One shot made all the difference for Matt McLean, who finally qualified as a professional golfer this year.
The former Timaru man just missed out qualifying as a pro last year by being over by one shot.
This year his steadfast determination saw him qualify one shot under and he is currently ranked ninth in New Zealand.
It has been a long road. The 26-year-old started playing golf with his dad Don and grandfather David Marshall at the now defunct St Andrews Golf Club when he was 13.
“I would play twilight golf and would play on Saturdays,” he said.
“I had junior coaching when I was 7 but I didn’t enjoy it. I only got back into it at [Timaru Boys’] High School.”
His dedication was apparent early on. While his dad would be finishing up a beer in the clubhouse after Saturday golf, McLean would be busy working on his swing, hitting 50 balls back and forth between two greens in front of the clubhouse.
From there he joined Aorangi’s junior school with pro Matt Davies.
He went off to Lincoln University in 2014 to get his degree in sports and recreation management on a Canterbury Golf scholarship.
He had a false start in his first year, as he tore his AC ligament in his knee so was unable to play.
By his own admission he did not start “getting good” until his early 20s.
“In my second year I moved into Christchurch and started playing at Harewood and got involved with the club and getting coached by the head pro there, Craig Mitchell.”
He made the Canterbury team in 2016 and played in the nationals.
In 2017, after completing his degree, he was picked up by the national high performance squad.
That led to travel all around the world playing tournaments.
As well as getting financial support from his parents, to help fund his sport he started working at Harewood.
“In 2019 Harewood had a fundraiser for me and raised $20,000 so I could go to America for two months and play all the tournaments there. I went with Kerry Mountcastle from Wellington.
“That money helped so much.
“I couldn’t have gone overseas without the support of the Harewood Golf Club.
“In America I actually really struggled. The golf wasn’t great and I came back burnt out.”
However, the amateur got his head back in the game and decided to turn pro.
Then Covid-19 hit.
“In 2020 I couldn’t play as there weren’t any tournaments.”
He fired up his bid again last year.
His determination was tested that January when, at the New Zealand Qualifying School in Auckland, he missed out on qualifying as a pro by one shot, even though he finished 6-under-par.
In April he gave it another shot at the Australasia qualifying school.
“I had been playing 14-under-par for the week and just missed out by one shot again.
“This year at the qualifying school in January I managed to get in by one shot. I was pretty happy but everyone else was more excited than me.”
He had also been looking forward to playing at the New Zealand Open again but the event has been cancelled.
“It would have been nice to play for a pay cheque. As an amateur you play for gift vouchers and a high five.”
At the Martinborough Pro Am he secured his spot as a pro next year, winning first place in a three-way tie.
“Having a win gave me an exemption, otherwise you have to stay in the top 25 order of merit or else you have to re-qualify.”
Not that he has anything to worry about – he is No 9 in the order of merit of New Zealand.
For now he was going to see how he went in the next few months, and he planned to head overseas in winter to play tournaments if he made enough money.
Meanwhile, he has come full circle and is now coaching the future of golf, young players from aged 5 to 10 for Canterbury Golf.
“I am coaching the sessions that I hated as a kid so I am trying to make sure that they enjoy it more than I did.”