After describing his debut at the PGA Cup as the best experience of his entire playing career, former DP World Tour winner Simon Thornton speaks openly about more golf matters close to his heart, such as the PGA Irish Region, family balance and how distance has completely changed the game on tour.
I qualified to compete at a few DP Word Tour events this year and by far the biggest thing was distance. These boys are way out of my league, not the ability to compete, but the distances they hit the ball. I played with Callum Shinkwin and Oliver Bekker at the Hero Open in Fairmont, and they were 50 yards past me sometimes. I never really grasped the gulf in distance (since coming off tour). This is where I had to park my ego and realise, I’m 45 and they’re not even 25!
I‘m carrying it less than I ever did, around 260-yards, maybe running out to 280-290. These guys are flying it over 300 no bother. And these boys are not even the longest out there. That distance difference changes everything. I could be playing a five-iron approach compared to them flicking in a wedge. You can’t compete with that over four days.
I still strike it as well as they do and have the short game to compete, but the distance is massive. It’s prohibitive for a player like me.
PGA IRISH REGION
I’m a big supporter of the PGA Irish Region. We have a strong region, but I believe we should be stronger as a PGA circuit. We have some great events, but we need to up the ante in Ireland, both in number of events and prize funds. The product itself is still weak.
Take the Irish Golfer events as an example, they have the flags, banners, freebies, tents, signage, the works. The circus is in town and everyone knows it. I only use Irish Golfer as an example because I know Peter and the lads and what they do is very good. PGA Irish Region events need to be more of an occasion. We need to do it bigger and better than other events.
It’s also an age-old issue; we need to find better ways to monetise our product. The PGA has a USP for Pro-ams, sounds obvious but we have a professional playing with three amateurs, it gives us something extra to offer.
I could get shot here, but personally I think some of my peers like the idea of giving more of their time, but when it comes to the crunch, I’m not sure they want to put the work in. I’ll always try and help where I can. Sometimes it’s about what you put in, rather than what you take out.
We have some great sponsors and support in the Region. What we have at the K Club is brilliant, the support is massive. Slieve Russell and others are great events. I believe we need to focus on the product instead of constantly worrying about prize money. If the product is great, then the prize funds will come.
Look, everything has gone up, I understand that – especially in today’s straitened times. We are miles behind what we played for in the Region 20 years ago. Remember those dizzy heights when a Smurfit Irish PGA Championship carried a €125,000 purse. Wouldn’t it be great to find a way back to those days.
FUTURE AND FAMILY BALANCE
Quite a few have asked me if I plan to play on the senior circuit. I’d love to have a go and hopefully I’d get my first year because of my 2013 win on the then European Tour. But things have changed, it’s not all about golf for me, it’s about family life and the balance, that’s far more important at this moment in our lives.
It’s one of the main reasons I enjoy playing in the Region because I can get home and spend time with the family and do other things, like helping to coach the local football team my son plays with, or to watch the kids play their hockey, football, or compete at running events.
I don’t want to miss out on the kids growing up because I did that for too long earlier in my career when I was on the road.
Yes, I enjoyed the few DP World Tour events I qualified to play in this season. My wife Ciara and I discussed it at length, and it came down to a frank conversation of cost. Some people don’t realise a week competing on tour could cost £4,000 before you start. That cost element brings its own pressure, never mind trying to compete in a golf tournament.