In this week’s Player Blog presented by Enterprise Rent-A-Car Denmark’s Benjamin Poke talks through his journey from running out of money to winning European Tour Qualifying School.
When I try and sum my career up so far, I’d have to say It’s been very up and down. For me, as a player, I feel it has taken me a bit longer to develop. Starting out I competed on the Nordic Golf League and had a couple of invites to play on the Challenge Tour, but I didn’t really get anywhere as I didn’t play well enough – that’s the truth. Looking back, I think a couple of years ago I forced the issue too much and put too much pressure on myself to get results. That’s what happens when you’re playing with limited opportunities – you are counting down after each start you make. I had been given some support and invites from Flemming Astrup, who promotes the Made in Denmark event on the European Tour, but last year I said to him that I’d like to focus on the Nordic Golf League and try to win it. I played nicely – winning once with a number of other good finishes – to end the season in the top five and make it to the Challenge Tour. I did well on the Challenge Tour this year, I finished 29th in the rankings and came close to winning a few times, before getting my card at Q-School. I feel that I have really developed my game and I am ready for my next challenge on the European Tour.
The Final Stage of Q-School this year was a very special week for me. Not many people would say that, but it was one of my best weeks on a golf course. I went to Spain without feeling any pressure as I was already happy with what I’d achieved this year on the Challenge Tour. I was even making plans for next season, and I felt that all I could do to improve was get my European Tour card. The week went really well, but I tried my best not to check to see how I was doing and ended up watching snooker in the evenings to take my mind off things! I went into the final day with a three-shot lead – but I was still really nervous. When you’re in that position you can’t lie to yourself – you know what’s at stake and that you’re 18 holes from achieving your dream. My dad came out to watch me for the last few days, and in the car on the way to the course on that last day he just reminded me that whenever he’d seen me play in a final group I’d done well. When I got to the first tee I was still shaking, and even when you’re in that position you say to yourself ‘no you’re never safe, you have to keep going.’ It was only on the 18th hole of the final round that I really allowed myself to enjoy it, as it felt surreal. I’d just shot 64 to win Q-School by six. Then before I knew it, I was booking flights to South Africa and Mauritius. It really was life changing.
There were times when I thought I wouldn’t make it – I ran out of money a couple of years ago. I know I’m not that young, even though I think I’m still young, and it was getting to a point where I really doubted if it was going to happen. There were enough signs there to keep me going, though, and I got back on my feet again and slowly my confidence started rising again. During weeks when everything went well, I really tried to store that information and use it in the future. If I played with a guy who’d been on Tour and beat them during a round, that would give me a lot of hope too. I’ve been very lucky as there’s a good group around my home club in Denmark who have supported me all the way through, as has one of my close friends and their family. When I was struggling they put their arm around my shoulder and told me ‘hang in there, you can do this.’ That meant a lot to me and gave me a huge lift. When you know you have sponsors who’ll back you all the way you can just focus purely on golf – you don’t have as many issues in your head.
You have to learn your trade and find out your way of doing things. Everybody works best differently, and it took a while for me to figure out my best way. The Challenge Tour has been really important in helping me this year. You gain a lot of experience in terms of learning to travel, as when you compete on the Nordic Golf League you are only ever away for four or five days at a time. On the Challenge Tour you have to deal with being on the road for three or four weeks, learning how to sort out your hotels. That’s very different from Scandinavia where you can drive everywhere, and the way of life is very easy. That’s been a huge step for me – going to places like China and Morocco – as not only do you experience different cultures, but you also play on different styles of courses, different types of grass, and it’s hugely competitive too.
Both my parents were teaching professionals and my younger brother has just turned professional too, so golf definitely runs in the family. My brother – who I call ‘Tubber’ – is a big influence in my life and he’s my best friend. It’s great to have someone like that who you can practice with and bounce ideas off too. Because of my family’s love of golf, it has always been a huge part of my life. I tried other sports – like football, sailing and badminton – but golf was a lot more fun and it was what I was best at. Growing up, I’d always go and play golf in my spare time as a lot of my friends loved the sport too – we’d often go to the range or play par three courses after school. My main focus growing up was to just have fun playing, then as I got older, I only started to take it more seriously as a teenager – because of that my amateur results are non-existent. Gradually I’ve been getting better every year.
If you’ve seen me play you may notice that I always wear red golf shoes – it’s for Denmark! I wanted to do something different and red is a very nice Danish colour, so now I always wear those shoes. If you commit to something you have to do it properly, so look out for those this week and in the future.