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The Best Golf Story of The Year So Far

By: | Tue 27 Feb 2024

The best golf story of the year so far? It is a tough one when you consider the candidates. Jake Knapp, winner of the Mexico Open, who had to work as a nightclub bouncer to put food on the table, Grayson Murray’s recovery from alcohol dependency to win the Sony Open, Darius van Driel’s success at the Magical Kenya Open after losing his card. And those are just for starters.

But surely the story that will inspire golfers all over the world is the runner-up finished achieved by Joe Dean in Kenya.

Until then, Dean was best known for winning the English Amateur Championship way back in 2015 at the age of 21. 

He almost holed in one to seal a resounding 9&7 victory at The Alwoodley Golf Club, Leeds. It was a success that secured his place in the England team in the Home Internationals at Portrush. His seven-iron shot to the 29th hole - the par three 11th - pitched just past the hole, spun back, went into the cup and flipped out again, settling a couple of inches away, to much applause from spectators.

His opponent, Alfie Plant of Kent, hit his tee shot but, once the players reached the green, he conceded the hole and the match. “I won the first match of the week with an eagle and I nearly finished it off with an eagle!” said Dean. If Plant’s name rings a bell it is because he won the Silver Medal as the leading amateur at The Open in 2017.

It would have been all too easy for Dean to imagine that he might have a golden future. The reality has been rather different.

Joe Dean Golf

He turned professional the following year and headed towards the development tours, hoping that his career would soon take an upward trajectory. It did not happen. He finally made it to the Challenge Tour in 2019 with hope in his heart but failed to hit the heights and when the Covid pandemic arrived he very nearly walked away from golf for good.

Instead, Dean, from Sheffield, decided to spend some time playing in regional 36-hole events. And it turned out that going back to his roots was exactly what he needed. He headed to tour school at the end of 2023. Many onlookers imagined he was only there to make up the numbers but Dean had other ideas and, lo and behold, he gained his DP World Tour card for the 2024 season.

But it wasn’t straightforward. After progressing through the first two stages of Qualifying School, the six-round Final Stage provided a rather more stern examination, and Dean had to birdie the final hole to secure that card. Now THAT is pressure.

He said: “I had not played more than a two-round tournament for three years. Tour School was my first interaction with what it would feel like. It was interesting. I just took one round at a time, we just kept getting through the stages and here we are.”

Having come through qualifying, that is when his problems really began. With no sponsor and no money in the bank, Dean realised that the cost of getting to tournaments in exotic parts of the world would test his resources to the limit and beyond - air fares, hotels and paying a caddie are not inconsiderable sums, and if you don’t make the cut you don’t earn a penny. And that is exactly what happened at the Qatar Masters in his first start on the DP World Tour, when rounds of 75 and 71 simply were not good enough.

Dean had only managed to get to Qatar because he had followed the example of Knapp and many, many others and found a job as a delivery driver for supermarket chain Morrisons. And after missing out in Qatar, Dean had no option but to head home and return to the day job.

The Magical Kenya Open was just his second start and it turned out to be a magical experience for Dean. He began the week ranked 2,930 in the world - he ended it in 671st place after a final round of 67 ensured he finished in a tie for second place to collect a cheque for £179,000. For the world’s best golfers, this would amount to little more than loose change. Dean describes it as a life-changing sum - and it will allow him to finally follow his dreams. 

But he also has no intention of quitting his job at Morrisons. 

He said: “I’ve never been one of the most over-confident people. Coming to Kenya was a bit daunting. Second event, you don’t really feel like you belong and feel like you’re trying to prove something. Luckily, I managed to get over that quickly and figure out how to get around the course.

“My girlfriend Emily and I have recently bought a house so golf had to take a little more of a backseat, and I had to find a different way to pay the bills,” says Dean. “I had to get a part-time job delivering shopping for Morrisons, anything from three to five days a week, from 20 to 30 hours.”

Dean’s journey over the coming season will be a fascinating one to follow.

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Tags: european tour dp world tour

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