PGA rules put paid to Phil Ridden's pro hopes - for now

City of Newcastle golfer Phil Ridden is back working full-time after being forced to shelve plans to turn professional

Former Journal Champion of Champions winner Phil Ridden
Former Journal Champion of Champions winner Phil Ridden

This is around the time of year when amateurs who have enjoyed a taste of success might be warming to the idea of turning professional.

Two years ago Phil Ridden had reasons for cautious optimism. A former Northumberland strokeplay champion, he had set seven course records and followed such players as Luke Donald, Lee Westwood and Kenneth Ferrie in winning a national amateur event, the Lagonda Trophy.

There was no long-term financial pressure. A plus three handicapper, Ridden was allowed an unpaid career break from his civil service job in the tax office at Longbenton to test himself on the PGA EuroPro Tour, the third string circuit on the ladder to the European Tour, one below the Challenge Tour.

His club City of Newcastle, with ultra positive chairman Jim Screen leading the way, went to great lengths to organise a fighting fund of just over £7,000 to help with his expenses.

What has happened since should make most amateurs think long and hard before taking the plunge.

In 2012, Ridden was 79th in the EuroPro rankings with £1,477 in winnings from 11 tournaments. This year? Placed 130th, he won £282 from five events.

It over simplifies the issue to suggest Ridden’s results may be solely down to the fact that, although he possesses a high degree of accuracy, he is not a big hitter.

On the longer courses mainly used by the EuroPro Tour, he can find himself attacking greens with woods at times when most of his rivals are using six irons.

It would have helped had he been able to play on the regional PGA circuit for professionals based in the North East and Cumbria.

Ridden is ineligible to join the PGA because he does not work as a club pro, either in a club shop or as a teaching professional.

For the same reason he cannot play in PGA North tournaments, where the region stretches from north Wales to the Scottish border.

Ridden played only those five EuroPro events this year because he has returned to his full-time job, now making it impossible to fit in many more tournaments anyway.

He said: “As an amateur I was used to competing in 40 or 50 tournaments a season. It would have helped to sharpen my game if I had been able to play on the PGA circuits regionally last year.”

It is to Ridden’s credit that he will never need to wonder “what if?” – after all he is giving it a go. But with the benefit of hindsight it is relevant to ask if his original optimism should have been even more cautious, and whether he should have checked out the PGA situation.

Hartlepool’s Graeme Storm is the only player from the region to pass five million euros (almost £4.2m) in European Tour prize money, recovering from his own difficult early years to capture the French Open in 2007.

Storm was also playing off plus three when he turned pro in the year 2000. Now attached to Rockliffe Hall, the 35-year-old said: “There can be no hard and fast rule because a golfer as successful as Ian Poulter was a four handicapper when turning pro, but generally speaking I would say the bar has been raised.

“The standards are such now that to make it on the main tour you would usually need to be a plus four or five amateur.”

Ridden, 28, who lives in Dudley, near Cramlington, is not throwing in the towel just yet.

“I am going to take stock early next year to see if I can raise any more financial support,” he added. “Then I shall take a decision on whether to apply to have my amateur status back, which would come in for the 2015 season.”

In which case a different target may be set.

Having won The Journal Champion of Champions on Slaley Hall’s Hunting course in 2009 and on the Colt at Close House in 2011, Ridden could become the first player to capture the title three times.

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