It has been a rollercoaster ride for PGA professional Paul Wesselingh since joining the European Seniors Tour and leaving his job as head pro at Kedleston Park
When Paul Wesselingh topped the European Senior Tour’s Order of Merit last year, it completed a remarkable journey for the Derby-based professional.
Wesselingh, 52, has effectively jumped from behind the till in the pro shop to become Europe’s top senior golfer, beating off the challenge of renowned names such as eight-time European Tour Order of Merit winner Colin Montgomerie, and former Ryder Cup captains Sam Torrance and Mark James.
The father-of-three left his post as head pro at Kedleston Park in February 2012, after gaining a full Tour card at his first attempt at Qualifying School and, subsequently, finishing as Rookie of the Year in his first year as a senior. In his second year – his first as a full-time playing professional – he stunned his rivals with four victories to secure the Order of Merit.
It was a long way from the day back in the 1990s, when he eschewed a potential Tour career to remain at home with his family while earning a crust as a pro at Chorley GC.
A regular in the regional PGA events in the Midlands and North regions, Wesselingh also played in national events and PGA of Europe events. He played in the club professionals’ version of the Ryder Cup, the PGA Cup, on six successive occasions between 1998 and 2009 – a record since qualification became a requirement – and captained England in the European team championships on four occasions.
“As I played more and more, winning regional Orders of Merit and playing mini tours, I realised my golf was improving,” he adds. “Mind you, I worked so hard at it. Running up to seniors from my mid-40s I started doing a lot of fitness work – biomechanics, biometrics, working with Ben Langdown at the PGA – and upped my playing as I got closer to 50.
“I played the first event in Mallorca and came second and that set it all off. That got me into the US Senior PGA Championship, where I finished 20th – my second event as a senior was a Major!
“I then won the ISPS Handa PGA Seniors Championship at Slaley Hall, in the second event after I came back from the States, and it snowballed from there. I carried on playing well and eventually won Rookie of the Year for 2012.
“Last year I won my first event, defending the ISPS Handa, won two weeks after that and then the last two events – it was a crazy year. To win the overall Order of Merit the year after Rookie of the Year was a dream come true. My aim in 2012 was to stay in the top 30 and keep my card – but after I’d won it was just a case of how high I could go.”
Shaking on it
In an old-style,‘gentleman’s agreement’, Wesselingh played with John Letters irons and wedges throughout his trophy-winning season, without the need to pen a ‘sponsorship’ deal with the historic Scottish brand.
He explained: “There was never a contract between us. I started using John Letters in 2012, halfway through the year, at Turnberry. I was using a set of blades I felt were getting too difficult to use and happened to see the John Letters guys on the practice area – and they were fantastic. They fitted me for a set and it was ready on the third day of the British Seniors at Turnberry, so I put them straight in my bag, used them in the last round and shot a 69! I was really pleased with that.
“From then on we worked closely together and I’ve played with them ever since. They’ve been fantastic and have really looked after me.”
Launched in 1918 by its eponymous founder, John Letters was famed for its association with many of the world’s leading golfers including Bernard Gallacher, Dai Rees, Paul Lawrie, Fred Daly, Gary Player, Sam Torrance and Lee Trevino. But in 2005, with mass production of clubs by other manufacturers and an increase in imports from the Asian market, John Letters could not compete in its existing form and was placed in receivership. It was subsequently purchased by PGA professional John Andrew, who has succeeded in turning round the brand.
Wesselingh has adjusted his aim for 2014, with his sights set on the season’s majors: “This year I need to do better in the majors. I missed the cut in two last year – having made the cut in both in my first year.”
Wesselingh is ready to take the next step.