Turner finally ready for prize opportunity on Asian Tour

Turner finally ready for prize opportunity on Asian Tour
Niall Turner pictured at Macau Golf & Country Club by Arep Kulal / Asian Tour

Niall Turner pictured at Macau Golf & Country Club by Arep Kulal / Asian Tour

Five years of injury agony is enough to send any sportsman scurrying for career guidance but Muskerry’s Niall Turner believes his calvary might just be over.

At the age of 33, the former Irish amateur international and University of Minnesota graduate tees off the 2017 Asian Tour season alongside the likes of Ernie Els in the SMBC Singapore Open this week convinced he has finally solved the seemingly chronic hip injury problems that left him considering early retirement.

Femoroacetabular impingement — also known as FAI — was at the root of the problem.

It’s a term that will be familiar to Roy Keane, ending his  football career. But Turner has been lucky that advances in fitness expertise have made what was once a difficult to diagnose problem more easily identifiable.

After going down some dead ends over the past five seasons — last year was almost a complete write off— Turner feels fighting fit again and finally ready to grab his place in the sun.

"The majority of people thought I was dead or retired, but I am flying now," joked Turner, who has a full medical exemption for the Asian Tour for 2017.

His status means he will get to tee it up in almost every event and will have a chance to play his way onto the European Tour given the number of co-sanctioned events he may contest.

But it’s been a long hard road just to get to this point and after once rubbing shoulders with PGA Tour stars like Shane Lowry and Seamus Power, it may finally be Turner’s time to bask in the limelight.

The Ballincollig native came within a whisker of amateur glory back in 2007 when he reached the Irish Close final at Cork Golf Club, beating Power en route to the decider where he lost 4 and 3 to Lowry.

The pride of Clara has since gone on to become a world star and Turner now believes it’s his time to give that dream a fair run.

He certainly feels physically ready to build on the kind of form that saw him win on the Asian Development Tour in Jakarta in 2014 and then finish 58th in the Asian Tour’s Order of Merit the following year.

A year ago, everything was looking rosy for Turner as he prepared to consolidate his Asian Tour status. 

But after some promising early season results, his old hip injury flared up again and he ended up missing the rest of the season and even contemplated giving up the game completely.

He was fortunate that his consultant was Dr Eanna Falvey, a former international boxer and the Team Doctor to the Irish Senior ruby team since 2009, and they soon got to the root of the problem.

"I went away and my hip wasn’t feeling right at all, and then it got worse and worse," Turner said, revealing that it took months before he eventually discovered that his strength and conditioning regime was actually making his condition worse rather than better.

"It was hugely frustrating. At the time, I was thinking, what’s the point.  Many times in the last five years I have thought of packing it all in.

"It didn’t seems to be worth it and I couldn’t see light at the end of the tunnel at all. It was a vicious cycle — six months of golf, six months of injury.

"So my consultant took me through what I was doing and we had a lightbulb moment. He said, ‘No, this is completely wrong.’ He then sent me to the Sports Surgery Clinic in Santry to work with Enda King, who is the Lead Performance Rehabilitation Physiotherapist.

"Within two weeks of working with Enda, I knew I would be fit for life. So there is a silver lining there in the end, as frustrating as it was. 

"Since I tore the cartilage in my hip in October 2011, I have been injured on and off for a total of two and a half years of the last five years. It was a huge deal. It kept me out pretty much all of last year, the year before and six months before that. 

"It has been a huge hinderance to my golf but it was also pretty debilitating when it came to doing regular, day-to-day things like sitting down, or lying down. It was hard to sleep."

Under King, Turner dedicated himself completely to his recovery, working for four hours a day on a rehabilitation programme before "popping" the cartilage in his ribs in September.

"I tried to come back a little too soon but it was nothing compared to my hip and I am 100 percent now," he said with a smile. "The good news is that I got a full medical exemption from the Asian Tour for this coming season that puts me just in the top 60. 

"And that means that I will get into every event bar one event co-sanction with the European Tour  in India. It’s huge."

