Six months after giving serious thought to packing away his clubs for good, Jamie McLeary is tantalisingly close to becoming a European Tour golfer again – and also sitting higher than Tiger Woods in the world rankings.
The Bonnyrigg-based player heads into the Challenge Tour Grand Final starting in Oman today lying 11th on the second-tier circuit’s money-list.
Needing to finish in the top 15 to earn a step up to the main Tour for the second time in his career, McLeary has a £5250 cushion on the player sitting in the last of those spots.
“I’m just treating it like any other event,” said the 34-year-old of the season-ending tournament at Almouj Golf in Muscat that will result in equal measures of joy and pain on Saturday.
“No matter how much I earn this week, the total I’ll have would have been good enough to win a card in the past and hopefully that will prove to be the case again.
“I certainly won’t be resting on my laurels just because I’m inside the top 15 at the moment. I’ll be going out there trying to win as hard as anyone else in the field. This is one of those weeks where you simply have to go out and play well because you can’t control what anyone else is doing.”
Before recording a third Challenge Tour victory in Belgium back in June, McLeary was looking at this event being his last as a professional.
“I was actually thinking about stopping playing at the end of the year as I’ve got two kids – a daughter who is six and boy who is three – and I feel bad about being away a lot,” confessed the Marriott Dalmahoy-attached player.
“I’m glad that’s not going to be the case but, at the same time, I’m going to have to look at my schedule as I don’t want to getting to a point in my life where I feel as I’ve missed out on them growing up.”
Since Monday, he’s been able to tell them that he’s now above former world No.1 Woods in the global standings, the American having slipped three spots below McLeary to 362nd.
“If someone had said ten years ago that I’d be sitting above Tiger in the world rankings, I’d be saying, ‘my god, you are having a laugh’,” said McLeary, smiling.
“I know it’s really down to how much he’s fallen in the standings – but it’s nice, nonetheless, to be ahead of him!”
McLeary, one of five Scots in the Oman line-up, secured the last of the 15 spots at the same venue two years ago before finding life tough on his rookie season on the main circuit.
The ex-European amateur No.1 missed a whole host of cuts and even qualifying for The Open was unable to make up for that as he finished 152nd in the Race to Dubai, but McLeary is confident that he can give a better account of himself against the big boys if he can add the icing this week to a consistent campaign back on the Challenge Tour.
“I’m now working with Ian Muir, who has been brilliant,” he said. “He’s the first full-time coach I’ve had that I really respect his opinion.
“Since linking up with him, my ball-striking is so much better than it was, I’m hitting more fairways and don’t hit nearly as many destructive shots. My iron play is normally pretty good so if I can keep the ball on the fairway then the rest of my game can take over from there.
“My percentage of hitting fairways was sitting at 55 which isn’t nearly good enough when you don’t hit it as far as others.
“I said to Ian that I wanted to get that up to 60 per cent and I’ve managed that this season.”
If all goes to plan over the next four days, McLeary will be heading to Leopard Creek in South Africa at the end of the month for the opening event of the 2016 season feeling better equipped than first time around.
“I’ve got a lot more experience and I won’t be spooked out, as I was when I went to Abu Dhabi last year by the course playing so long and tough,” he said.
“I remember thinking to myself, ‘I don’t know if I’m good enough to be out here’, but that certainly won’t be the case thanks to what I’ve been working on with Ian.
“When I first went to see him, I wasn’t really thinking about this season, I was looking forward to when I was back on the main Tour.”