Elson hopes to follow in father's footsteps

New faces for 2004: Golfer aims to put family name back on European Tour's Rookie of Year award after 31-year gap
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The Independent Online

By definition, really, a player only gets one shot at being the Rookie of the Year, who on the European Tour is rewarded with the prestigious Sir Henry Cotton Trophy. Tony Jacklin, Bernard Gallacher, Sam Torrance, Nick Faldo, Sandy Lyle, Jose Maria Olazabal, Colin Montgomerie and Sergio Garcia are among the names that appear on it.

There is also the name, alongside the year of 1973, of Pip Elson. Now, 31 years later, Elson's 22-year-old son, Jamie, will be attempting to make them the first father-and-son duo on the list of winners.

Pip Elson won £2,133 in his rookie season and finished 50th in the order of merit. Jamie, in his first event as a full member of the European Tour, earned £2,212 for claiming joint 46th in the Hong Kong Open at the start of December, when the 2004 order of merit officially got underway.

The Irishman Peter Lawrie won the 2003 Rookie of the Year award after finishing 56th on the order of merit with £294,791. If the monetary figures have become unbelievably inflated, one thing has not changed. When the rookie award first started, the winner was selected by Cotton himself. The tradition continues in that the winner has to impress a panel of judges from the European Tour, the Royal and Ancient and the Association of Golf Writers.

"It's the number one goal, for sure," Elson the younger said. "I would love to get my name on the trophy just like my dad. Looking at previous years, it is going to take a top-50 or a top-60 finish on the order of merit. But I know if I look after my own game, I don't have to think about things like that."

Elson senior retired after 10 years of journeyman status and became the club professional at Stratford-on-Avon. Bashing balls off the 10th tee there is Jamie's first memory of golf. Though encouraged by his father, it was far from his only sport. At school he was a scrum-half at rugby, a centre-forward in hockey, a wicketkeeper in cricket and he also played tennis.

"Golf was always there in the background but I always enjoyed playing team sports," Jamie said. The golf started to take over when he began playing for county junior teams and then, after leaving school, he spent four years at Augusta State University in America.

"It really brought me on," he said. "For the first time I had hours and hours to practise. But it helped me off the course, as well. Having to deal with a different culture helped me mature a lot."

Elson reckons playing college golf in the States combined with being a member of the English Golf Union's Elite Squad meant he was doubly blessed. He played in the winning Walker Cup team at Sea Island in 2001 which also included Luke Donald, Nick Dougherty and Graeme McDowell, while his foursomes partner in the match, Richard McEvoy, won the qualifying school in November.

After three years in the college team, he decided to skip playing in competitions and spend the time working on his game. The Americans call it "red coating". "That's when my game really improved and at the start of the year I knew it was the right time to turn professional," he said. "When you turn pro you want to be playing well and I wanted the whole season to try and get my card."

He made the switch in March but was relying on invitations, both on the main tour - he debuted in Dubai and also finished 22nd at the Benson and Hedges International at The Belfry, not far from his home in Kenilworth - and the Challenge Tour.

It was in his third start on the Challenge Tour that Elson won the Finnish Open in July. "When you turn pro it is difficult to gauge yourself against the players but the win was great to settle me down. It gave me a foot in the door and I knew I had somewhere to play for the rest of the season."

Elson went on to finish 10th on the Challenge Tour money list, from which the top-15 get their cards for the main tour. He won just under £50,000, compared to his father's career earnings of £63,000.

"My dad has always helped me with my swing but he has also given me a lot of advice," Jamie said. "Knowing that he has been there and done it, it is easier to take it from him. We speak after almost every tournament and he does know how I play. We probably play a similar type of game, plotting our way around the course. I never played much with him when I was younger but I used to caddie for him all the time so I must have got it from that."

There has barely been time to sign a clothing contract with Tommy Hilfiger, the latest fashion company to get into golf, and move into a new house, before Elson starts up again in South Africa. "After five months on the Challenge Tour I have gained some priceless experience. I feel ready for the European Tour."