Late in 2016, sitting in his St Augustine, Florida, residence, Julian Suri decided he wanted to take the shortcut to the PGA Tour.
Instead of trying to qualify for the Korn Ferry Tour, or progress through the PGA Latinoamerica or Mackenzie Tour in Canada from closer to home, Suri chose the European route.
“Shortcut,” as it turns out, was a misnomer. It involved dozens of trans-Atlantic flights, criss-crossing the length and breadth of Europe, trips to three other continents, completing immigration formalities in 18 different countries, boarding nearly 80 flights and logging more than 130,000 air miles.
It was the road less travelled until relatively recently. That was until players of the calibre of Brooks Koepka and Peter Uihlein made it popular. After earning a battlefield promotion for winning three tournaments on the Challenge Tour in 2013, Koepka won the Turkish Airlines Open on the European Tour in 2014. He’s famously built on that victory with a relentless charge to world No 1 courtesy four major championship wins in two years.
In 2001, there were only 10 Americans on the European Tour Order of Merit, with Duffy Waldorf the highest ranked at 147th. It got slightly better in 2012 with 15 players, but only John Daly (85th) managed to keep his card by being in the top-125.
“The only thing I miss are my usual American snacks. But I know I have grown as a golfer and I have grown as a man.”
With the Euro tour relaxing its membership rules through the years, more and more American players now can be seen participating in the Race to Dubai, with Patrick Reed challenging for the title last season. That trend is expected to accelerate following the recent strategic alliance between the European and PGA tours.
There were 14 Americans inside the European top 125 after the Qatar Masters. PGA Tour stars Collin Morikawa, Billy Horschel and Tony Finau headed the list, followed by European Tour regulars like David Lipsky, Kurt Kitayama (who was runner-up Sunday at the Magical Kenya Open), Sean Crocker, John Catlin and Suri. That’s a stronger presence than traditional European Tour powerhouse South Africa (12), and second only to England (26).
Suri played college golf against Koepka and Uihlein, but it wasn’t their success which persuaded him to play the European circuit.
“I wasn’t happy with my game after graduating from Duke (University),” said Suri, a 2012 All-American who graduated in 2013. “I was working on a few things, and it took almost a couple of years before I felt I was ready for tour golf.
“More than Brooks and Peter, it was my friend (Duke teammate) Brinson Paolini’s success on the Challenge Tour that firmed my decision. He won in his third Challenge Tour start in France in 2014, and that opened up so many doors for him.
“My logic was simple: if I stayed in the U.S. or Canada, the fastest I could have made it to the PGA Tour would have been two years. And I’d have almost no chances of playing any majors or WGCs. There are also more world ranking points to be earned (in Europe).”
Suri nearly achieved his goal. He began 2017 ranked 1,149th in the Official World Golf Ranking, but climbed to 62nd by season’s end thanks in part to a win in the Made in Denmark tournament. But for a debilitating hernia in his lower abdomen, his progress might have been even greater.
“Europe is not a culture shock,” he added. “The only thing I miss are my usual American snacks. But I know I have grown as a golfer and I have grown as a man. I have loads of patience now, and, having played with some of the best players in Europe regularly, I’d be completely at ease if I am paired with someone like the world No 1 Dustin Johnson in a major championship.”
Catlin has also reaped the benefits of stepping outside his comfort zone. After a successful stint in Asia, he claimed two victories on last season’s European Tour, the Andalucía Masters and Dubai Duty Free Irish Open.
“We Americans tend to be poor travellers,” said University of New Mexico graduate Catlin, who hails from Sacramento, California. “We get too comfortable in our own country because everything seems to be easier. It is also the PGA Tour-or-bust mentality for young golfers. They are so focused on it they forget there are other ways of getting there.
“I played on the Mackenzie Tour in 2014 straight after turning pro, but unless you are on the PGA Tour, or the Korn Ferry Tour, playing professional golf in the US can be very costly,” he said. “I don’t come from a very rich family, and I reckoned I’d be spending about $60,000 every year playing in the US. Whereas I could play for more money and more world ranking points for half that amount if I played in Asia.
“Being away from home and doing all the travel is a sacrifice that you’ve got to make,” he added. “You learn so much about your game and about yourself. The last couple of years in Europe, I have learned a lot playing in absolutely contrasting weather conditions and playing golf courses of completely different styles.
“I think following a path like this will also teach you things about yourself. It has for me. Work ethic when things get tough and I was barely hanging on financially was a big part of that, but I think it also reinforced that never say die attitude I have.
“Playing in Asia and Europe has been the best move. I’d recommend it to any young golfer.”
Top: Julian Suri is one of 14 Americans in the top 125 on the European Tour’s Race to Dubai standings.