Just like many around the country yesterday, for Naas’ Jonathan Yates It was back to school time only his was at in Florida at the Mission Inn Club and Resort’s El Campeón course in Howey-in-the-Hills and was the opening day of the MacKenzie Tour Q-School (Canadian PGA Tour).
With a full MacKenzie Tour exemption for the winner, 2nd through 6th exempt after a mid-season reshuffle and 7th through 25th getting conditional membership, there is a lot to play for and Yates is currently in T12 place on 2-under par, just three shots off the lead after day one.
“The golf course is very very difficult,” said Yates. “Holes 1-8 are very tight off the tee and then the greens are extreme to say the least. You’ve to be very tactical and work your way around and that was my plan for the day.
“Myself and my caddie made a good game plan and I was level through the first 8 holes but I didn’t take the chances I made for myself and then I bogeyed 10 with the only poor shot I hit all day. I pushed a 3-iron which ended up in the hazard and made 6. I was steady from there, picked up a birdie on the par 5, 14th, I holed a nice 12-footer on the 15th for birdie too and then got another on the 17th.
“Anything breaking par here is a good score though as you can see from the scoring and my patience paid off, they don’t call this place Mission Impossible for no reason!”
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With Covid restrictions putting paid to many of the best laid plans the former West of Ireland Champion had to look further afield than usual for competition and while forecasting restrictions was difficult he has a plan and it’s going well so far.
“At the end of last season I sat down with my team and we reviewed what had gone well, what could be improved etc. and we settled on a plan to come out here and play on the Minor League Tour in West Palm Beach and then onto the MacKenzie Tour,” added Yates.
“I’ve been here for the first two months of the year now and the goal coming over was to be competitive. As competitive as I possibly can and then of course to get status on the MacKenzie Tour which means finishing inside that Top-25.
“It’s difficult with all the Covid restrictions and it’s been a tricky 12 months for everyone but coming here took me out of my comfort zone and I’m loving every minute of it. I’m competing against some very good players and while I struggled initially with the courses and the Bermuda grass when I first arrived I can see the improvement and every day I’m getting a little better.
“It’s a good experience and my focus is on getting a card here and giving myself options. The quality of players here is immense. The scores at the top in Europe are similar to the scores here but there are just so many more players at that top level here than in Europe.”
Yates is just one of the many Irish professionals trying different things this year and the commitment is a big one. The sacrifices they are making for the (hopeful) career benefits are pretty big too and Yates for one is very appreciative of the support he’s been receiving.
“It’s very tough for me not being able to see family and friends and particularly my girlfriend. Fortunately for me they’ve all been very supportive the whole way through as this isn’t an easy road.
While it’s tough for me I’m very aware that they sacrifice a lot when I go away for this amount of time too and I’m just trying to do the best I can for my career and make the most of the opportunities while I have them.”
As for the tournament, there’s a quartet leading the way on 5-under par including amateur Zack Taylor who turned in his round with darkness setting in. He joined Luis Gagne, Isidro Benitez and Cristian DiMarco atop the leaderboard and they lead another amateur, Christopher Williard, by a shot, with five players tied at 3-under and two back.