There’s no absolute right time to turn pro. But there can be a wrong one.
Ask any touring professional, and each will offer a different response about the timing for his or her jump and the reasons behind it. And they all have perfectly rational explanations for why it was the right time. Justin Rose turned pro at 17 after finishing T4 and earning low-amateur honors in the 1998 Open Championship at Royal Birkdale. Rose then missed the cut in 21 consecutive starts, enough of a struggle to do irreparable damage to most teenagers. The fact that Rose eventually became a major champion and the No. 1 player in the world is a testament to his fortitude during that time.
For some who have taken the plunge early, it has worked out. For others it has not.
Sergio García did well after turning pro as a teenager, eventually becoming a major champion like Rose. Ty Tryon is now 35. He turned pro at 16 and was the next big thing. In his pro career, he has won one Hooters Tour event.
How does a player know when to turn pro?
A three-time winner in eight starts on the Symetra Tour since turning pro in May, Patty Tavatanakit had a late-night chat with her then UCLA teammate and roommate Lilia Vu, who had earned an LPGA card via last fall’s Q-Series, and decided that she wanted to turn professional. She made the move following her sophomore season, debuting at the 2019 U.S. Women’s Open and subsequently competing on the LPGA’s developmental circuit thanks to status she had earned at the Q-Series.
For Tavatanakit, 20, it has worked out so far. As a result of her Symetra Tour performance – she is currently second on the 2019 money list – she is positioned to earn an LPGA card for next season as one of the tour’s top 10 money winners.
She thinks that women golfers should take on a pro career earlier in life than men.
“For female golfers, you don’t have that much time to build up your career,” Tavatanakit said. “It’s human nature, you go out, build your career, then start a family. Would you sacrifice that to just play golf for longer? For me, I don’t think I want to do that. …
“So I think female golfer should turn pro a little earlier; I’m not saying to leave college or anything, take whatever path you want to take. But for the men’s side, they have their whole lives to play. They just have to play well to build up the money for their family. … But for the women, it’s more complex. It’s building a career and then trying to start a family and a normal life.”
Tavatanakit continued: “Golf is getting younger and younger and there’s not much time to waste if you want to be successful in this profession. I just think that if you take it seriously enough, you don’t need to play for 20 years. You just need to play for 10-15 years. Earn enough money and then live off your income.”
“Life-wise, it is so hard out here. You have to do everything on your own. … It’s tough out of high school, but it’s just different for everybody.” – Braden Thornberry
Lorena Ochoa, who won 27 times in seven full LPGA seasons, retired at 28, started a family and now focuses on charitable endeavors in her native Mexico.
Suzann Pettersen, a two-time major winner, announced her retirement soon after holing the winning putt for Europe in the Solheim Cup last Sunday. She is 38 but has a husband and son, Herman, who have become her priority. “When you are out here (competing), you have to be totally focused,” Pettersen said. “I now have a family that takes up my focus away from golf.”
On the men’s side, Braden Thornberry, the former world No. 1 amateur, was tipped to turn pro after successful sophomore and junior campaigns at the University of Mississippi. He announced via Twitter that he would remain at Ole Miss for his senior year, but after earning status on what’s now the Korn Ferry Tour at last fall’s Q-School, he decided to skip his last semester and embark on his pro journey sooner than he had planned.
Thornberry finished No. 101 in the 2019 Korn Ferry Tour standings, missing the cut in half of his 16 starts and failing to earn conditional status on the circuit for 2020 by less than two points. As a result, he will retreat to Stage 1 of Korn Ferry Tour Q-School early next month.
Should he have finished his college career? Perhaps, but Thornberry doesn’t have any regrets.
“Life-wise, it is so hard out here,” Thornberry said. “You have to do everything on your own. … It’s tough out of high school, but it’s just different for everybody. Everybody has their own path. You just have to be fully committed to turning pro. You have to play good golf, you can’t go back to college and play after that.
“I would recommend not going pro if you’re 50-50. You have to be all in.”
Two teenage up-and-comers, Yealimi Noh and Akshay Bhatia, are taking that approach, having elected to skip college entirely in favor of turning pro.
Noh, an 18-year-old Californian who won the 2018 U.S. Girls’ Junior, turned down a UCLA scholarship offer. Since turning pro earlier this year, she has Monday-qualified for multiple LPGA tournaments, most notably finishing second at the Cambia Portland Classic earlier this month.
Bhatia, a 17-year-old from Wake Forest, N.C., is making his debut as a professional at this week’s PGA Tour stop, the Sanderson Farms Championship in Jackson, Miss. A top junior competitor who rose to No. 5 on the World Amateur Golf Ranking, Bhatia made the leap following the Walker Cup, where he was part of the U.S. squad that defeated Great Britain and Ireland at Royal Liverpool earlier this month.
Noh and Bhatia had long planned to pursue pro golf rather than attend college, while Tavatanakit and Thornberry took more time before taking the plunge.
Did each turn pro at the right time? Only time will tell.
After finishing T4 at the Open Championship in 1998, Justin Rose turned professional at the age of 17 and missed 21 consecutive cuts. Photo: David Cannon, Getty Images
We are sorry that this post was not useful for you!
Tell us how we can improve this post?