Before winning the Saint-Omer Open presented by Neuflize OBC, Matt Zions wondered whether he might be better off giving up professional golf, given his lack of form and the continuing strain on his family.
There were many times when he considered throwing in the towel in favour of a “regular job”, but then he won by a massive seven shots in awful conditions in France – where only four players finished better than par – and now the future suddenly looks a lot rosier.
It has taken a while for the 32 year old Australian to fulfil the potential he showed in 2006 when he successfully negotiated all three stages of the European Tour Qualifying School. He found life tough during his first season on Tour and spent the next two seasons on the Challenge Tour, with limited success.
In 2010, though, his fortunes took an upward turn and after five top ten finishes he was promoted to The European Tour as the 15th graduate. By his own admission he “fell a long way short early in the season”, missing the cut in his first four events, but in May he finished 13th in the Ballantine’s Championship in Korea. His inconsistency continued, however, and a 31st place finish in the Madeira Islands Open was sandwiched in between four more missed cuts.
Then something clicked and he ran away with the title in Saint Omer, something which “means a big life change”. “There’s been a lot of hard work, a lot of separation and much heartache from this game, and sometimes it plays with your head so much it makes you want to pack it in and find a regular job,” said Zions. “The stress and the downtime in this game are hard.
“I couldn’t have dreamed of getting this far without the support of my wife. She is the best wife in the world and not many women would do what she does, looking after our kids with me being gone all the time. I’m very lucky.
“It’s an amazing story. I’ve come from a little town called Kempsey in Australia to this. There are a lot of people that this win will mean a lot to. They’ve put a lot of time and effort and love into my sport.
“It’s an emotional victory. I always dreamt that on my first win I’d have the girls here and they would run out to greet me as I finished. But things never work out how you want them to.
“At the start of the year I had high expectations coming off the Challenge Tour but I was falling short by a long way early in the season. Then came Korea, where I didn’t even really want to go because it was Easter Sunday and we had a big Easter planned. But when I found out I’d got in I had about 45 minutes to get packed and out the door to travel halfway round the world. I thought to myself ‘Am I even ready to go?’ but I had to go, and I ended up finishing 13th and it was the biggest pay day of my life.
“Then after that I was feeling good and wanted to keep it going, but I started missing cuts again and I didn’t know what was going on. I was feeling okay and everyone was asking what was wrong, and I didn’t know. That’s the thing about family, they want you to play well all the time. I said to my wife that rather than making every cut and finishing early Sunday morning, I’d prefer to miss a few cuts but my on weeks to be really on.”
Zions admitted the week in Saint-Omer started with an all too familiar – and unwelcome – scenario, where he was missing too many putts to ever be in contention.
He said: “On Thursday I three-putted the first and third and I was like ‘Come on Matt, what are you doing?’ Then I holed a five-footer for par on the fourth, and I reckon that putt was big. I realised I could hole them. After that they just started falling in.
“My ball striking has been good the last couple of weeks, but it wasn’t until my practice round on Tuesday that I felt like I did in Korea again, and I thought ‘This could be good’. From tee to green in this wind I was brilliant. To control your ball in these conditions was very, very difficult.
“It was weird that I had a big lead. I knew George (Coetzee) was playing really well. I had a three-shot lead going into the last round and knew I didn’t have to do anything silly but I had to play reasonably aggressively. I didn’t need to be shooting at all the pins, but I was making putts from spots where I was totally not trying to. It was a good week and overdue in my opinion. I’ve come a long way.”
It means Zions can now play the rest of the season without the pressure of earning enough to keep his card, as the victory gives him a European Tour exemption for the rest of the 2011 season and the entire 2012 campaign. And maybe he might not wonder so frequently if he is doing the right thing by pursuing the game he has played for as long as he can remember.
“Sometimes I would sit back and wonder why I keep doing it,” he said. “I’d look back to where I’ve come from and feel like I’m almost there, but that last step is the hardest of all. Before the final round I was chatting to my best mate, James Morrison, who won his first tournament last year in Madeira, and he said to just keep doing what you’re doing, stay relaxed and keep believing in yourself.
“So I’m looking forward to having a few beers with him and chatting it through. I’m looking forward to seeing the boys, especially at the French Open, the Scottish Open and all these massive events that I will now get in to. This win has opened many doors and I’m going to walk through all of them.”