Gentle giant Gary Cullen left the amateur game under a cloud last year – written off as a loser.
His critics dismissed him when he walked out of the Leinster camp during a selection row at the Interprovincials in Killarney.
They said he hadn’t got the game or the mentality to become a tour pro but he’s proved them all wrong after earning a Challenge Tour card in style for next season.
The problem now for this 6’ 5” tall swinger from Baldoyle is that he needs a cool €40,000 just to continue to live the dream.
“Hopefully somebody will come along and give me a hand with a bit of sponsorship,” he said this week.
“It’s expensive and I’m looking for a sponsor at the moment but I’ve had no luck. Hopefully I’ll get some help somewhere.”
Life on tour may be expensive – over €1,000 a week - but it’s a welcome problem for a man who made a miserable £640 from 10 events on the lowly Europro Tour this year.
In fact, Cullen is so upbeat about the year ahead that he’s looking dreamily across the estuary from his home in the north Dublin suburb of Baldoyle to the gates of exclusive Portmarnock, venue for next year’s Nissan Irish Open.
It’s a course he has played “loads of times” and like any Irish professional, he’s hoping for an invite that would be the equivalent of a dream come true.
As for the amateur game, he doesn’t miss it at all.
“It was probably the best decision I ever made to get out of the amateur game,” he confessed.
“I’m going to do what I always dreamed of doing since to do since I was a child. I knew I had it in me to get this far and I didn’t have to prove anything to anyone.”
Cullen missed the cut at Stage One the Q School last year and after turning his hand to professional golf just nine months ago, he has come a hell of a long way.
First he cruised through the early stages of the qualifying school before making it though to the finals in Spain, where opened with an eight under 63 and played all six rounds.
In the end he finished five shots away from a full tour card, but he’s not greedy.
“I’ve been at it since last February,” he revealed. “It’s been a training field for me. I have learnt a hell of a lot and picked up a lot of experience.
“I had a goal of getting to the finals and then try to qualify in the top 75 for the last two rounds and give myself a chance and I did exactly what I set out to do.
“I’m sort of glad I didn’t get a full European Tour card after being a pro for such a short time. It would have been a step too far.
“This way I get a year’s apprenticeship on the Challenge Tour and hopefully try and qualify in the Top 15 on the Order of Merit and go on from there.”
Despite what his critics say, Cullen has never had any doubt that he has what it wakes to make it.
He took up the game at Beaverstown and made his big breakthrough in 1999 when he won the Irish Amateur Open at Royal Dublin.
But after a year of disaster on the Europro Tour in the UK in all came good in Spain.
“I know I can play every shot in the book. You need a bit of luck here and there. Now we’ll just have to wait and see over the next few months.”
But is the pressure of playing for cash totally alien to a man that has played for this country in the Home Internationals?
“Yes, it’s totally different. It’s hard to explain for the simple reason that every shot means something. It’s not like the Home Internationals where you can lose a hole and come back and win the next one.
“Every shot you play is important and if you are not physically fit you have no chance.”
Cullen knew he had what it takes when he eagled his 72nd hole to qualify for the last two rounds of the School, guaranteeing a Challenge Tour card.
He explained: “I needed a birdie to be sure and I got a good drive away but ended up on an upslope. I had 190 yards to the flag over water. Do you go for it or lay up? I just said, ‘this is the reason why you’ve been playing this game for the last 10 years. Let’s see how good you are now.’
“I took out a five iron and hit it to 25 feet and holed the putt for an eagle. It was an unbelievable feeling. If I put a bad swing on it I was in the water for sure.”
Cullen’s father Bob, mother Marie and sister Clare have been a huge support but he also has words of thanks for Harry Rowsome and Pat McCallion from his home club.
“The have been very good to me. Everybody has. Including the boys on the tour. I’m really looking forward to a great adventure next year.”
Irish amateur golfers have hit it big – thanks to the National Lottery.
Leading amateur golfers have been given grants totalling €63,500 by the Irish Sports Council.
The grants cover national and international competition as well as training costs for 2002 and are being paid from the allocation to Sport from the National Lottery.
Athlone’s Colm Moriarty is the top recipient with a grant of €6,000 while Noel Fox (Portmarnock) and Justin Kehoe (Birr) both receive
Colm Moriarty (Athlone) and Justin Kehoe (Birr) have been selected by the GUI to compete in the Lake Macquarie Amateur Championship and the New South Wales Medal and Amateur Championship in Australia from January 24-27.
They will then play the NSW 72 holes Medal and Amateur Championship at the Lakes Golf Club from February 5-9.
Meanwhile, Michael McDermott (Stackstown) and Robert McCarthy (The Island), have been selected to compete in the Juan Carlos Tailhade Championship and the 7th International Team Tournament at the Los Lagartos Country Club, near Buenos Aires,
Argentina from December 5-8.
© Brian Keogh 2002