Amid the uncertainty of lockdown, LET star Meghan MacLaren is still in the dark over when the new season will begin again – or how it will look.
I vividly remember the December/January off-season that preceded 2020. I’d spent many winter breaks wrestling with the same dilemma – spend the following season on the Symetra Tour, the feeder tour to the LPGA, or support my much-loved Ladies European Tour? The argument usually played out the same.
The Symetra is a very competitive tour, perhaps even more so than the LET, and offers a concrete pathway to the LPGA. But the LET feels like home to me. The standard is excellent – and improving all the time – and there’s a prestige to winning on the LET that isn’t there on the Symetra Tour. We experience some stunning places and cultures on the LET, the courses ask tough, interesting and varied questions, and the people are generally wonderful. I love it. But I also want to reach the pinnacle of the game.
One of the biggest stumbling blocks to the Symetra Tour is the expense. One single entry fee alone will set you back $500, so if you played an entire season of 20-25 events, you’re looking in excess of $10,000 before you’ve even started. Never mind flights, accommodation, food etc. Not to mention that the payouts aren’t as great.
As a feeder tour, that’s understandable, but if a player doesn’t have sponsorship – as many of us don’t – you can find yourself looking over your financial shoulder very quickly. But if you can make it work, as players such as Nelly Korda, Brooke Henderson, Stacy Lewis and Lorena Ochoa have, the promised land awaits.
I have had tastes of Majors, and LPGA co-sanctioned events like the Scottish and Australian Opens and I want more of it. I want to prove that I can compete with the best players in the world.
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And so these many considerations play through my mind every year. I’m lucky and grateful to have both options since a couple of trips to LPGA Q School have earned me Symetra status. But last January I remember sitting with sheets and sheets of paper in front of me, looking at each tour’s schedule for the entire year, month-by-month, outlined in respective colours. I spent countless hours there, nothing moving but my eyes and a tsunami of thoughts crashing around in my head.
Whatever conclusions I eventually drew from my endless back-and-forth arguments were irrelevant. Because the world fell apart in such a way that none of us could have predicted or prepared for. Tournament golf and goals and Q Schools and financial stability went up in flames, and the only thing that became important was the health of the people you love. Just getting to play again after all of that was both humbling and exhilarating. Having the thing you love taken away from you makes you appreciate it like nothing else ever will.
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And so I write this as that thing is being taken away from me and all of you readers once again, as the UK goes through yet another lockdown. It’s been harder this time. Dark, wet, cold days and a disillusionment in the way forward. But we have vaccines, and we have a new year on the calendar; a freshness that has hope embedded in it.
It’s the beginning of 2021 and, for me, it’s another off-season without an end date in place. The same questions pervade my mind but with less intensity. Last year taught me that expending energy on things outside your control is extremely counterproductive because the world can change at any moment.
Professional golf has done well to get started almost as normal this year. The European Tour kicked off in Abu Dhabi, the same week the LPGA played their first event. The PGA Tour were already a couple of weeks ahead. The LET are understandably cautious about going to Africa, but that means the off-season will stretch well into May, and the Symetra Tour are currently shifting things around to March or April.
While this year has the potential to be one of the strongest ever for the LET, having seen immediate benefits from their partnership with the LPGA, the lengthy off-season drives home the disparities widened by Covid-19. We are, as professional golfers, incredibly privileged to still travel the world and do what we love for a living. But like a lot of people around the world, our job has been and will continue to be affected, all to varying degrees.
Like a lot of people around the world, the only certainty for 2021 is its uncertainty. And none of us can plan for that. But we can all appreciate the bigger picture, whatever it is for each of us.