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Player Blog: Oliver Bekker
Player Blog

Player Blog: Oliver Bekker

In this week’s player blog presented by Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Oliver Bekker discusses his route to the DP World Tour, exploring other career options, and the importance of mindset in golf.

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I’ve always felt like I was good enough to be out here on the DP World Tour, but after being a pro for so long, getting my card at the end of the Challenge Tour season is a difficult feeling to explain. It was everything all together; relief, excitement, pride that you you’ve finally done it, but also that feeling of ‘why did it take you so long to do this?’. And now that I’m out here, playing with guys I grew up with like Justin Harding and George Coetzee – I feel like I’m where I’ve known I needed to be. Getting off to a nice start in the first few events has really confirmed that for me.

It's not been an easy road, but being a professional golfer was always my plan. I got into golf late compared to other guys, and it only really took over as my main sport towards the end of high school. Then I studied at Stellenbosch University, and afterwards I went to America when I was 21 to go and play college golf. I only had three semesters left that I was eligible to play out there, so I played the three semesters at Lamar University and when I came back I basically went to Q School.

The college route definitely helped me and I’m very glad I did it, because I don’t think I’d be where I am today if I hadn’t. Compared to the ease of playing in South Africa, it really taught me about travel, experiencing the world and playing against some of the top amateurs in the game. Obviously the caveat to that is that it’s not great when you competed against Dustin Johnson, Chris Kirk and Brendan Todd and you see what they have achieved in the last 15 years while you are still searching and trying to make it, but there are other ways to look at it. There are a lot of routes to take in this game, and I competed against guys who have been World Number One, which shows me the potential of what you can achieve if you take advantage of the right opportunities.

We also took very different paths. I’ve had a lot of success on the Sunshine Tour over the years, but I don’t even know how many times I’ve tried to get on the DP World Tour through Q School. I’ve just never found the course, or the time of year, ever suited me, and I think I’ve only made the cut once in the Final Stage. But that’s the thing with Q School. It’s one week in your life and it could be at a golf course that doesn’t suit your eye, and it never worked out for me. I went to Korn Ferry Q School once, finished eighth and got my card there for a year, so it’s weird how it suits you or doesn’t. But that’s the game we play, and it just took me a while to find the best route for me.

I was actually on my way to quitting golf at the beginning of last year. I had told my wife it was my last year. I joined a management company that started up and I’m still managing some South African players, but I was going to phase out of the golf and phase into the management position, and that was the plan. I wasn’t going to play full-time anymore, and then all of a sudden things worked out for me and I am where I am now. It’s a crazy game.

If I think back on it, what’s weird is that it was so similar to what happened in 2017. I had started studying again, and I was going to become a Chartered Financial Analyst because while I loved playing golf, I felt like I wasn’t getting anywhere. I also knew I didn’t want to be only playing the Sunshine Tour for the rest of my life, and I felt that if I couldn’t make it on to the biggest stages in the world then I’d rather do something else. It’s not worth being away from your family for that amount of time if it’s not lucrative enough. So I was busy studying while playing, and I would go to the tournaments and hardly play a practice round or warm up and just tee off and play. I don’t know if it was the change in mindset or because I wasn’t so worried about what I was doing that was the difference but all of a sudden I started winning tournaments, and qualified for the U.S. Open.

There were other similarities too. In 2017 I was doing trail running, and I didn’t care if I got injured because I knew I was going to stop playing so much. Last year, I started doing CrossFit, and I had the same mentality. I do those things because I enjoy them, and then all of a sudden both years things blossomed a little unexpectedly and I was in a position where I was contending to win tournaments.

Oliver Bekker

Luckily my wife is very supportive and she understood that last year was basically my last chance, so I said to her at the start of the season if I do play well, I’m going to get a Schengen Visa so I could travel. I didn’t have any status on the Challenge Tour at the beginning of the season so I took up affiliate membership, and thought if I play well in the South African events I’m going to have my things ready to go to Sweden. Then I lost in a play-off, had a decent week in Cape Town and finished third in the Dimension Data – which is at my home course – and all of a sudden I’m second or third on the Order or Merit and flying to Europe.

