A twenty-something planning a year travelling around Europe is nothing new. Jake McLeod’s arrival in the Old World in 2019 won’t be any holiday as he takes his place as a European Tour rookie.
Like most professional golfers, travel doesn’t faze Jake McLeod. Considering the 24-year-old’s nomadic childhood due to his father’s work, McLeod’s upcoming year living out of a suitcase traveling the world playing golf must almost seem normal.
Born in Marc Leishman’s hometown of Warrnambool, in Victoria, McLeod moved to Townsville in North Queensland at a young age. That was followed by a move to Yeppoon where he took up golf as an eight year old, then back to Townsville again, before the 2018 NSW Open winner relocated to the Gold Coast and the Hills International College for his final two years of high school.
Now based in Brisbane, McLeod is one of a group of emerging Australian talents headed to Europe this year including Lucas Herbert and Dimi Papadatos. But like the extremely varied places he has called home, his budding golf career is something of an unlikely path given there isn’t another golfer in the family.
McLeod’s wedges and golf ball proudly sport the number 73, his late grandmother’s Super Sedan race number, and while McLeod notes an interest in cars, it seems the family love of motorsport and racing skipped him. The competitive nature required to drive a car at excessive speeds on the track seemingly passed down however.
“No one in our family from Mum or Dad’s side has played golf, I’m the only one” McLeod exclusively told Golf Australia. “But my Dad and then his Mum and Dad all raced Super Sedans, Dad loves his motorsports. I think Nanna was very competitive, so is my Mum, she hates losing. So I think I get it from a bit of both sides.”
The competitiveness McLeod speaks of is a noticeable trait when watching the grit with which he takes on the golf course and his fellow competitors during tournaments. And while the personality characteristic was bred into him, he admits his time at golf nursery Hills, like former World No.1 Jason Day, truly harnessed his natural will to win and helped make him the player he is today.
“Because there was so many great players, Anthony (Quayle), Maverick Antcliff, Cory Crawford, it was a great competitive environment and I’m a pretty competitive guy, so it was always nice to go and play holes for money, or putting comps or chipping comps, whatever,” McLeod said.
“In the gym as well, we did a bit of gym work and it was good to just try and beat those guys all the time. Growing up, if I didn’t move to Hills there is no way I would be where I am right now.”
Where McLeod is right now is just inside the top-150 on the world ranking, and with a full European card as well as multiple World Golf Championship starts from his Order of Merit win – as well as a spot in The Open Championship at Royal Portrush via a high finish at the Australian Open – there is no reason his ranking won’t continue to improve this year.
“I’d like to win, I think I can win out there (Europe). And the other couple of goals are to make the Race to Dubai finals at the end of the year and retain a card for the following year,” he said of his goals for 2019.
“I’d like to win, I think I can win out there (Europe). And the other couple of goals are to make the Race to Dubai finals at the end of the year and retain a card for the following year.” – Jake McLeod
“That’s another goal, top-100 for sure. I’ve got a lot of big events to play in as well, which obviously the rankings points are good for, so I’ve got a real opportunity to do that. If I can keep on playing the way I have been, that’s something that will just sort of happen.”
McLeod made two of his early starts as a member of the European Tour earlier this year on home soil, at the Vic Open followed by the World Super 6 Perth, two tournaments he had played well previously. McLeod first rose to the attention of the wider golf public at the 2017 Vic Open, won by Papadatos, tying for runner-up with a second round 61 putting his name up in lights.
Indeed it is McLeod’s ability to go low that makes him a serious chance of claiming an early title on the world’s second biggest circuit. His maiden professional win at last year’s NSW Open sparked by a course record equalling third round 62.
The win at Twin Creeks Golf and Country Club was not a surprise to McLeod’s fellow competitors or those who watch the game closely. The stocky right hander having consistently played well in previous years and regularly appearing on leaderboards in Australia.
And while the triumph was not completely out of the blue, the Order of Merit title and spending 2019 in Europe was certainly not among McLeod’s thoughts prior to the win.
“I was going to play in Asia this season, I wasn’t going to European Q School or anything, I was going to join as a member though. Because I knew I would get the three or four events in Australia that are co-sanctioned and I think there is five or something events in Asia that are co-sanctioned. I knew I would get maybe 10 co-sanctions this year, so I was going to join anyway and try and get the status for the following season, for 2020.
