The sporting world is littered with tales of young stars who burn brightly before suffering a crashing fall from grace, and many observers assumed Anton Haig’s career was heading in the same direction.
But the sporting world also loves a tale of redemption, and if Haig manages to turn his career – and indeed his life – around after some testing times, both on and off the fairways, it will be one of the great comeback stories.
Following a near two-year absence from Europe, this week Haig is competing on the Challenge Tour as a sponsor’s invitation in Brittany where, after a highly encouraging opening round of 69 in testing conditions, he is taking his first tentative steps on the road to recovery.
Still only 26, Haig has time on his side as he seeks to re-scale the dizzying heights he reached in 2007 when, as a fresh-faced 20 year old, the big-hitting South African announced his arrival on the global golfing stage with victory on only his 18th European Tour start at the Johnnie Walker Classic.
Perhaps inspired by playing a practice round with two of his idols, Ernie Els and Retief Goosen, Haig shot a course record-equalling 62 on the second day to surge firmly into contention.
A third round of 70 kept him within touching distance of his compatriot Richard Sterne and England’s Oliver Wilson at the top of the leaderboard, and after a birdie at the 72nd hole – where a deft lob wedge to three feet proved Haig had the composure and touch to complement his immense power – was followed by another at the first extra hole, he was clutching the trophy and a winner’s cheque for €310,801.
As many a youngster can attest, that sort of money – and the attention which accompanies it – can lead to temptation and, by his own admission, Haig perhaps did not cope especially well with being suddenly thrust into the limelight.
Apart from a top ten finish at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, where but for a third round of 75 he might have been challenging fellow prodigy Nick Dougherty for the title, Haig’s results over the remainder of the 2007 campaign were erratic.
More time was perhaps being spent on arranging his social calendar than on the practice range, and results over the next two seasons suffered to such an extent that he lost his card in 2009 following a season which yielded just over €25,000 in prize money and culminated in him finishing a lowly 235th in The Race to Dubai.
A round of 62 on the fourth day on the 2009 Qualifying School Final Stage, where he took the 16th card to regain his playing privileges, hinted at a return to form. But the 2010 campaign was a by-now familiar tale of woe, as Haig again made just five cuts all year.
This time there was to be no 11th hour salvage operation, and he was effectively cast out into the golfing wilderness, returning to his native Johannesburg to lick his wounds.
Fast forward 18 months, however, and Haig appears a much more mature, determined and indeed disciplined individual. Instead of celebrating his birthday at the start of the week with a wild party, as he might have done in days of yore, Haig enjoyed a quiet meal before retiring early to bed to prepare for his tilt at the ALLIANZ Côtes d’Armor Bretagne title.
Surrounded by a new team of highly qualified professionals, which has been assembled by his management company Titanium Sports Group to monitor his fitness, mental state and general wellbeing, Haig is doubly determined to make the most of his second chance.
He said: “I’ve had a good break, but I’m back now and really raring to go. I feel great, and I’ve been working really hard on my game for the past three months. I want to get the feeling back of really enjoying being out on a golf course again, rather than grinding it out and losing my cool, which was happening too often.
“Mentally I’m now in a much better place, and whilst my game isn’t quite where I want it to be, we’re getting closer all the time. I’ve changed coaches and management companies, and we’re setting new goals all the time. So I’m in a pretty good place at the moment.
“Having a team around me focused on me 24/7 is exactly what I needed, and it’s nice to feel wanted. There’s still a lot of hard work ahead, but I’m now prepared for that. When I won on the Asian Tour in 2006 and The European Tour in 2007, I probably enjoyed myself a bit too much.
“I’d gone straight from school to becoming a professional golfer, so maybe if I’d gone to uni and enjoyed myself first before turning pro, I might’ve got it out of my system sooner. But everything happens for a reason, and now I’m now much more focused than I’ve ever been.”
Seeing his close friend and compatriot Branden Grace win three times on The 2012 European Tour International Schedule has shown Haig what can be done with hard work and dedication.
His talent has never been in doubt – now Haig is relishing the opportunity to prove he can harness it in the right way.