Denis O’Sullivan says his love for the game of golf has not waned as he prepares to become the first player to reach 300 appearances on the European Senior Tour in this week’s SSE Enterprise Wales Senior Open.
The evergreen Irishman has enjoyed a remarkable 18 year run on Senior Tour since swapping his job in banking to join the professional ranks at the late age of 50 in 1998.
By his own admission, O’Sullivan was not sure he would be able to compete with some of European golf’s top players when he came through the qualifying school in 1997, but after a seamless transition from the amateur game, winning the Senior Tour’s first Rookie of the Year crown in 1998, he has not looked back.
Now one of the oldest players on the circuit, aged 68, O’Sullivan has six Senior Tour titles under his belt, as well as €1,373,049 in career earnings, sitting tenth on that particular list which includes Ryder Cup Captains Bernhard Langer (second) Colin Montgomerie (third), and Sam Torrance (fifth).
As O’Sullivan prepares to make his milestone appearance – at The Celtic Manor Resort in Wales, the same venue where Montgomerie’s European Team won the Ryder Cup in 2010 – his appetite for the game, and for the competition of Senior Tour golf, remains undiminished.
“I went to Qualifying School in France in 1997 and I was the only amateur golfer there – and I then qualified,” he said. “I worked until May of 1998 as a banker and then took a month off to play four tournaments.
“I thought I wouldn’t do very well and would then come back to my job – but I did well and was named Rookie of the Year. I finished ninth in the Order of Merit and didn’t play in all of the tournaments.
“Suddenly I was there. It’s a strange feeling though. It’s a bit frightening in the sense that this week will be my 300th event. To me it feels like I’m four or five years off that.
“This is my 18th year, but it doesn’t feel that long. I’m lucky that I still love the game. I came to golf late in my late teens. I had played a lot of team sport before. I was introduced to golf and I thought it was wonderful, I gave everything up for it.”
O’Sullivan made his Senior Tour debut at the El Bosque Seniors Open and five months later was named the Tour’s first Rookie of the Year, a title subsequently won by names such as Carl Mason (2003), Costantino Rocca (2007), Woosnam (2008) and Paul Broadhurst (2015)
He is now tied 12th on the list of top ten finishes on the Senior Tour with 54, a statistic which demonstrates his consistency as well as his longevity.
“I didn’t go into Qualifying School with any aspirations,” he admitted. “I was playing well but I didn’t think I was good enough to become professional. To a degree, I proved myself wrong – I was good enough some times.
“The toughest adjustment I had to make was in the scoring. I’d won a serious amount of strokeplay events at amateur level. If you finished level par or one or two under, you’d win. But on the Senior Tour, I’d be shooting three or four under and I’d be 10 shots back. The likes of Tommy Horton would shoot the lights out every day, I couldn’t believe it.
“At the end of my third year on Tour, 2000, I won the last two events (the Senior Tournament of Champions at The Buckinghamshire, England, and the European Seniors Tour Championship in Abu Dhabi by shooting 11 and 14 under. It’s amazing how it clicked. Just shooting two under par wasn’t good enough anymore. I had to step up.
“I was 11 under par at one stage in Abu Dhabi and I shot 65 in the last round to win. I wasn’t doing those sorts of things in my amateur career. I didn’t push myself to shoot that well because I didn’t need to. But, these days, you probably need to shoot that well in the amateur game.
“I’m still very competitive. I enjoy the competitive nature. I enjoy meeting new people and going to new places. I have a good outlook on things and enjoy what I have. I’m a cup half-full guy. That’s the secret to my longevity.
“I love playing golf. I have a passion for it, and I have a good woman at home who looks after me, caddies for me at times and lets me carry on playing it.”