Seven years after his victory, former Kenya Open champion Jordi Garcia Pinto opens up about his transition from professional golfer to lawyer and now full time European Tour referee.
Jordi Garcia Pinto is a full-time referee on the European Tour and a qualified lawyer, but seven years ago he also joined an elite list of champions when he lifted his first professional trophy at the 2013 Kenya Open.
The two-time Challenge Tour winner retired in 2017 after nine years as a professional and has since joined the Tour in a different capacity, but he still fondly remembers that thrilling finale at Karen Country Club in Nairobi.
“It’s a win that you never forget,” says Garcia Pinto.
A winner on the Challenge Tour
It was just the second Challenge Tour event of the 2013 season, and glory belonged to Garcia Pinto, who had celebrated his 23rd birthday at the start of the tournament.
“It was a very special week for me,” he recalls. “I was playing very good golf, the environment was fantastic. It’s a very good event.
“I felt a great connection with the spectators there. I don’t know why but they were supporting me more than the other players and I felt very comfortable all of the tournament days, which obviously helped me to play better.”
The Spaniard had played well all week and continued to command his position at the top of the leaderboard as he built up a four stroke lead with three holes to play, but nerves quickly threatened to get the better of him.
“I made a fantastic eagle on 15 which gave me this four shot lead, and then I started to feel a little bit nervous,” said Garcia Pinto, who was playing alongside good friend Tim Sluiter.
He bogeyed both the 16th and 17th holes, halving his lead to two shots, and yet more drama awaited at the final hole. Garcia Pinto missed the green with his approach before coming up short with his first chip, while Sluiter set himself up with a chance for eagle. Fortunately for Garcia Pinto, his second chip guaranteed him a par, and Sluiter’s try slipped past the hole, meaning Garcia Pinto finished one shot clear on 12 under par.
It was the start of his greatest spell of golf as a professional. He claimed his second victory at the Najeti Hotels et Golfs Open in 2014, which helped him earn his European Tour card for the 2015 season. Yet while he fondly remembers those professional triumphs, the Spaniard’s career as a professional only lasted a few more years.
Giving up the game
The course of a professional golfer never did run smooth, and the loss of his biggest sponsor and the drive to compete led Garcia Pinto to call time on his career at the age of 27.
“I lost my European Tour card in 2015, and I went back to Challenge Tour but at the same time I lost the most important sponsor that I had back then,” he said.
“I kept playing the Challenge Tour for two more years but at the end I wasn’t enjoying it at all, and I was thinking more about making cuts. It was a mix of everything and I wasn’t enjoying the game so I decided to stop.
“I really had just had enough of competing.”
From lawyer to European Tour referee
Thankfully for Garcia Pinto, there had always been a back-up plan. For him, that meant completing a Masters degree in Law while he was still competing on Tour.
“I always wanted to have something to rely on in case golf didn’t work out well, and I decided that I was going to become a golf professional at the same time I wanted to study my law degree.”
It turned out to be a fruitful decision, because although he had already decided that becoming a referee was an avenue he wanted to go down, it was far from a simple route.
“When I decided to retire in 2017 I already had spoken David Garland (the European Tour’s Director of Tour Operations) about the possibility to become a referee, and I just had to stay patient.
“I spent the next two years as a lawyer, but I always wanted to do something related to golf, everyone around me knew that. The process took a very long time, so basically I had been waiting three years for this to arrive.
“I did my exam in St Andrews last February for my Level 3, which is the highest level for a Rules exam, and I got 96 per cent. Then last September David rang me and he told me the position was available. I didn’t think twice about saying yes.
As for making the transition from player to referee, Garcia Pinto said his previous career as a professional golfer has been an advantage.
“It definitely helps. When I think about something I always think with two heads - my role as a former player and my role as a referee. It’s good. I’m not the only former player that is on our team.”
Referees and officials from across the world gathered in St Andrews for the annual Level 3 Tournament Administrators and Referee Seminar (TARS)⛳ Read more here 👉https://t.co/RGo2HdMnGa #TARS2020 #RulesOfGolf pic.twitter.com/TvqkXoRIeE— The R&A (@RandA) February 6, 2020
Life as a referee
Things moved quickly after Garcia Pinto got the call in September, and he has since attended eight different tournaments spanning across both European and Challenge Tours.
The first event he went to was the Mutuactivos Open de España in October, and he admits that it initially took him a couple of weeks to get used to being there in an official capacity rather than as a player.
“It was a little strange those first two weeks but not anymore,” he said.
“I really enjoy being there without having to play. I love the game, but I don’t feel the need to play professional golf anymore.
“It’s not only about being a referee either because we also are part of the operational part of running the competition. Obviously when we referee we are out on the course which is always nice and trying to help players with rules issues but I also like the other part of it, taking care of the tee times or what the players need.”
And while Garcia Pinto doesn’t know what the future holds, one thing he would like to do is head back to Kenya.
“I really enjoy what I do now, but I do quite often think about my wins, and one thing I would like to do next year is go back there [to Kenya] as a referee.”