Not every 24-year-old is faced with a half-hour that could change their life – but on Sunday, December 6 in 2015, that was the exact position Victorian Nathan Holman found himself in.
“You never know when it’s going to happen with golf,” says Holman.
“You have to take your opportunities when they come and that’s all you can do.
“Once you get the chances, you kind of have to take them. That’s what builds a career I think.”
Holman, then a rising star yet to make his mark in the pro ranks, entered the final round of the Australian PGA Championship two strokes behind a trio of players.
A double-bogey on Royal Pines’ first hole on Sunday afternoon – for the second day in a row – would knock the stuffing out of most. Not Holman.
“I think I felt ready, I felt like I was knocking on the door,” says Holman.
“I’d put together some good rounds but had not really finished a tournament off.”
A pair of closing bogeys saw Holman draw level with the layout for the week, finishing at even-par, that score enough to punch a ticket into a playoff against the PGA Tour’s Harold Varner III and South African Dylan Fritelli.
On the line was a $330,000 winner’s cheque – at Australia’s most lucrative tournament – and a two-year exemption on the European Tour.
That’s a lot to consider for a 24-year-old trying to ‘build a career’.
“I never really got too ahead of myself, which I think was probably why it ended up how it did. I was just in a pretty good space,” says Holman.
“You hear it all the time, but if you’re consciously thinking of the consequences, it’s hard.
“Something really clicked, I felt quite calm and thought ‘maybe this is my time’.”
Varner’s second shot into Royal Pines’ obscure 18th green came up well short, Fritelli’s ball sailing long and finishing even worse.
Holman drilled his approach into the heart of the elevated green and two putts later, his life had changed.
“Straight away it was probably relief more than anything,” says Holman.
“It wasn’t until the next few days or even weeks before you’ve worked out what it all meant and what the next couple of years were going to look like.
“Definitely a pretty big life changer.”
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Ask any new professional, the hardest part about the game at the top level is finding a place to play.
Sporadic invites to events with world-class fields are an excellent place for Australia’s rising stars to gain experience, but it isn’t easy to lock down a full tour card.
“It’s quite difficult, I think, for Australians to get away from Australia and start playing golf on international tours,” says Holman.
“You just look at how many guys we actually have in Europe and the US, it’s not that many, and the chances we have of getting to those tours are less and less.
“My goal was obviously to play in Europe, but I didn’t think it was going to happen as quickly as it did or by winning a tournament.”
As countless Australian golfers have learned in years gone by, earning a spot on one of the world’s richest tours is still only a job half done.
Miss more cuts than you make and the week-to-week grind of skipping around Europe – and further abroad – becomes a very expensive exercise.
Two days before winning this year’s Oates Vic Open, Australian Dimi Papadatos admitted his recent struggles in Europe had been “a good wake-up call” after “really struggling” to make the most of his opportunities overseas.
“I just got beaten down for about five months over there,” said Papadatos in February.
“I played terrible and it cost me a lot of money.”
Holman looked right at home in the early stages of the 2016 season, carrying his winning form from the Gold Coast to Qatar and Dubai for two consecutive top 35 finishes.
Two weeks later the Victorian rejoined the circuit at the Maybank Championship Malaysia and Holman immediately showed he meant business.
Opening rounds of 64 and 65 saw him canter to a two-stroke halfway lead, Holman rattling off 14 birdies in the first two days before finding himself in unchartered waters.
“It was a strange week, I didn’t feel that good heading into the tournament,” says Holman.
“I opened with three or four birdies in a row and as soon as that happened my mindset just changed. I just took everything on.”
The Australian’s first lesson in a long year of learning came over the weekend, four birdies in five holes on Saturday afternoon all but erased with a closing triple-bogey from which Holman failed to recover.
“It was probably the first time in a professional event where I’ve had that big of a lead and I never felt that comfortable. It was pretty foreign ground,” says Holman.
“Looking back, I probably let that one slip. You’ve still got 36 holes to play, that’s a lot of golf.
“It was a bit of a let down.”
Deep down Holman admits that early in his first full year in Europe his game wasn’t “at a level where it was really good. It was just consistent”.
His swing wasn’t broke, but he tried fixing it anyway.
Holman ducked over to Adelaide to team up with Ryan Lumsden, someone he’d worked with during his amateur career that yielded half-a-dozen wins.
“We started to do some work on my swing and he just questioned a few of the things I was doing. It started ringing a few alarm bells for me, that I’d kind of gone away from where I wanted my swing and technique to be,” Holman says.
“I was maybe naïve that I thought ‘I’ll just change some things that I want to change, but I’ll keep playing well, it’s not going to be different’.
“But it was. And once you see enough bad stuff, mentally, it starts to take its toll.”
Another pair of consecutive top 35 finishes in China masked some underlying issues, before Holman’s European summer was far from a holiday.
“I just got into a bad run of events,” says Holman.
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Eight missed cuts from nine starts – including rounds of 72 and 76 at The Open at Royal Troon – saw Holman’s season come full circle.
“It’s just a shame that it all happened so quickly,” says Holman.
“I was playing well, then all of a sudden I wasn’t.”
With another full season on the European Tour locked in for 2017, Holman’s priority towards the end of last year was going deep in the season-ending Race To Dubai Final Series.
As the pay cheques became few and far between, Holman mixed up his schedule so he could tee it up more often and hopefully play his way into some form and Tour’s big finale in Dubai.
“I was pushing myself to get to those events,” says Holman.
“It’s hard to step back and take a week off here and there to do some good work, so you can play the next week and play better – as opposed to playing two weeks in a row thinking that you can get by and get a bit of money.
“You hear it all the time, guys saying ‘The minute you start chasing results is the minute things unravel’.”
And unravel they did. The extra toll on Holman’s body from a jam-packed schedule saw his back flare up, forcing his withdrawal from the British Masters in October and again at the Nedbank Golf Challenge in South Africa a month later.
“I’ve always learnt lessons by failure,” says Holman.
“You have to take one on the chin before you realise ‘Okay, that’s probably not the right thing I did there’.
“That was probably an experience thing that I won’t do again if I have my time over.”
Holman’s second full year in Europe presents its own challenges. Unlike in 2016, Holman will be embroiled in the year-long race to earn back his card for the following season.
However, he retains the ability to pick and choose when and where he’ll tee it up, an invaluable luxury that he’s hoping to make the most of.
“Last year, every week was a new experience,” says Holman.
“Having played some courses last year and now being a little bit more familiar with them, I’ve chosen events that I enjoyed playing, I enjoyed the cities.
“I’ve focussed my year more around that than which are the ‘best’ events.”
After a solid block of training at home in Melbourne, Holman will play back-to-back weeks in China in April, before he kicks off a marathon 10-week stint at the end of May at the $US7,000,000 BMW PGA Championship.
Despite cashing just one cheque from seven starts early in the 2017 season, Holman knows there’s no need to hit the panic button yet.
“It’s such a long year, you’ve got so long to get your money up on the Tour,” says Holman.
“There’s plenty of time to build and to get going for the end of the year, the finals, when you really want to be playing well.”
Interestingly, Holman isn’t trying to chase a win in 2017.
He’s likely aware that if he can find his groove on the course an opportunity will arise and he’ll be ready to make the most of it.
“I’ve always found it hard to say winning a tournament is a goal of mine, because you have to do a lot of work behind the scenes before it gets to that stage,” says Holman.
“But one week can be a big thing in golf. You can achieve a lot.”
Few of the game’s rising stars know that better than Nathan Holman.
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