Alastair Forsyth may not have travelled down the traditional route towards becoming a PGA professional but he got there in the end. The 47-year-old joined the paid ranks back in 1998 and embarked on his PGA training at Ralston before quickly moving on to Paisley. So far, so normal, then.
But Forsyth, an up-and-coming golfer of considerable talent, had a burning desire to take his talents onto the biggest stage. Having flourished on the domestic Tartan Tour, he went to the European Tour – now DP World Tour – qualifying school in 1999, won the final at San Roque and earned a full card for the 2000 campaign.
His PGA training was put on the backburner and it remained there for some 15 years. After calling time on a touring career which was burnished by two victories and a top-10 finish in the US PGA Championship, Forsyth eventually returned to his PGA roots just before his 40th birthday to finish what he had started.
Here in 2023, as he celebrates his 25th year as a pro, he explains his PGA journey and the benefits it has brought to the latest chapter in a long, distinguished career.
What was your reasoning for starting The PGA training as a young professional?
There were a few guys at the same time as me, like David Drysdale, who were doing their PGA training and I think it was a safety net in case full time golf didn’t work out. Of course, I got my tour card in 1999 and put the training to one side. At that time, you could suspend your training …but maybe not for 15 year or so!
I was playing in as much as I could back then on the Tartan Tour and the Mastercard Tour (the forerunner to the PGA EuroPro Tour). Had I not got through qualifying school, though, I may have played a little less, knuckled down with my training and got that completed first. But I was fortunate that I established myself on the tour pretty quickly.
I was third in just my second event in Australia (the Heineken Classic) and that was me. Michael Campbell won it, Thomas Bjorn was second and Ernie Els was behind me in fourth. I was right in there among the big boys. In terms of confidence, as well as finances, it was massive because it can easily go the other way. If you get off to a bad start, you can find yourself on a downward spiral very quickly.
You had many good years on the tour but you reached a point where you needed to take a new direction?
I went back to the qualifying school in 2010 and my confidence was at an all-time low. A decade or so earlier, I was at q-school as a fresh 20-something coming off a good year. In 2010, it was all very different. Life on tour is great when you’re playing well. You put up with the travelling and being away from home and missing whatever you are missing.
But when you’re struggling and sitting at an airport on a Friday night having missed another cut and another £2500 of expenses has gone up in smoke, then that’s when it’s a completely different kettle of fish. I went back to q-school a couple more times over the next few years but one of the reasons I stopped playing on tour was that I didn’t want to travel as much.
I’d always been interested in coaching. Playing was in my DNA and I still wanted to do a bit of that too so I thought I could do both in Scotland. I had to start my PGA training again. The programme was totally different to what it was in the 1990s so I had to start from scratch. It was back to square one. I was doing that just as I was nearing 40. I was down at The Belfry for my five-day residential and I was like everybody’s dad.
How did you find the transition from touring golfer to PGA Trainee?
All those years of playing and working with coaches on tour had bolstered my knowledge on the practical side, but it was a bit of a culture shock from an academic side of things. It was possibly a bit easier when I first started it in 1998 but this time I realised how comprehensive it was and it had changed beyond all recognition.
One of the funny things was that the essays had to be presented in a certain way. I wasn’t that clued up on word processors so I would write a 2000 word essay down on paper and my wife would type it up and format it correctly on her computer. I was quite old school.
All the information is there for you, though. You get out of it what you put in. At school I was bang average, not top of the class, not bottom. I was never going to be trainee of the year but I gave it enough and got through pretty much unscathed. There are some tremendous resources available to guide you. There is a stack of information on the website for you to tap into. There are Webinars and interviews which allows you to learn from others. There’s always more you can add to your armoury.
I spent a lot of time too with John Mulgrew and he was great. He was Mr PGA and he was always available. I would spend a couple of hours over at Kirkcaldy with Brendan McDermott while Allan Martin, who is The PGA in Scotland’s Coach and Education Manager, was brilliant and would tell you exactly what you needed to know. If you spend time with guys like that you’ll fly through the course. The pool of resource and shared knowledge is great. They all want you to do well.
What would your advice be to someone thinking about doing their PGA qualification?
I would thoroughly recommend it. Unless you’re a superstar like Rory McIlroy and are destined to make it on the tour, then The PGA route is ideal. It certainly helped me when I stepped off the tour and, in hindsight, I wish I had got it up my sleeve much earlier so I didn’t have to start from scratch.
Having that PGA badge makes a big difference. Even with my playing background, as a tour winner, I’d still rather go into a job interview and say ‘I’m PGA qualified’ rather than just say ‘I was on tour for a long time’. It’s a great addition to the CV.