By Jeff Shain, PGATOUR.COM Contributor
Call it the no-shortcuts path to dual membership.
Once his final putt drops at this weekend’s BMW Charity Pro-Am, Dawie van der Walt will grab his passport and cross the Atlantic for the European Tour’s flagship event, going up against the likes of Luke Donald, Rory McIlroy, Ernie Els and Sergio Garcia.
Van der Walt has automatic entry at Wentworth from winning the Tshwane Open two months ago in his South African homeland. It also serves as the launch point for a four-month odyssey as he works to retain the card he didn’t expect while pursuing the one that’s always been his goal.
“It’s a good problem to have,” he said, “but it makes things a bit much right now.”
From Wentworth, van der Walt will play consecutive weeks in Sweden, Austria, France, Germany and Ireland. Then after a week off to return to U.S. soil – a chance to swap out his wardrobe and maybe pay bills – he’ll play the final seven weeks in a row of the Web.com Tour season.
If all goes well, he’ll get another three straight weeks competing in the Web.com Tour Finals before a week off leading into the finale.
For those who might have lost count, that’s 17 tournaments in an 18-week span. Call it 18-in-20 when you tack on the Web.com Tour Championship.
Whew. Oh, but wait – the Web.com season could very well be followed by a three-week blitz of Portugal, Australia and China.
“No, I don’t have any time off. It’s terrible,” van der Walt said with a hint of mock indignation. “But I play golf every day anyway, even if I’m at home.”
What did the 30-year-old pro do to get put through this kind of wringer? Well, go back to that victory at the Tshwane Open.
Van der Walt’s two-shot triumph over countryman Darren Fichardt earned him a European Tour winner’s exemption until the end of 2015. All he has to do is keep his newfound membership active.
And to do that, he has to play 13 European Tour events a year.
That’s about nine more than van der Walt had factored into his schedule. He’s lived in Texas since his days at Lamar University, but goes back to South Africa for a handful of Sunshine Tour events in the winter.
The Tshwane Open was van der Walt’s final stop this year before heading back to join the Web.com Tour schedule in Louisiana. A second-round 65 moved him one shot off the pace, and he emerged from a four-way logjam atop the board to begin final day.
“The week before I’d kind of started playing better,” van der Walt recalled, “then everything just kind of kicked in.
“It’s not like I was close and finally broke through. I hadn’t been close at all. But I never hit the ball left [of my target line] that week, and I putted good. That kind of works.”
Then came the dilemma. Van der Walt, in his third Web.com Tour season, has made a PGA TOUR card his aim since graduating from Lamar in 2007. But that pursuit is ongoing, as he tries to finish among the top 25 in Web.com Tour earnings.
Meantime, he has a European Tour guarantee – as long as he punches his dance card.
“If I don’t play the minimum number of events, I forfeit my status,” he said, posing the worst-case scenario. “Next year you [could be] playing minitours and have nothing. So I kind of have to keep that status.”
Van der Walt couldn’t pass up the guarantee. But his challenge is greater than the balancing act faced each year by Donald, McIlroy and the rest.
Major championships and World Golf Championships events are allowed to count against both PGA TOUR and European Tour minimums. Van der Walt, though, doesn’t have that luxury because he’s not in those fields.
Van der Walt, in fact, will bypass U.S. Open qualifying this year while playing his European string. “This is tougher,” he said. “Doesn’t mean I’m better.”
The challenge was to find a way to alter his schedule while minimizing its impact – both on his Web.com Tour chances and his own physical stamina.
“If you look at their schedule, they fly all over the world,” van der Walt said, noting a recent stretch that had the tour in Morocco, India, Malaysia and South Korea.
Van der Walt waited until the tour actually got back to Europe, keeping travel compact as he hits six countries in six weeks. And if he starts to get fatigued, he won’t exactly be hurt by a missed cut.
“I might in one of those tournaments just go for every [flag],” he suggested. “And if I miss the cut, I’ll get a weekend off.”
More crucial is for van der Walt to maximize his earnings once he gets back to Web.com competition. He heads to South Carolina this week at No. 16 on the money list, with $79,508 that should be about halfway to a PGA TOUR card, but will miss five events while in Europe.
“And I already didn’t play the first three, which makes it tough,” he said. “I’m basically playing two-thirds of this schedule, trying to get a [PGA TOUR] card. … When I play, I’ve got to play well.”
If van der Walt secures his PGA TOUR card, the European minimums may not matter anymore. Whatever the result, though, he’ll eventually be able to rest in the fact that he’ll have a meaningful place to play – and taken a path few would endeavor.
“I wish there was no minimum and could just play where you want to play,” he said. “But it makes you tough.”