“It (order of merit) wasn’t on my radar at all really, I had been having a pretty solid season, but a couple of guys were a fair way in front. I wasn’t thinking about it too much, then obviously that win at the NSW Open shot me up and then I think I won a bit more prize money at the Aussie Open, which was cool and gave myself a pretty good lead heading into the PGA, which was a pretty good feeling.”
In addition to elevating him on the money list, the win in Sydney’s west also uncovered a new feeling of confidence for McLeod that he used to finish third at the Australian Open and T19 at the PGA over the following two weeks to top the money list by less than $20,000.
Admittedly always extremely nervous on the first tee, McLeod found a way to utilise his nerves and clear his head of forward thoughts over the successful three week stretch, a strategy he will hope to employ again this season.
“Butterflies in the stomach, thoughts are just running through the head, thinking all sorts of things. You just sort of feel uncomfortable I guess,” McLeod said of what he feels before getting underway each time he tees it up. “And it’s not a bad thing, it just means it means something to you. Speaking with my psychologist, you can still hit great shots when you’re nervous, so it’s no excuse playing bad because you’re nervous.
“I’ll have a week off here and there and get an Air BnB in random places wherever I can get on a golf course to practice.” – Jake McLeod
“I think for the Aussie Open I wasn’t really thinking about anything to be honest. My game was obviously pretty good at the time and I was just really happy being out there and playing. I didn’t think about any of the rewards of playing well at all, I didn’t even remember it was a qualifier for The Open. I forgot about that until I signed my card on the last round, so that was a bit of a bonus not remembering that I think, otherwise there would have been a bit more nerves coming down the stretch on the final day.
“At the PGA even though I didn’t play as well as I would have liked to in the last two rounds, I felt comfortable out there I just wasn’t swinging it that great. I think mentally it’s sort of changed around a bit and feeling a lot better on the golf course, which is great.”
With his game improving and his mental game similarly getting sharper, McLeod is right to be approaching 2019 with confidence. But he acknowledges managing life on the road and the sometimes difficult European conditions – something that became apparent when playing the Alfred Dunhill Links in a bitterly cold Scotland last year – will be a significant challenge.
Without a base in Europe, McLeod will play events in blocks focused around the bigger events he has secured starts in. And with a group of close mates travelling around Europe on a more traditional trip taken by 24-year-old Australians, McLeod will ensure to break up the weekly grind by spending some time with his mates and regularly returning home to Queensland.
“Because there is lots of travel and stuff I will have a week or two off, so hopefully the boys are around those sort of areas and they love their golf as well so if I get some tickets I will bring them along. It’s just nice to have some company too, because it can get pretty lonely so it will be nice having them there.
RIGHT: The Queenslander got his season underway at the Vic Open. PHOTO: Getty Images.
“I’ll do stints, but sort of in that, I’ll have a week off here and there and get an Air BnB in random places wherever I can get on a golf course to practice and stuff. I will come home after The Open for about four weeks, recharge the batteries and then go up for the rest of the season.”
Setting a schedule of events on the biggest stage is a new challenge for McLeod and being prepared for the inevitable lonely days on the road suggests his head is well and truly in the right place. McLeod also hoping to lean on the more experienced Aussies plying their trade in Europe.
“I would definitely like to pick their brains a little bit about even scheduling and stuff as well, and just having practice rounds and dinners every now and then I’m sure they do that together, because it would get pretty lonely up there sometimes and I like to have people around me.”
Among the players McLeod might seek advice from is former Queensland state teammate Cameron Smith, who claimed victory at the Australian PGA to prevent any of McLeod’s challengers for his spot in Europe pipping him at the finishing post. And while McLeod speaks highly of Smith and his successes that have helped motivate him, one gets the feeling he is ready to be known for more than being Cameron Smith’s old mate … Something a good debut year in Europe would certainly take care of.
“It’s always good seeing someone you grew up with play so well over the last couple of years, and it definitely makes me believe and I’m sure a few of the other guys that we can do the same. It’s just great seeing him contend up there and I think my game is pretty close now, it still has a little bit to go, but I’m pretty ready to contend in Europe.”