Currently holding 31st place in the Race to Dubai, South African golfer Justin Walters is determined to not only keep his European Tour card but to make it to the season-ending DP World Tour Championship in Dubai.
Walters, 35, has experienced one of the more difficult journeys on the European Tour. In 2012 he grabbed one of the last European Tour cards for the following season with a 15th place on the Challenge Tour rankings. In 2013, just two weeks after the death of his mother, he sunk a 40-foot putt on the last hole of the Portugal Masters to finish in second place and secure his card for 2014. In 2014 he lost his full playing privileges, but in true testament to his resilience he came through the gruelling 2015 European Tour qualifying school to once again earn his card for the following year.
And it appears Walters is well on track this year, with two fourth place finishes and a third at the Joburg Open in the co-sanctioned European and Sunshine Tour events in South Africa, to reach greater heights with a new outlook on life and his game.
“I had a couple of disappointing years leading up to this one. I was lucky enough to get through Q-school last year with a couple really good rounds. I thought it was a good opportunity to go out there and be the player I can be. I haven’t done that over the last few years. Over the winter I worked hard on my game and I came out with the intent to compete for events,” said Walters in an interview with the African News Agency at the Sunshine Tour awards in Sandton this week.
“Certainly to start the year well in our home events [in South Africa] makes a huge difference. I’ve always wanted to play and compete in those as I haven’t really done that on a regular basis.”
Walters said he had readjusted his goals this year, which so far has reaped good rewards.
“Coming into this season I’ve been a little bit guilty of just trying to keep my card. If you fall just short of that, you don’t have a job. This year I’m really working hard on being there for the Race to Dubai and finishing high up. That would also include the Nedbank, if I get into that and the Race to Dubai that would be the year I’m looking for.”
And much of that new approach to his golf has to do with a more settled family life, with his wife expecting their second child, a little girl, in March.
“I’ve got a little boy [Liam], he’s 19 months and he’s already hooked on golf. He watches me on TV, and he can’t even talk yet. It really warms my heart. Then we’ve got a little girl on the way. Two years ago I sadly lost my mom in very unfortunate circumstances, she pretty much passed away in my arms and the last thing I managed to get through to her was that I was going to name my first daughter after her.”
As for Walters’ long-term goals, he hopes to steadily improve his game until he can hopefully make it onto the PGA Tour in America.
“Earlier in my career, I always felt I should be at a certain point in my career. You kind of get a little caught up in that. It would be lovely to have an opportunity on the PGA Tour one day. The best way to look at it is that I’d like to be a more established player on the European Tour. I’d certainly like to win a European Tour event and follow it up with a few more. If that opens up doors on the PGA Tour I’d love to play over there. Right now, all I’m doing is taking it one week at a time and hopefully win a few more in South Africa which I haven’t done for a long time. Then from there onto Europe and then one day maybe America.”
And as a proud South African playing on a global stage, Walters has also become involved in Rhino Conservation, teaming up with former Proteas cricketer Mark Boucher in a ‘Birdies for Rhinos’ initiative.
“It’s been on my mind for a little while. I’m passionate about conservation. I travel a lot overseas and I don’t get to spend too much time in the bush and I miss it. We’re under attack, our resources are under attack. I feel a social responsibility to make an effort. I’ve managed to come up with the ‘Birdies for Rhinos’ initiative. I’ve encouraged a few other golfers to join me and I’m going to donate R100 for every birdie I make this year. Then we’re going to choose four events of the year where we’re going to donate R500 for every birdie. Instead of creating our own charity, we want to fall behind another sporting outfit which is Mark Boucher with the cricket board and Castle Lager. I feel like they’re on the cutting edge amongst other charities. So I feel like we can make a difference. I’ll do whatever I can to help South Africa’s heritage because I’m proudly South African.”