Northern Ireland’s forgotten hero Jonny Caldwell sets out today (Wednesday) on the next stage of a long and difficult road to win a place on the European PGA Tour.
It only seems like yesterday when he played foursomes alongside Rory McIlory on the Great Britain and Ireland Walker Cup team – but while the career of McIlroy went stratospheric, Caldwell more or less disappeared from sight.
Now he gets a new chance to climb back to where he believes he belongs and prove he can be as good a professional as he was a great amateur.
Caldwell, 30, from Clandeboye, tees up at El Gouna, Egypt, with a new sponsor’s name on his bag, in the final event of the 2014 EuroPro Tour needing a huge effort to guarantee him a place in next season’s European Challenge Tour.
This course is beside one of the Red Sea’s most exotic holiday destinations, but there will be no partying from the man from Bangor – unless he finishes in the top five.
Even though he competed in just four events this season, Caldwell is well positioned to win promotion back to the Challenge Tour where he once played for two years after turning pro in 2008.
Caldwell has his sights set on moving to an even higher level which his old friend from Holywood – the World’s No.1 – dominates.
The days when he and McIlroy were on regular interprovincial and international duties together before going their separate ways after the 2007 Walker Cup at Royal Co Down may be a distant memory, but Caldwell hasn’t given up hope that maybe one day he will once again share the same locker rooms and tee times.
He said: “The ambition is still there. It may have left me for a while when I wasn’t playing great because this is a game which can beat you up. But I’m hitting the ball better and the confidence is back.
“I haven’t been in touch with Rory for a while. Am I envious of him? Not in the least. He was always destined for greatness and achieve crazy things. But I’m not so sure I’d want his type of lifestyle. He can hardly leave the house to buy a pint of milk without getting stopped. He handles himself very well and it says a lot about him.
“I’m going to Egypt in good shape. A top five place might be enough, but a top three will definitely get me there and after two top two places in four events, I don’t see any reason why I can’t graduate to the Challenge Tour.”
Caldwell signed a sponsorship deal with McLean Bookmakers, the largest independent bookmaking chain in Northern Ireland with over 60 shops before leaving for the 54-hole event.
Managing director Paul McLean said: “Jonny is a great guy and well liked at Clandeboye. He is just the type of sportsman we want to promote and support. Hopefully things will go well for him in Egypt and eventually gets a place on the main tour where he belongs.”
Caldwell is joined in the field by a number of Irish hopefuls, including Banbridge’s Richard Kilpatrick, Michael McGeady and Tim Rice.
Currently ranked 17th in the Europro order of merit, three slots behind Caldwell, Kilpatrick also needs a top three finish to guarantee a place on the Challenge Tour.