England's toughest golfer battles back from rock bottom: Zane Scotland at last fulfilling promise he showed at 14
Say hello again to England's hottest golfer. It's been a while. Four victories in the opening six tournaments on tour is some statement, but then he was once billed as the next Tiger Woods. These days Zane Scotland is happy to be pain-free and in the winner's enclosure. The Mena Tour (Middle East, North Africa) is somewhat removed from the vision Scotland had as a 16-year-old playing The Open – he remains the youngest to qualify (1999) – but needs must.
Today he tees off at the Abu Dhabi Golf Citizen Open at Saadiyat Island hoping to squirrel away another $10,000 (£6,200) winner's cheque for a rainy day. Don't get carried away. Yes he is enjoying a purple patch and inching beyond the average UK wage, but he is only ever a few disasters from needing a bail-out from dad.
"There is a lot of pressure at this level. Money is easy to come by if you are on the main tour. But once you drop out of that, money is no longer easy to come by. You have to play well just to break even. You have to get to a different level just to earn a little bit, to have a normal living.
"I have won four out of the first six events. That's great, but what if you don't win? The guy who comes second, or a guy who has been up there pretty much every week without winning, he has earned about $15k to $17k. Ok that's nice, but it's cost him a few thousand to be here. It's not a real job is it?"
Scotland is 31. He became engaged last week but there is no date yet for the wedding. Finances are way too fragile for that.
Like any jobbing pro he still harbours dreams of the big show. His victory as a 14-year-old in a nationwide scheme entitled: "Search for a Tiger" and his appearance at Carnoustie gave him a high-profile leg up and representation by IMG, the same group that managed Tiger.
His luck ran out in 2003 when a neck injury sustained in a car accident threatened his early days as a pro. It would be a further four years before he graduated to the main European Tour, the same season as a 17-year-old Rory McIlroy. Scotland fell €70,000 short of retaining his card, and began the long trawl though the golfing hinterland. McIlroy rose to global domination.
Scotland attributes his most recent flowering to full fitness. It took many months and more than a dozen experts to cure his neck injury. It has taken years to figure out how to negotiate golf's nether regions. "I'm in a good patch at the moment but it is by no means easy. I have played at the top level, nice hotels, courtesy cars, well looked after. I have played at a lower level staying in the worst hotels you can think of, getting lost in the back of beyond in a dodgy, little hire car. You look out of your hotel window and see the Little Chef and the petrol station. You think that this is not what you signed on for.
"Someone said that golf is a great game – until you miss three putts in a row. There is pressure at the top, of course, but there is pressure, too, when you are standing over a putt thinking: 'If I don't make this I don't play next week'. And that is without kids and a family.
"At the age of 14 it never entered my mind that I wouldn't be a professional golfer. Last two or three years at school were a complete waste of time because I thought I would be playing golf for the rest of my life. I had a car crash, had an injury and then you realise it is not quite as bolted on as you think." The Mena Tour offers three big events on the European Tour, which provide a window to the kind of prize money that might gain a full tour card. But that is a long shot. The more reliable route is the Tour School, the second round of which he plays in Spain next month.
"It doesn't matter what level you are at, if you have a good round it is exactly the same feeling, the same buzz winning these events. I play golf to get that feeling. It keeps me alive. Anything else is treading water.
"I don't think about how much I have earned. All I think about is do I have enough to play next week. When I have had bad times, my dad has given me a couple of grand here and there. When I had my card I tried to save all the money I could, putting it into a house, which was probably the best decision I ever made. That is a big pressure off, but I'm not building a pension pot. It's about putting enough away in the good weeks to make sure you can keep going when you are not winning. You still have to pay bills."
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