For a player who only turned professional at the age of 47, Gary Wolstenholme has enjoyed a seamless start to life among the paid ranks, and the 2011 European Senior Tour Rookie of the Year believes he has even more to offer in the new campaign.
The most successful Great Britain and Ireland player in Walker Cup history is targeting more silverware in 2012 after showing he is more than capable of competing alongside some of golf’s legendary names on the Senior Tour.
Wolstenholme exceeded his own expectations when he finished third on his Senior Tour debut in the Travis Perkins plc Senior Masters in 2010, before winning on his next outing in the lucrative Casa Serena Open, holding off the challenge of former Ryder Cup player Gordon Brand Jnr.
He ended the campaign in 17th position on the Senior Tour Order of Merit but was still classed as rookie for 2011 as he only turned 50 in the second half of the 2010 season, and the Englishman carried forward his form with a series of impressive performances last year.
After starting the season with a third place finish in the Handa Australian Senior Open, Wolstenholme recorded nine top ten finishes in 2011, six of those being inside the top five positions.
Sixth place in the season-ending MCB Tour Championship was enough for him to overtake former World Number One and Masters Champion Ian Woosnam into fourth place on the final Order of Merit, as Wolstenholme succeeded Boonchu Ruangkit as Rookie of the Year with earnings of €181,637.
Naturally, expectations are now greater heading into the new campaign, but the two-time Amateur Champion, who has spent the off-season relocating from Morecambe Bay to a new home in Kendal, is confident he can continue to flourish in 2012.
“Last year, with so many top ten finishes, was great for me in many ways, apart from not winning an event, which was my only disappointment,” said Wolstenholme, who famously defeated Tiger Woods in the 1995 Walker Cup at Royal Porthcawl, which will host next year’s Wales Seniors Open and The 2014 Senior Open Championship presented by Rolex.
“Winning the Rookie of the Year, and following some great names, was a big honour for me, as Mark Mouland played well and Tim Thelen, who won the Qualifying School, started like a train.
“Finishing fourth on the Order of Merit was a great achievement, but I feel as though I could have finished even higher.
“I missed a couple of opportunities to win, finishing third and second in Portugal and Spain at the end of the season when perhaps I should have won. I did win the Australian Senior Open, although it wasn’t an official Senior Tour event, and that gave me a lot of confidence so hopefully that victory will come along in the new season.
“Moving house has been quite stressful and taken longer than I thought, so I’ve not played too much over the winter. I didn’t pick up a club for about a month, which is the first time I’ve done that in my life, but I have March and April to get ready, and I’m looking forward to the new season.
“Last year I hurt my back and neck in Brunei and struggled with it in China, and then it came back in Taiwan. If I had been fully fit, and maybe turned either Spain or Portugal into a victory, then I could have been challenging Peter Fowler for the Order of Merit, so I have to look ahead with plenty of positivity.”
Wolstenholme admits his game has improved as a result of playing regularly alongside some of the game’s most respected names, including former Ryder Cup Captains Woosnam and Sam Torrance, and the top two on the 2011 Order of Merit, Peter Fowler and Barry Lane.
“The Senior Tour has given me the chance to continue to compete and pursue my passion in life,” he said. “I look at the likes of Nick Job, Carl Mason, Sam Torrance and Jerry Bruner who are still performing into their late 50s and 60s, and I want to be doing the same.
“My goal for next year, and the next five years, is to win more than £200,000 per year on the Senior Tour, which is tough because there are so many good players. Finishing in the top four on the Order of Merit gets me into the US Senior Open, so I will play in all three Senior Majors this year, which I’m also looking forward to.
“So I’m happy with the way it has gone so far. When I got on to the Senior Tour in 2010 I was expecting to have to go to Qualifying School as there were only six tournaments remaining and I only had one invite, to the Travis Perkins plc Senior Masters.
“I knew I liked Woburn, but I was so nervous on the first tee. I managed to birdie that first hole, and I’ve never looked back.
“Finishing third at Woburn helped me to get an invite to Casa Serena, and I went there thinking the course didn’t suit me but I went on to win. So it was a great start and I continued that last year. It’s been a fantastic experience so far for me.”