, and I still haven't played a tournament yet," he lamented.
Such disappointment and frustration is difficult to comprehend for someone who nine-to-fives it. A steady income from a safe job surely seems preferable to the perils of a career so volatile.
But of course, not many of us can shoot scores of 71, 72 and 68 under such extraordinary pressure – Bradshaw is clearly a special player with the potential to make the big time. He just needs that break.
"I feel like I'm playing really well, and I just want next week's pre-q (for Dimension Data Pro-Am) to come now – the week's wait is a killer. It would just be so much better if there could perhaps be 15 spots available instead of 10. If you start knowing your chances are better, it gives you more hope and belief," Bradshaw noted.
"I'm going to keep going though. I know my game is moving in the right direction, and I've just got to believe that one of these days it will come. There are tons of guys around me who are also missing out so I'm not the only one. I've just got to do what I can."
Perhaps it is such extreme competition that has led to South Africa enjoying the pool of talent it does today. But it's tough out there, make no mistake.
Tip your cap to these boys, because they have patience and determination that the overwhelming majority of us do not.
And who knows, perhaps one day Bradshaw may find himself in the final three-ball of a tournament like the Africa Open – not the pre-qualifying.