In this week’s Player Blog presented by Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Maverick Antcliff recalls last season on the China Golf Tour and his encouraging start to the 2020 Race to Dubai.
The 26-year-old is no stranger to travel. The Australian attended college in Augusta, Georgia before turning professional in 2016, plying his trade on the Australian, Asian and China Tours. He earned his European Tour card for 2020 by topping the China Golf Tour Order of Merit last year, winning three events and finishing inside the top five seven times after just 12 starts.
The way I’ve always looked at it, Europe’s a great place to play golf. It’s been a bit more appealing than the USA with so many different countries and cultures. I wanted to play my way on, I was thinking about going to Q-School in Europe last year, but I had events on around that time and I was trying to keep cards over here. I sat down at the start of the 2019 and had a chat with my coach Grant Field, I knew if I went up to China and played well I could make a bit of noise up there.
I’m used to the travel. I applied to go to the University of Queensland, but after a week I told my parents that wasn’t what I wanted to do. They gave me a year off studies but told me I had to make a decision and get an education. I was lucky enough to get some scholarship offers and I chose to go to Augusta State. It feels like I have a lot more spare time now, compared to juggling schoolwork, team practice, playing and workouts – your plate is so full. It’s nice to just be able to concentrate on golf.
I went to Australian Qualifying School in 2017 and missed my card by a shot. I didn’t want to play Pro-Ams, I wanted to play four round tournaments so went to Q-School up in China that year. I played a full year up there in 2017 and finished fifth on the Order of Merit. I found it was similar to the States where I went to college – golf courses we good, but they were soft, not like this week or links golf.
I adjusted quite nicely and in 2018 I played Aussie Tour and Asian Tour, mixing in a couple of China events. At the start of last year there wasn’t much going on with Asia and I decided to go back to China. After I won the first two events it was a no-brainer to carry on playing there. I’d never won a professional event and then to back it up the week after on such a high and still being able to play well – the second one may have been sweeter than the first one in that respect. Every time I went to China to play, I made it my goal to keep doing what I’m doing and extend the lead. That’s why I played every event and missed a few Aussie events. Eventually I knew time would run out for everyone and I wouldn’t be caught.
Growing up here, there’s the option to learn Chinese in high school, which I did – I could get around the golf course with numbers and speaking with caddies, getting yardages and clubs. The guy I stayed with speaks Chinese quite well – he would order in Chinese and I’d take a turn the next night. It was cool to learn new things and experience new things. We weren’t trying as many things off the menu as we would if we were on holiday. I didn’t know what to expect the first time I went there, the first few golf courses were in regional cities, but then we moved into Shanghai and Guangzhou, it’s pretty hectic with so many people, but it was great being in that new environment.
I’d usually travel on a Monday and get there in the evening, so I would have enough time to prepare for a tournament. But on one occasion I decided to travel on a Sunday. When we arrived in Shanghai, my clubs didn’t make it with me. We took the high-speed train three hours to the city where the golf course that week was, but we hadn’t heard anything by Monday afternoon. We travelled back to the airport and eventually got my clubs at 7:30 on Tuesday night. We had to spend another night in Shanghai before going to the golf course. I only managed to play nine holes on the Wednesday to prepare – and I went on to finish second in the tournament!
At the time I was rattled, but it might have been a blessing in disguise. It was so hot that week that by the end of it, a lot of people were exhausted. We missed the brunt of it and conserved our energy. It was a little difficult to communicate due to the language barrier and find out what exactly what was going on – but that’s part of the fun of it; I wrote a strongly-worded letter to the airline after that.
The start to the season has been great, especially having the chance to play in Australia twice. My first event was the Australian PGA in Queensland, my home state, it was only 45 minutes away from where I grew up. It was great seeing my mum and dad walking outside the ropes and following me. I had never been to South Africa before, so didn’t know what to expect – the course was great and the people were awesome. Then I made a late decision to travel to Saudi Arabia. I was second reserve and fortunately two guys withdrew, so that worked out for me in the end. This is my third year playing the Vic Open, it’s nice to come back to courses you’re familiar with. As you return to places, your memory bank grows and you see different things when you’re looking at shots, it makes a big difference compared to showing up to a golf course for the first time, which I’ll be doing a bit this year.
I’m a big believer of surrounding yourself with guys who have been there, done that and done it for a long time. I was picking Ryan Fox’s brain a bit in the lounge coming back from Saudi. Guys like that, playing practice rounds with guys who have been out here for a long time – there’s a reason they’ve done that, because they’ve been successful. You’re not trying to play their game or compare yourself with them, but if you pick up things it can fast-forward your learning. If you pick things up from people rather than learning them yourself, you will probably be better off in the long-term. It’s about getting into positions where you feel uncomfortable, but then adapting and playing well when you’re going through that.
It’s in the back of your mind, wanting to do everyone back at home proud. There might be a lot of golf fans out there going through a hard time, then you look at guys like Adam Scott winning the Australian PGA, Smithy (Cameron Smith) and Leish (Marc Leishman) winning in the United States, then Wade (Ormsby) in Hong Kong and Lucas (Herbert) in Dubai – seeing that on the news must put a smile on people’s faces. The great thing about Australia is it becomes a unified country when things like these happen. With everything going on, it doesn’t matter what Tour you’re on, people are asking you about it and taking an interest. It means a lot to all of us.