From club professional to beating Major Champions on the European Senior Tour, Paul Wesselingh’s journey to the Jacob Jacobs Trophy has been a truly inspiring one.
The Englishman sealed the Senior Tour Number One spot in Mauritius last Sunday, joining an illustrious list of past winners that includes Sam Torrance and Ian Woosnam, two players he admits he idolised from afar during his career as a professional at Kedleston Park, near Derby.
Just to be able to compete alongside the two former Ryder Cup Captains had been the culmination of five years of intensive work on his game for Wesselingh, combining his first love of teaching with the necessary technical, mental and physical preparation to ensure that he could be competitive upon turning 50 in 2012.
It was a process that the Liverpool-born player clearly executed to perfection, gaining his card at the first attempt at Qualifying School at the start of the 2012 campaign, emerging from First Stage to then finish second behind American Dick Mast.
Having opted against pursuing a career on The European Tour in the 1990s in order to be around his young family, Wesselingh belatedly took to Tour life in seamless fashion with a share of second place on his debut in the Mallorca Open Senior last May before winning the ISPS HANDA PGA Seniors Championship in just his fourth appearance.
A model of consistency thereafter in his maiden season, he went on to pick up Rookie of the Year after finishing fifth on the Order of Merit and hit the ground running again in 2013, successfully defending his title in the ISPS HANDA PGA Seniors Championship in June before winning the Bad Ragaz PGA Seniors Open the following month, both victories courtesy of final rounds of 64.
After struggling with illness during the summer, Wesselingh returned to top form in the latter part of the campaign, finishing runner up to Colin Montgomerie in the Travis Perkins plc Senior Masters and four consecutive top ten finishes leading into the Fubon Senior Open, where he claimed his third victory of the season.
That latter win in Taiwan meant he dislodged Steen Tinning from the Order of Merit summit heading to the final event of the season, the MCB Tour Championship, where he teed it up knowing that the destiny of the John Jacobs Trophy was in his own hands.
In Mauritius he produced arguably the stand out performance of the 2013 season under pressure at Constance Belle Mare Plage, finishing five shots clear of the field to emphatically seal the Senior Tour Number One spot with his fourth win of the season and fifth title in just 30 appearances.
“It’s hard to believe what I’ve done this year,” he said. “To win four times and win the Order of Merit is incredible.
“To win the Rookie of the Year in 2012 and now the Order of Merit in 2013 is an unbelievable two years on the Senior Tour.
“I’m incredibly proud of all that I have achieved. It was a dream come true how it all happened. To win the last two events, and by the margin I did in both tournaments, was special..”
Wesselingh’s stunning showing in Mauritius, and indeed in Taiwan prior to that, typified a new-found confidence from a player whose success has gradually allowed him to feel more comfortable alongside some of his more illustrious peers, affording him an increased sense of belonging next to former Ryder Cup players and captains.
“It took me about 18 months to really get used to playing among so many big names on the Senior Tour,” he said. “Stepping up on the first tee and seeing the likes of Sam or Woosie or Des Smyth and now Monty – it took a while to adjust to that. You look at what they’ve achieved and how long they’ve been on Tour and it is incredible.
“It’s wonderful to play with them all. It was special playing with Monty in the final round in Mauritius. He won eight Order of Merit titles, and has done so much for golf through the Ryder Cup. It was great to win the Order of Merit playing alongside him.
“If you look at some of my first round scores since I joined the Senior Tour, I’ve not tended to start that well and I think it was a confidence thing. I don’t know whether I go into the safe mode, but as the tournament goes on I relax into it and I love the nitty-gritty of the final round. Even though I do get nervous I do enjoy it and I’ve certainly taken confidence from the success that I have had.
“To win an Order of Merit is something that no-one can ever take away from you and I’m so proud to have done it.”
Despite first picking up a club at the relatively young age of seven, Wesselingh certainly falls into the late developer category. At 16 he was still off handicap of 12 and upon leaving school, he first worked as an accountant before opting for a career teaching golf.
“I got bored sitting at a desk so I decided to turn pro at the age of 23 and become an assistant,” he recalled. “I was off five then. I’d been off three before that but I’d actually gone back up.
“I didn’t really have any dreams of playing at all. I was only really interested in coaching and being a club pro. I wasn’t good enough at the time to play. It was only really when I met (coach) Howard Bennett, through Lora Fairclough when I was working at Chorley in 1990, that things changed. Within 18 months I’d played in my first Open and I started doing well in the regional Order of Merit and things took off.
“I never really bothered about the main Tour though. I had a couple of half-hearted attempts in the early 1990s but I wasn’t good enough then. I was useless. My golf wasn’t good enough then, but I’ve worked at it and developed my own game. I have quite a short swing but to me that is an advantage. Not much can go wrong with it and that’s what I’ve worked hard at getting and it means one of my strengths is my consistency.”
It is hard work that has underpinned Wesselingh’s rapid rise through the Senior Tour ranks, pointing a path to any club professional with aspirations of following in his spike marks.
“The last seven or eight years I had been focused on joining the Senior Tour and the last five years I really worked hard on my fitness,” he continued.
“I played a lot more on the mini-Tours to make sure I was golf ready. I’ve worked hard for it and the success I’ve had will only make me work harder.
“I’ve worked a lot on the biomechanics with the PGA and I do Pilates, swimming and a lot of fitness work. For someone getting to your 50s that is the key thing. You have to stay fit, obviously, but you have to stay flexible. I’ve a programme set to get me ready for the new season which starts as soon as I get off the plane from Mauritius.”
With the John Jacobs Trophy firmly in his grasp, Wesselingh has already set himself new goals for the 2014 campaign.
“I’d love to do well in the Majors,” he said. “That’s something I’ve not managed so far. I was disappointed with the Majors, but I think I had a couple of good excuses. In the US Senior PGA it was my first event of the season and I just wasn’t ready. Then the US Senior Open I had a spider bite, which led to skin bacteria, so I wasn’t in good shape. That set me back for a month, including the Senior Open, and then I finished the season strongly.
“So the Majors are the big aim in 2014.”