Simon Wakefield reaps rewards of hard work
If professional golf is all about paying your dues, then Britain's Simon Wakefield is finally beginning to reap his just reward.
A visitor to the European Tour's qualifying school five times in the last eight years, the 31-year-old Englishman has enjoyed a new lease of life this season.
He won his first significant title at the Southern Africa Tour's Dimension Data Pro-Am in January and produced his best European Tour finish eight days ago, placing second behind world number three Ernie Els at the Asian Open in China.
His performance at Shanghai's Tomson Golf Club, where he returned scores of 67, 69, 66 and 73, earned him a career-best cheque for 127,533 euros ($163,800) and has effectively secured his European Tour card for next year.
"This year has been unusual for me in that I got off to a good start straight away," Wakefield told Reuters on Tuesday as he prepared for this week's British Masters at the Forest of Arden in central England.
"Now I can relax without having to think about my card and making enough money. I can enjoy the rest of the year.
"Perhaps now is the time I can put all my formative years behind me and start reaping the reward for all the hard work that I've put into this game."
Wakefield added, however, he would guard against any complacency.
"It's certainly great that my card is virtually secure but I've still got a lot of work to do," said the Briton, who is nephew to former England test cricketer Bob Taylor. "I don't want to get complacent.
"Plenty more needs to be done if I am to get into the top 60 to qualify for the season-ending Volvo Masters, which was one of my main goals at the start of this year.
"Plus I would really love to win for the first time on the European Tour to move up to the next level. That would be another dream come true for me.
"I feel my game is good at the moment so hopefully all these things will eventually slot into place."
Although Wakefield was forced to return to tour school for a fifth time last November after finishing two places outside the automatic qualifiers in the 2004 European order of merit, he managed to retain his playing privileges.
He finished second at the six-round qualifying tournament in Madrid, three strokes behind winner Peter Gustafsson of Sweden, and felt the whole experience provided him with a much-needed wake-up call.
"I've been playing well for a few years now and I was so disappointed to lose my card after last year," he said. "It was a bit of a reality check for me to be back at tour school. I felt I didn't deserve to be there.
"This year, I have worked much harder in the gym and also on the range. It hasn't been a question of hitting more balls on the range but rather hitting better quality shots in practice.
"My course management is also much better this season," added Wakefield, who lies 32nd in the European order of merit with earnings of 171,042 euros.
"I'm not hitting as many bad shots and not making any unnecessary mistakes. As a result, my mental side has not had to work over time.
"I always knew I had the talent but self-belief was the issue. That now seems to be changing."
His experience of the Asian Open, where he played the final round in the company of three-times major winner Els, is one he will always treasure.
"Just being in Ernie's presence and seeing how he goes about his business was an education," said Wakefield, who finished a distant 13 strokes behind Els. "He is one of my golfing heroes and it was an absolute joy to play with him."
Wakefield does not want to think too much about the future.
"I prefer to stay in the present," he said. "Whatever comes around the corner is okay.
"I'd like to venture across to the States, to play a couple of tournaments there by the end of the year just to get the feel of it. I feel I could do well there."
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