10 years after Jonathan Caldwell plied his trade as a spritely 25-year old on the Main Tour with little success, the now 35-year old Clandeboye professional is relishing a second shot at the big time after coming through 180 holes of Qualifying School hell unscathed and with a European Tour card in his pocket.
“It’s wild, absolutely wild but it could be a lot worse,” Caldwell laughed of his mobile phone that’s been lighting up more regularly than a Wall Street stock exchange.
A EuroPro regular this year who narrowly missed out on his full Challenge Tour card on the Satellite Tour’s Order of Merit, Caldwell has now sidestepped the Challenge Tour completely after securing Category 17 status for the Main Tour for 2019/10.
“It’s massive obviously,” he said of the rise. “Where I was only five weeks ago at the EuroPro Tour finals, to be where I am now is just a bit crazy to be honest. But that’s the game – that’s Q-School for you – and I’m obviously delighted.”
It would’ve been understandable for the Northern Irishman to park the clubs until Christmas to digest a whirlwind few weeks with his feet up but Caldwell chose to return to a venue he was familiar with in South Africa for event one of the new season – the Alfred Dunhill at Leopard Creek Country Club.
“I did fancy a break but I’d played Leopard Creek before and the Kruger National Park was just one place I couldn’t pass up,” he said.
“I really enjoyed playing there and I knew I had a break coming over Christmas to get ready for the New Year so it couldn’t have worked out much better.”
Riding the crest of a wave from Q-School in Lumine to top tier golf in Malelane, Caldwell came up trumps with a top-15 finish, collecting €20,550 for one week’s work. To put that performance in perspective; for 15 events played on the EuroPro Tour this year, Caldwell banked £21,061 to eventually finish seventh over the season long Order of Merit.
“By the time you take away tax and other expenses it’s not quite as impressive a number but when you compare it to any given week on the EuroPro, it certainly opens your eyes to the opportunities of the Main Tour,” Caldwell said, wary that the step-up in grade doesn’t guarantee access to the buffet at golf’s top table.
“I need to source sponsors to cover the year and what not but I’m not going out looking for a management group,” he revealed. “I made the mistake of having one before and it didn’t work out for me so I certainly won’t be making the same mistake again.”
“I’ve had great support from friends through the years and it feels amazing to have repaid their faith in me. They’re happy to continue to support me which is great because expenses increase on the Main Tour and you need to play golf stress–free and not have those worries of the next pay cheque hanging over your head.”
Not quite through the Pearly Gates yet then but given this won’t be a Rookie year, rather a shot at redemption with 10 years of Tour experience in hand, Caldwell believes he’s much better prepared in 2019 to unlock the door to his dreams.
“In ‘09 I was straight out of college. I was still just an amateur golfer really who managed to get through Q-School and grab a European Tour card which was awesome at the time but I certainly wasn’t prepared for it,” he admitted.
“I probably needed a bit more guidance at that time in terms of schedules and planning, what to do, what not to do. I’m much better off that way now. I’ve 10 years professional golf under my belt. I’ve travelled. I know when to practice, when to take time off, when to grind. I’m much better equipped now to deal with what’s coming.
“There’ll be a bit of guessing in terms of scheduling with category 17. There’ll be some weeks where I have to wait, late calls, but that’s all part of it. I’ll also have Challenge Tour to play if I feel there’s gaps there that I need to fill. There’ll be plenty of opportunities.
“I feel like I’m in my prime. I’m in my mid-thirties now. I’m fit, I’m healthy. I haven’t lost any length. If anything, I’m longer than I was 10 years ago. I’m certainly better mentally so I don’t feel like I’m coming towards the end of my career at all. This is like a new life and a new start for me and I’ll give it a really good go for the New Year.”