The Challenge Tour route was really good for me last year, and I think in some ways Covid was good for me too because it forced me to stay out there. Family is really important to me, so in the past I’d come back after three or four weeks and miss a few events. It meant I never played more than half a schedule, and with how hard travelling back and forth gets to be on the body, the odds of getting your card are really stacked against you. Last year, I had to do ten weeks away in a row, and I think that’s probably a big factor in the success I had. Luckily I was travelling with Jacques Blaauw, and that helps because you’re with someone who is in a similar situation, which makes you feel less alone because you know you’re not the only guy that’s frustrated you can’t go and see your family. It's definitely hard to balance this life when you have a family, but it’s the life we chose so you have to accept and make the best of it, and I’m just thankful that the sacrifices, especially last year, paid off and I got my card.

The first week in Ras Al Khaimah was a big week for me, because although I felt that I was good enough to be on this Tour, I still needed to prove it to myself. You’ve got to be positive in this game, because it’s all mindset at the end of the day, but there is a difference between knowing you have the ability to do something and proving that you can.

I went into that event mentally treating it as my first start. I got into Abu Dhabi late because of Covid withdrawals so only arrived on Tuesday and then had a stomach bug and a tough draw, so I wrote that one off and treated Ras Al Khaimah as event one. I liked the course in the practice round and felt like I could contend, but then to go out there and actually compete, and be in the second last group on a Sunday was confirmation of that. It was a big week for me personally, and then to follow it up the week after helped me a lot. The course record at Al Hamra was a nice bonus, and then to shoot the lowest final round in Kenya on the Sunday gave me more confidence. It helps a lot knowing you’re in a space where you know you can go low, because there a lot of times in your career where two or three under feels as good as it will get.

I’ve had to purposefully change my mindset a few times in my career, and I think doing that in the last year or so is what has really made the difference. I think it’s one of the things that held me back, and one of the reasons why I haven’t made it to the DP World Tour earlier – because I’ve always been really hard on myself. If things wouldn’t go well I’d get down, and then it would be really hard to get back out of that. Recently I’ve set myself small mental goals, more attitude driven things – centred around just trying to shoot level par. Level par is not going to get you out of a tournament but a three over round will. It’s amazing, that since trying to do that small thing, how it’s really changed the way I play when I play badly. In the past I’ve either lost interest or pushed so hard that I’d make more mistakes and now I just kind of let it go. I know there’s still opportunities out there and I don’t try and get those shots back straight away, so I just stay patient and positive and that really has made a huge difference. But I’ve also learned to take the positives out of not winning, and now I don’t care if I finish second or third or fourth every week. It’s still a great week, you’ve still played unbelievable, and it means you’re going in the right direction. It’s reversed the pressure I’d put on myself when I would be in contention, and it’s made a huge impact in the way that I approach a round and tournament. I take results for what they are now, and I think it’s why I finally made it.

I think it’s important to have some goals, like those small mind-set things, but right now I’m also trying jut to soak it all in and enjoy being out here as much as possible. I’d obviously love to make it to the DP World Tour final and the goal before that would be to keep my card, but I think you’ve got to focus on the small things to make the big things happen. If my goal is to finish in the top 50 at the end of the season there are certain things I need to achieve, but you can put too much pressure on yourself depending on how you set those goals, so I’m focusing on smaller things – like mindset I talked about. I think it’s important to keep your mind busy with other things: I enjoy working with the management company, and I enjoy giving back – I’m the Chairman of the Sunshine Tour Players Committee – and I try to work out three or four times a week so that when I do CrossFit at home I’m not too sore. So there’s lots of things to keep my mind focused this season, but for right now, it’s just a pleasure to be out here.

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