Kent chasing pro dream in Bloemfontein

Matthew KentHe was South Africa’s best amateur back in 2003 and 2004, and Matthew Kent had the golfing world at his feet when he turned professional at the end of January 2005.

This week sees him in Bloemfontein, trying for the fifth year in a row to regain some sort of playing status as he tees it up in the Sunshine Tour’s 2016 Qualifying School, a 90-hole marathon over the courses at Schoeman Park Golf Club and Bloemfontein Golf Club, after which 30 players will emerge with rights to test themselves on the a tour which has the slogan, ‘It begins here’.

Kent was Amateur of the Year both in 2003 and 2004 when, of the eight major events he entered, he won four, was second in two and inside the top five in the rest. Team-wise, he represented South Africa in the 2004 Eisenhower Trophy. And before that he finished leading individual in the World Junior Team Championships in Japan with an 18-under-par return of 270 (a tournament record score) which included a course-record 64.

Then still 17, he turned professional, telling journalists, “Believe me, I’m ready to be a pro. I already have the experience. It was getting to the stage where I was bored with amateur golf. I was ranked No. 1 in the country, but if I’d stayed an amateur I was worried I might lose interest and fall down the rankings. That would have been a retrogressive step.

“I need the new challenges pro golf has to offer. I’ve been around the world playing golf and wherever I go I see guys who are good, but also beatable.”

But then the kid who had shot a 10-under 62 at Leopard Creek at the age of 16 slowly sank without trace. He made a couple of cuts over the next two years and earned a bit of cash, but he fell completely off the golfing radar when he tried to ply his trade in the United States.

And it was 10 years later that he finally managed to lift a trophy which many had felt would have come a lot sooner. He took the IGT’s Mowbray Classic in July. “It is quite difficult to describe the relief and elation of getting this first win under the belt,” he said. “This win is the first step in the right direction on a very long road to get where I want to go, but you have to take that first step to get there.”

The next step is to play well enough over the remainder of the Qualifying School in Bloemfontein to get inside that top 30. He’s started with a five-over 77, which is not promising, but he’s been down this road before. “It was not a great start,” he admitted. “But looking back on the round, there were a lot of places I can improve. There were mistakes that keep kind of happening, but one good round gets me right back into it. So I’ll just go out there and give it my best.

“I’m a little older than a lot of the guys playing here this week, so I think I take things a little more calmly than many of them. I’d like to think I’ve learnt from my mistakes, so I try and do all the right things, but then you wake up and golf is one of those animals where you just don’t know what’s going to happen on the day. You can prepare all you want, and then on the day what happens just shoots you down.”

And yet, having lived through what he has lived through, having been rebuffed by the game so often he comes back. “It must have been five times, six times, I don’t remember,” he said. “What brings me back is knowing that I can do it. There’s still that bug inside. There’s a lot of moments where I play really well, so I think I can do this.

“I don’t think it’s only at Q-School that I battle. It’s just in general with my golf. I have moments when I’m playing quite solidly, and then, it can be in tournaments, social rounds… I think it’s probably the pressure I put on myself and the anxiety of really wanting to do well, and then also having that little bit of doubt, of being not quite so sure that also plays a part in the whole thing.

“When you have a good round, you feel great and that’s why we play. We think we can really do this, but the fact of the matter is, even for the top guys, those rounds are few and far between. There’s a lot of just hanging in there and grinding it out.”

He’s done that and more, in pursuit of a dream. “My dream is to earn my money by playing tournaments,” he said. “Right now is quite a difficult time. I need to see how this week goes. I’ve been giving it a good go for about a year-and-a-half now full time. Luckily, I’ve been supported financially. So I’m just trying to get my card, and once I’ve got it, go from there.”

He’s just 27 now, and that should be young enough in golf to keep trying. But he’s been through more than most 27-year-old professional wannabes. It’s crunch time.

“At the end of this week, I have to make some decisions – either way,” he said.


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