Dan-Whitby Smith has just returned from Ireland, his second appearance on the DP World Tour this summer. It’s been a special time for the Drayton Park GC Head Professional, alongside caddie Dale Housden, Course Manager at the Staffordshire club.
They work well together at club level, and they also do as a player/caddie partnership. Although it ended with disappointment and a sense of what might have been, Dan won’t forget the summer of 2023. Mandy and Phil sat down with him last month and went through it all.
Dan secured two invites to the Betfred British Masters at The Belfry in July and the ISPS Handa World Invitational at Castlerock and Galgorm Castle in Ireland last month thanks to his strong showing in the PGA playoffs in Cyprus earlier this year. High finishes in that competition, playing alongside leading PGA pros from the UK and Ireland get the ultimate rewards of spots at leading DP World Tour events.
THE HOME FROM HOME
Ironically, Dan’s debut DP World Tour came at a venue he could have almost walked his clubs to, and it became something of a home fixture.
“Right on the doorstep of here so I had some great support from the club members. One of the marshalls who we spoke to at The Belfry said that apart from Justin Rose’s group, we had easily the biggest gallery!”
It’s something you always dream about as a young pro, playing in a DP World Tour event. Although I still play a bit and at a good level, once I took the head pro job here, tour school and all of that stuff went out of my mind and I thought that I’d never get to play a tour event like this. To play two of them has been a massive bonus.”
“Such a different experience seeing how we get looked after onsite, even access to the tour vans, everything is just kind of thrown at you, which is something we’re not used to but it’s really nice.”
A LESSON LEARNED
“I tried not to prepare myself that much differently than normal but having The Belfry on my doorstep made that a little more difficult. I played nine on Monday and nine on Tuesday but if I’ve got one regret it was having all that access to the facilities so close by, I just ended up hitting too many golf balls which is not what I do for a normal Midlands PGA event.”
“When we went to Ireland, the preparation was all about finding out about the golf courses and working them out, rather than just hitting balls, and I played better overall.”
A big lesson learned there, when you get the chance to play in a really big event you can over-prepare.”
Performance wise, Dan felt he played pretty well at The Belfry but had a cold time with the putter, and at this level there aren’t many second chances.
DALE AND GALES
“It was great having Dale on the bag, having a mate there really helped and took the pressure off a lot more but in Ireland it was so noticeable how good the experienced caddies are in the weather we had. It was links so we knew it was going to be windy, but we ended up listening to the other caddies and tapping into their knowledge over exactly what direction in each round, it changed so much. They are used to plotting themselves around per each day of the event, we had just rocked up to the practice round and took it that the winds would blow in the same way, each day – they didn’t!”
In extremely challenging conditions at Castlerock, Dan performed superbly, top 15 at the end of day one, but more trouble was incoming in the morning of day two at Galgorm Castle.
“When the teetimes came out we thought we were getting the right half of the draw, it turned out the opposite way. It was disappointing but there’s nothing you can do. When you’re on tour and catch a bad break with the weather but you’re playing in 25-30 a season it’s not the end of the world missing a cut. But that’s where the pressure was for me, just having two opportunities and you’ve got to make the most of them.”
In worsening conditions the score suffered, yet Dan took it all the way to the 18th where it turned out that a birdie would have seen him on the right side of the line. A trip to the water put paid his hopes.
MORE TO COME?
Yet there were many positives to take from the two experiences and another chance beckons with one more major regional PGA competition to come, the 36-hole Midland Professional Championship later this month. A good finish in that and the play-offs are on the cards again, as are the prospects of more big events in 2024, which include The Open where Dan has already guaranteed himself a place at final qualifying for the third year running.
“I generally coped with the nerves quite well to be honest, can’t use that as an excuse! But the overall experience was incredible, and it’s definitely given me the hunger to try and play in more of them and the belief that I can do well too.”
Talking to him we get the sense of a fire burning ever stronger following the summer of 2023, one of these days it will all click into place for Dan Whitby-Smith.