Friday, September 01, 2006


We all know how tough life can be for the not so successful tour pros - men and women alike - but a reminder that it's not a bed of roses might not be a bad thing at the moment for those contemplating making the switch from the amateur to the pro ranks. Here's an interview which Lisa D Mickey of the US Duramed Futures Tour did this week with Samantha Head, one of the Bedford-born twins who are both currently playing - but at different levels - in the United States.

LISA D MICKEY of the US Duramed Futures Tour interviews SAMANTHA HEAD

At this time of the competitive schedule, there are many "shoulda-woulda-couldas"coming from the mouths of pros who wish they had played differently during the season. Samantha Head, a veteran touring pro playing her rookie year on the Duramed FUTURES Tour, made a late-season discovery that had her longing for a differentoutcome.
"When you're on tour, you can be anywhere in the world, but if I had just focused onbeing here, I'm sure I could have done a bit better," said Head, 33, of Bedford, England, who has played seven years on the Ladies European Tour (LET) and three years on the Japan LPGA (JLPGA). "You always learn things playing tournament golf, but what I learned this year is you have to get balance, and balance means playing on one tour."
Of course, when the invitations come from large-purse events or tournaments in her European homeland, Head found them hard to resist. She ended up jetting back and forth across the Atlantic, fighting jetlag and injuries, as she skipped tournaments here.
With one tournament remaining in the 2006 Duramed Futures Tour schedule, she's currently ranked 21st on the money list and knows she has to make a move forward if she wants to advance directly into the LPGA's Final Qualifying Tournament.
"You have to think of what you want in the long run -- not what you want right now,"she said.
And what Head's long-term goal includes is playing on the LPGA Tour alongside her twin sister, Johanna Head. With Sam playing in Europe and in Asia in recent years and Jo playing in the United States, the twins have had to put their dream of playing together on the same tour on hold for many years.
"We've spent quite a few years apart, so it will be weird if we do finally end up on the same tour," said sister Jo, who has had LPGA status for four years. "But I really hope she makes it. I admire her ability to not be afraid to go to Japan or to the Duramed Futures Tour alone. She has a good fighting spirit and I'm her No. 1 fan."
The twins began playing golf at age 13 after spending several years training in ballet and playing various musical instruments. By age 17, they quit high school to work in a golf shop until they were 21. Both held three different jobs as they workedon their games, planning their respective pro careers.
"I worked Monday through Friday for a company that booked golf holidays, and weekends at a golf shop and also in a nursing home, wiping bottoms," said Sam. "Every penny I've earned came from what I earned for myself."
But the road to professional golf was more difficult than the twins expected and it eventually forked, with Jo marrying and making it to the LPGA and Sam labouring on the Ladies European Tour in various European countries. She won on the LET and lived in Madrid for four years. She was married, but later divorced. And then she ended up in Japan.
"It was like night and day there," said Sam of the three years she lived and played in Japan. "My room was sometimes so small that I had to sleep with my suitcase on my bed. I made porridge in a tiny kettle and I just never wanted to go back to my room because it was so small that I had to duck to go in."
At 5ft 7in, Head is no giant. And she soon learned that she was no giant in Japan, finishing 37th on the JLPGA's money list her first year, 42nd her second year and 66th in her final season. She played against the likes of young superstar Ai Miyazato and veteran Ayako Okamoto, and made a decent living as a resident of Tokyo for three years.
But in the end, she longed for friends and comfort and a time zone more conducive to staying in touch with her family.
"I really learned to appreciate life and in the end, I found that money didn't bring me happiness," said Sam. "It's a long, long way from home. If Jo had been there, it would have been completely different."
But Jo was cutting her teeth on the LPGA Tour. And Sam found herself flying into Chicago from Japan in June 2005, hoping to make a life for herself Stateside. She had heard about the Duramed Futures Tour and wanted the chance to play American golf courses.
"I told her it would give her good perspective about what to expect on the LPGATour," said Jo, who is older by seven minutes. "She called and said, 'But I don't know where these places are,' and I said, 'Well, I suggest that you buy a good map.'"
And that was the beginning of Samantha Head's Stateside journey on the 2006 Duramed Futures Tour. Used to playing with more established professionals between the ages of 20-30 on the LET and JLPGA, Sam now found herself playing on a tour where the average age is 25 and where there were a number of teenage pros.
But while her experiencewould have seemingly given her an upper hand, Sam again found there were lessons to be learned.
"I had no illusions about this (Futures) Tour because I knew the girls were good out here," she said. "It's almost easier for the young ones because they don't know anything else. Memory is not always a great thing."
But the 11-year pro has found her place. And with the encouragement of boyfriend Santiago Mari, a clubfitter at the David Leadbetter Academy headquarters in Orlando,Fla., Sam hopes she'll move into the Futures Tour's top 15 spots on the money list for a chance at a direct entry into the LPGA's Final Qualifying Tournament.
"Those two [sisters] give each other motivation and playing on the LPGA Tour is something they both want," said Mari. "Sam has been very patient and she's not lacking anything right now. She's come to a tour where she didn't know anybody andshe's learned a lot about her game."
She also has produced some solid numbers this season, averaging 71.769 strokes per round (ranking sixth on the Tour), 29.219 putts per round, while hitting 85% of her fairways and 66% of her greens in regulation.
"She hasn't had the results she's wanted here yet, but I think she's one round away from winning over here," added Mari. "She's still getting ready for next year."
And with a season under her belt, Sam's dream of joining her sister has moved a little closer. An active LET member by virtue of its career money list, she travelled abroad to compete in Switzerland, France and Hungary this season. But concern for her spot on the Duramed Futures Tour money list had her saying "no" to Holland, Sweden, Norway and Wales. She even withdrew from playing the Monday qualifier for the Weetabix Women's British Open, for which she has qualified five times in five tries.
And while Sam's passport has stamps from such places as Qatar, China, Malaysia, Thailand, Australia, New Zealand and practically every country in Europe, as well as a catalogue of Japanese visas, she is content to point her focus Stateside.
Sure, if she gains automatic entry into the LPGA's final stage of Q-School, she might play in the English Open and Dubai Open in October. But for now, Sam plans to pour her energies into finding a way of spending 2007 on the LPGA Tour with her twin --hopefully for many years.
"I feel settled in my private life, but the golf part is bloody hard because you have to be totally dedicated with such high competition here and on the LPGA Tour," Sam said. "But now, I have one focus and thank goodness, I haven't finished this season quite yet.