Motherwell man deserves respect for turning his back on the tour - and more should follow his lead
THE first time I saw Paul O’Hara was back in 2004. He was only 18 and I wasn’t much older. At that time, he was better known as ‘Steven’s wee brother’, the ‘Steven’ in question being European Tour pro Steven O’Hara.
Still, it was clear from very early on that Paul was destined to be more than just a sidekick. He lost the Scottish Amateur Championship final in 2004 to George Murray and would suffer the same fate in 2006 and 2009, at the hands of Kevin McAlpine and David Law respectively.
When he turned pro after the most recent of those near-misses, it was expected he'd have a successful tour career.
Nothing’s that easy, though. Instead, after struggling to establish himself, he swallowed his pride, and enrolled on the PGA training programme in 2012. Many others would turn their nose up at such a prospect, arrogantly dismissing it as a backwards step. But not O’Hara. Instead, the decision has been the making of him.
He has won the Scottish Young Professionals three times in four years and claimed a succession of Tartan Tour titles - the prestigious Northern Open most recently - on the domestic professional circuit. He also grabbed the spoils in the PGA’s flagship event, the Titleist/FootJoy PGA Professional Championship at Luttrellstown Castle in Ireland.
To top it all, he’s got a PGA qualification to his name. The point being? From being at a career crossroads when life on tour didn’t turn out as expected, he’s now got the kind of bright future, illuminated by a string of exciting options.
Naturally, there are some calling for him to have another crack at the European Tour later this year. But why should he? He’s doing just fine.
It might not be at the level those desperate for more Scottish representation at the top end of the game would like, but that’s not O’Hara’s problem. He might give it a go, he might not. If he doesn’t, fair play to him. He doesn’t need to.
Rather than implore the now 30-year-old to go to Q-School, I’d sooner hold him up as an example to young would-be tour pros of the viable alternatives available to them.
It’s no revelation to point out that far too many Scottish amateurs have turned professional in the last five to ten years without being ready for the switch. They’ve achieved a modicum of ‘success’ - be it individual titles, Walker Cup selection or, in some cases, nothing more than a handful of international call-ups - and decided to make the jump.
Where are they now? AWOL, mainly. Where they are not is on the European Tour. The youngest card-holding Scot this year is 30-year-old Scott Henry. The generation since has mainly scattered across golf’s multitude of satellite circuits: the MENA Tour, the Alps Tour, the EPD Tour, the EuroPro Tour. Some have already called time on their careers. The others are either clinging on or are having their fantasies ill-advisedly indulged by cheque-writers.
There’s a flicker of hope on the Challenge Tour, where there is some legitimately exciting young Scottish talent beavering away. Thing is, that coalface is being worked by a deeper pool of talent than ever before who don’t care one jot about how big a deal you were in Scotland. It’s one thing to act like a tour pro, with your own logo, your flash car, your social media presence and your swagger. It’s a whole other thing to play like one.
All these young Scottish pros… and yet it is O’Hara who is arguably best positioned - certainly best qualified - to make it onto a tour that he doesn’t need as much as he once thought he did.
You will often have heard the term ‘pathway’ used to describe the transition from amateur to professional. That’s ‘pathway’, singular. What Paul O’Hara has proven is that there is more than one way to be a successful professional golfer. I respect that.