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If Oliver Wilson hadn’t won the 2014 Alfred Dunhill Links Championship on the back of an invite, there’s a chance he wouldn’t be playing professional golf today.
After winning his sole European Tour title at St Andrews, the 37-year-old admitted to reporters that he was considering quitting the sport that winter after a drastic downturn in form in the previous four seasons that saw him languishing in the lower reaches of the Challenge Tour.
Now, just three years on, Wilson – who had nine European Tour runner-up finishes before tasting glory on the Old Course – is back in that position.
After losing his European Tour card in 2016, he finished 167th in the Challenge Tour rankings last year and, following a missed cut in the Final Stage of European Tour Q-School, he told bunkered.co.uk he was questioning his future in professional golf once more.
“After Q-School, I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to keep playing, but I was okay with that,” said Wilson, whose best tour finish since the Dunhill Links win was T26 at the 2016 Made in Denmark.
“It got to the point where I’m not going to continue to do something that’s making me miserable and where I’m getting nothing back.
“If I can’t do better than a T26 finish – which stands alone in the past couple of years as my best result – then there’s no point.”
However, those negative thoughts that followed Q-School – where he had opened with a five-under-par 67 only to fall two shots below the cut mark – didn’t last for long.
“My goal was to take two months off over Christmas and not think about it and see if I was itching to get back playing after New Year. But I didn’t even need that long. After about four or five days, genuinely weighing up whether I wanted to continue, I was already starting to think ‘No, I feel like I’m so close to being able to perform again’.”
To those simply looking at Wilson’s results over the past few years, his thoughts about being close to being able to perform again would possibly raise a few eyebrows. But, as the 2008 Ryder Cup player explains, there’s so much more to it than that.
“From the outside looking in, it’s frustrating in that people think it’s just a case of black and white – it’s not,” he continued. “There have been many issues. For example, earlier this year, I was back and starting to play some nice golf and then I tore the medial ligament in my knee.
“I was out for two months in mid-summer and it killed all my momentum and from there, the pressure was on and it wasn’t quite the same the way I loaded my knee. So that really hurt me.
“More recently, I feel like I’ve got a really good blueprint to work from. That’s how my golf started to feel going into Q-School but I hadn’t grooved it enough to be able to trust it under the pressure. Looking at it and reviewing it, even having not touched a club, I feel very clear about what I need to do and how I can get better and that’s exciting.”
And, unlike his previous thoughts about retirement, Wilson knows he has that win at the Dunhill Links under his belt to use as a constant reference point and motivation to get back onto Europe’s top tier and into the winner’s circle again.
“To go from where I was to winning in a two to three week period in 2014, that proves to me that if I have the technical ability to get the club on the ball somewhere decent and get rid of a few faults that creep into my swing, I know that everything else falls into place.
“I know deep down it’s there – that’s what happened at the Dunhill – and that’s what keeps me going. I’m proud of what I’ve done in my career. There are lots of highlights but it’s nowhere near what I’d like to achieve. I’ve only been a pro for 15 years and, if I keep myself fit and strong, I’ve got another 15 years in me. The journey continues, I guess…”
It does indeed.
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