It was Padraig Harrington who said that if you have aspirations of being a professional tour player, you can’t winter in Ireland, and that was before any Covid-related restrictions doubled down on the recent doom for our struggling satellite pros.
Starved of competition since the pandemic decimated tour schedules across Europe, some of Ireland’s future tour hopefuls have fled the nest for opportunity further afield, and some have found success on their travels.
For St Anne’s professional Cameron Raymond, his winter work culminated in a first professional victory on the little-known Toro Tour in Spain. Having shown form with three top-10 finishes from three starts, Raymond bounced back from an opening 76 with a bogey-free seven-under 64 to take his first title in the paid circuit by two strokes in February.
“I actually had poor starts in all four events,” Raymond recalls. “I sat down with Steven [Palmer – Coach] and we put it down to wanting to win so badly that I was putting a lot of pressure on myself really quickly out the gate. I was getting frustrated early in rounds, dropping a few shots and then when you’re miles behind on the second day and it doesn’t really matter, you free up a bit and can play your golf.”
That wasn’t quite the winning formula, however, when Raymond did eventually get over the line. Having just birdied the par-4 16th in the final round, he was told on the 17th tee that he had suddenly tied the lead. The news could’ve planted a seed of doubt that he’d played without for 16 holes, but in the end it did the opposite, Raymond nailing birdies at his closing two holes to complete a resounding maiden win.
“I obviously didn’t win a major, it’s not the biggest thing in the world by any means, but me and Steven had a really good chat about it,” Raymond reflects. “It’s not about the win specifically but the way I did it. I found out on the 17th tee having birdied 16 that I was tied for the lead and I pushed on then and had two more birdies.
“In my head, that’s what was so good about it. I knew I was in a position to win and went on and did it so it was a nice validation that everything we’ve been doing together is going in the right direction.”
It was validation too for deciding to escape Ireland in the first place, flying out ahead of the country going into its latest lockdown. He landed in Spain on the 4th of January despite some naysayers questioning whether he should’ve been leaving the country at all during such a troubled time.
“I actually got a bit of stick from a few people when I first decided to leave but when I was trying to weigh up the merits of it in my head, I thought, ‘well the flights are going’,” Raymond says. “I thought, I can either sit here and regress during the winter or I can just go and get on with it. It’s my job at the end of the day.”
And why wouldn’t he leave? With golf in lockdown in Ireland, Raymond was able to further his career by traveling to the sun-soaked region of Estepona where his coach runs the Steven Palmer Golf Academy at Valle Romana.
“It was a semi-lockdown when I first got over here, bars and restaurants weren’t open and there was a 10 o’clock curfew but I could play and practice as much as I wanted,” Raymond says. “I’ve been working with Steven for two and a half years now. This is my third winter out here and I’m very lucky to have access to it. It’s rained once since I’ve been here and the facilities are great.”
Together, Raymond and Palmer have been able to prep for the new season uninterrupted with the Newlands product targeting the start of the EuroPro Tour season in May having earned the maximum category 3 status at Q-School last October
“I’m half thinking about staying out here and going straight to EuroPro to give myself the best chance at a good start to the season,” Raymond admits. “If I was to go home now I’d have to wait until May for the first three events and everything I’ve done up to now would be a waste of time then because I’d end up going in rusty all over again.
“It’s still a bit up in the air with restrictions at home and it’s hard to know how quarantine will be implemented between Ireland and the UK for EuroPro so it’s hard to decide anything concrete right now.
“But it’s the support I have from Kedington and all my sponsors who allow me to have this freedom to focus on my golf and I’m so grateful for them. When I sit down with my sponsors at the start of the year, we include the likes of this in our expenses. It’s all part of my winter programme, to spend a bit of time with Steven and prepare as best I can for the season.
“The one thing I would say though is that once you’re over here, it’s very cheap. I’m spending very little. I do my weekly shop for fifty quid or so and it lasts me ages. I prep my meals for the week and eat off that daily. You could spend all your money in a couple of weeks if you really wanted to but I do it as smart as possible.”
Not quite the glamorous life of the Tour pro projected to the world by PGA and European Tour broadcasts each week then, but Raymond wouldn’t trade his position for the world.
“It’s a bit of a grind but you have to enjoy it as well and I actually really enjoy it,” he says unequivocally. “I enjoy everything about it, even when I’m playing badly, just the whole process of figuring out why, and then how I can get better. I have a great team around me to help with that but I’ve also no problem spending time on my own either. I’d happily be by myself the whole time if I needed to be, just hitting balls and playing golf.”