Carlisle man James Wilkinson has spent years trying to climb the golfing ladder - finally, this year, he’s close to the big time
LIFE as a golf pro is not always glamourous. It takes an awful lot of dedication and skill - and plenty of luck - to get to the very top of the game.
And, for every Rory McIlroy or Jordan Spieth, there are thousands of journeyman pros making their way on the smaller tours just hoping that a rich vein of form will see them breakthrough into the higher echelon.
Such has been the career thus far of 29-year-old John Letters ambassador James Wilkinson, from Carlisle. But 2015 may be that much-vaunted ‘breakthrough’ year for the likeable York-born, Brampton professional.
Wilkinson has enjoyed previous success in the amateur ranks, but, after eight years in the professional ranks, this season he recorded his maiden PGA EuroPro Tour success in the Eagle Orchid Scottish Masters, at Montrose Links, in July, and followed that up with a win in the recent NE/NW PGA Cumbria Classic, at Silloth and Carlisle.
A seven-under-par 65, in his opening round at Silloth, set him up well for the second day at Carlisle, where a level-par 71 secured victory by one. It was his fourth victory of the season and has the second-generation PGA pro in confident mood.
He explained: “I put in a lot of hard work this year with my coaches – my dad, Stewart, and Eric Sharp; I’ve got the right equipment – I’m very comfortable with the John Letters clubs; and, the final piece of the puzzle, was working with sports psychologist Karl Morris, who’s become my ‘mind coach’. And it’s all come together this year.
“We’ve got a solid team, we work hard, and work well together. The first tournament I played this year was the four-round Andalucía pro-am and, after two rounds, I was leading by eight shots and managed to win by three. Having the extra mental strength helped there. We’ve worked really hard on my routines, sticking to my processes and making sure it was the same every time regardless of the situation I was in. From there on I’ve played really solidly.”
Now he’s looking ahead to further success, beginning with the big season finale and, potentially, a European Tour card for 2016.
He added: “Hopefully this may prove to be the breakthrough season. I’m sitting 11th on the EuroPro order of merit; we’ve got three events left, finishing with Princes GC, near Sandwich, in Kent. I’m looking forward to that because it’s a links course – and I’ve already won on links in the Scottish Masters. I’ll be confident playing that.
“Then we have the Tour Championships at Desert Springs, in Almeria – that’s the big one. The top 60 play in that and the prize fund is already up to £81,000.
“Now I’ve won an event I’m in a nice position in the order of merit and that puts me in a good place going into that. The goal is to get into the top five.
“I’ve also entered European Tour Qualifying School and my first stage is at Frilford Heath, in Oxfordshire, in October.It’s a course I’ve played many times; I got through there once before, a couple of years ago. I’ve played the course so often it feels like a home track. On current form I’m looking forward to it.”
Wilkinson has been playing John Letters clubs for four years and his bag contains Master Model satin irons, Master Model black wedges and the renowned Master Model black driver. If he continues his progress and achieves the Holy Grail of a Tour card, he’ll be following in the footsteps of some of the game’s greats in playing John Letters at the highest level, including former Open champions Fred Daly, Paul Lawrie, Lee Trevino and Gary Player, and Ryder Cup captains Dai Rees, Sam Torrance and Bernard Gallacher.
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