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Golf | SA

Justin Walters © Gallo Images

Justin ready for the big time

It’s been a truly memorable 2012 for Justin Walters, as the man from Country Club Johannesburg climbed one of golf’s toughest mountains to achieve what he wanted -- an European Tour card.

It took 21 pain-staking events and €69 913 on the Challenge Tour to get there, but his 15th-place finish in the final standings was good enough.

Having spent much of the season on the fringes just outside the top-20 (which automatically earns a card), his place looked anything but assured. But two fine performances in Lyon and in the Apulia San Domenica Grand Final during October were enough to get him over the line when it counted.

“I don’t know if it’s sunk in properly yet, but I’m really chuffed,” he told supersport.com. “It’s been a wonderful, hard learning experience for me and my game, and to come out of the Challenge Tour with a card is just such a boost for my career.”

It didn’t come easy at all for Walters. He spent time on the Web.com Tour in America, but after his mother fell ill with cancer, he decided to return to South Africa and play his first full year on the Sunshine Tour. However, it was only after his maiden victory in Swaziland last year that he knew he was ready to go abroad again.

“Last year I broke through when I won the Investec (Royal Swazi Sun Open), and I’d say that was probably a huge defining moment for me. I’d always question myself and wonder why I was playing overseas if I hadn’t even won in my own country. So that was a big monkey off my back, and I felt that after the Swazi win I could really do something in Europe,” the 32-year-old said.

“I nearly got my card through Q-school last year, and then I decided to give the Challenge Tour a go this year. And I think it was the best decision I ever made,” he added with a broad grin.

Many South Africans look at the euro sign in front of the prize money on the Challenge Tour and still believe it is an easy or lucrative lifestyle. Walters reveals that it is quite the opposite, and it makes his achievement all the more impressive.

“I fully respect why they call it the Challenge Tour now. You don’t play for a lot of money most of the time. You travel far and wide, so your expenses are pretty much on a par with the European Tour, except for the cost of a caddie.

“We play in some of the worst conditions in countries at the wrong time of year, and golf courses often aren’t even ready for our arrival. So you play on tough surfaces and conditions. Yes, it’s not glamorous, but you really learn how to play the game and to sharpen your teeth. And if you can come out on top, it really prepares you for the next level,” Walters said.

Having emerged from such a trying year, it was all the more frustrating for the likeable Walters to be unable to kickstart his 2013 season at Royal Durban on Thursday, as the course, which sits below sea-level, was waterlogged after excessive recent rains in the area.

“It was unfortunate that we got the rain when we did. This course is low-lying, so it’s obviously susceptible to that kind of rain. Hopefully Mother Nature gives us a shot at it tomorrow and I can start my campaign,” he said.

The Nelson Mandela Championship this week is only the beginning, and taking the next step and retaining his card will be no easy task for Walters. But he is also a man who had to endure extraordinary pressures and circumstances en route to gaining it this past year, and he certainly won’t be giving it up without a fight.


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