The number of times English golfer Matthew Southgate has made it through qualifying school is proof of his grit. He was under no illusion where he stood in terms of skill, but since turning professional in 2010, the 6’4” giant from Essex never gave up on his dream of playing with the best in Europe.
Looking back, he can say the never-say-die spirit helped tide over the crisis that threatened to engulf him and wipe out his identity as a golfer.
It was one of those rare phases in July 2015 when Southgate, 28, returned from an uplifting week on the European Challenge Tour, recording a top-10 finish in Germany. He had been in discomfort, which led him to seek medical help before leaving, but had hoped it would pass off with medication. That was not to be as soon after getting back the test results confirmed what he’d been hoping to wish away.
Dreams on hold
Diagnosed with testicular cancer, the past went by like a blur. His dreams of emulating Seve Ballesteros, whose 1984 Open triumph at St Andrews inspired him to take up the sport, lay in tatters. Southgate wasn’t short on inspiration, waking up early to watch Tiger Woods practice at Muirfield in 2002 was another instance that had made him fonder.
It was up to Southgate to set an example. He could have quit due to poor form, but there was no way he was going to succumb to the circumstances.
He underwent surgery and was back at the range within a few weeks against medical advice. Half-fit, it was back to Q-School and the long road to the main tour. A series of missed cuts later, hope glimmered. At last year’s Irish Open, hosted by Rory McIlroy, Southgate earned his career’s biggest pay cheque by finishing fourth. Such was the rejoicing that it even took the spotlight off the host for a while.
First cut of 2017
Normalcy restored, Southgate is functioning as a pro should --- moving on after setbacks in the bid to get better. Some proof was on offer as he made the first cut of the year at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic.
The knocks on the golf course can in no way match what he’s been through. Empowered, Southgate now has another task on hand. That is to be by the side of sister Katie’s leukemia-stricken three-year-old, and raise a toast on her 18th birthday.