In 2009 the world was Ross McGowanÂs oyster: he won the Madrid Masters in October, came second at the inaugural Dubai World Championship in November and finished the year at 67th in the world.
Two years earlier McGowan finished a successful amateur career and decided to begin his professional campaign on the 2007 Sunshine Tour. He started the season with a top-10 finish at the Dimension Data Pro-Am, which was played at Sun City, and continued to shine until eventually winning Rookie of the Year.
He carried that success to the European Tour in 2008 and continued to grow for the following two years, climbing through the ranks and eventually reaching 12th in the Race to Dubai in 2009.
But a wrist injury early into 2010 changed everything. Torn triangular fibrocartilage (TFC) in his wrist prevented the then-28-year-old from competing at full capacity, and McGowan began to slip down the rankings. By the end of 2010 he finished 77th in the Race to Dubai, meaning he would miss the Dubai World Championship where he finished second the year before. A final nail was put into the coffin when he withdrew from the Johnnie Walker Championship in August of 2010, conceding his chance for a Ryder Cup spot.
Luck was not on the EnglishmanÂs side. His visible struggles with the wrist injury were compounded when he strained the ligament that accompanies the cartilage. At the end of 2011 that ligament tore, adding a further six months to the recovery process. By that stage the damage to McGowanÂs career had already been done and he closed out the year at 151st on the Race to Dubai and 578th in the world.
After using last year to rediscover his game, McGowan is on track to reset his career. What makes the story unique is that heÂll have to start from right at the bottom.
ÂItÂs not easy to face actually,Â he said. ÂThis is the first time IÂve had to qualify here, and going to Tour School was surreal. ItÂs almost like going back to starting from amateur status. I have virtually no ranking points and no categories on any tour Â itÂs all a bit strange.Â
The Sunshine Tour has achieved fame as a breeding ground for local talent, and South Africa has the second-largest number of golfers in the worldÂs top 50. The 2013 schedule boasts six events co-sanctioned with the European Tour, more than any other tour, and thatÂs a big draw card for foreigners. This year there were 42 international entries at Qualifying School.
McGowanÂs injuries have taken his career back to grass-roots level, but he knows what heÂs achieved in the past. For now itÂs about starting from the beginning, and that means heading back to South Africa, the place where it all began.
ÂI would like to play on the Sunshine Tour as much as possible, but the tricky thing is having to qualifying for everything, because getting my card through Tour School means I donÂt automatically get into tournaments. IÂd like to get some good four-round tournaments under my belt, start again and work my way up,Â he said.
At the Sunshine TourÂs Qualifying School in mid-January the former English Amateur champion took his first step toward achieving those goals when, after five grueling rounds, he finished in 24th place and earned a tour card for the 2013 season.
Players earning cards through Tour School must pre-qualify for the majority of events on the schedule, and such was the case for McGowan at the Telkom PGA Pro-Am, which signals the start of the 2013 Sunshine Tour season. The Englishman was ready for the challenge and shot an impressive 67 to secure his place in the event, showing no sign of discomfort during the day.
The following day McGowan looked every inch the European Tour champion as he shot an immaculate 64 and rose into a share of the first-round lead. While two more rounds remain this week, itÂs clear that heÂs going from strength to strength in pursuit of former glory.