Having married sweetheart Rachel Halligan in June, Turner is now keen to try and make it as a golfer before it’s too late and he believe he still has time. 

"I am 33, so it is about time," he said. "I am kicking on. Back in 2011, I was really playing well and my confidence was high. You just get a sense, when you are playing sport at a high level, that things are going well and I felt really good. 

"But then I picked up that injury in October that year and it wrecked the end of my season and it’s taken me this long to get back. 

"So for the first time since 2011, it is just wonderful to be back healthy and fit and playing golf with no injury worries. It is a  great place to be."

Turner found himself hitting balls on the range alongside Jordan Spieth in Singapore 12 months ago, claiming 23rd place as the American finished second behind Korea’s Younghan Song.

The Cork man made nearly $10,000 that week and was on course for another profitable season in Asia when injury struck.

Niall Turner pictured at Macau Golf & Country Club by Arep Kulal / Asian Tour

Niall Turner pictured at Macau Golf & Country Club by Arep Kulal / Asian Tour

But he believes the Asian Tour is the ideal training ground for a young golfer hoping to take the step up to the European Tour.

"If you are playing a European Tour event it doesn’t feeling like you are playing anything dissimilar to what you play week in and week out," he said of the standard.

Coached by Johnny Foster, he feels he has all the bases covered in terms of knowing how his swing works, the things he needs to do to hone an effective short game and what’s needed when it comes to fitness and diet.

He knows that winning solves all problems and a big performance in a co-sanctioned event could help him make up for lost time.

After all, when he’s played injury free, his golf has been excellent.

Having cruised through Q-School, he made his Asian Tour debut in 2011 and claimed three top-20s in his first nine months. 

He then made a strong start to 2012 when he contended for the Handa Faldo Cambodian Classic before finishing third for one of three Top 20 finishes that season.

His injury problems would’t go away, however, but despite being forced to start again in 2014 on the Asian Tour’s equivalent of the Challenge Tour, he  won the 2014 Linc Group Jakarta Classic to regain his Asian Tour card.

Two top-fives at the Venetian Macao Open and Philippine Open presented by ICTSI helped him retain his card for 2016 as he finished 58th in the money list with $70,000 from his 10 starts.

It might not sound like a fortune but it goes a long way in Asia, where expenses are low.

"It’s reasonable to get out there —€500-600 return from Ireland," Turner said. "Once you have a run of events it is a very inexpensive tour to play, 

:"Our first event is Singapore then to get to Burma for the second event might only cost €70 euro return with a carrier like Air Asia — and they are cheaper for clubs than Ryanair."

With a TaylorMade equipment contract, some clothing sponsorship and new corporate sponsor in Ferrocadia, a Dubai and Singapore based financial company, Turner is looking to the future with confidence and eyeing old foes with admiration.

"It’s great to see Seamus Power doing so well," he said. "I know Seamie from my amateur days and it’s wonderful that he has followed that route in the US and come through."

And Niall Turner? What can he do?

"My goal now is to remain injury free, get a win, have a European Tour card at the end of the season, which would mean playing well in the co-sanctioned events," he said. 

"I at least hope to be well established in Asia so I am looking forward to a bit of a big year this year. I am not a spring chicken any more,

"At 33 and I’m ready to kick on and get to where I believe I can play. The opportunity is there so with the schedule I play, it is about getting down to it and playing well."

Backed up by his wife, a solicitor by profession, and with respected coach Johnny Foster in his corner, he said: "I have pretty much all the bases covered and having played pro golf for so long I am pretty experienced and feel like I have a good understanding of everything I need to do to swing the club well and perform well."

Learning how to score in professional golf was the biggest learning curve he faced when he took the plunge.

I tell young lads to go out and play off the green tees at their home course or even off the red tees. The more you shoot five or six under or put your mind in that place, the better it will be.
— Niall Turner

"It’s important the guys are playing the right tour and straight out of college," Turner said when asked what Ireland’s younger players need to do to be ready to compete on tour. 

"I played on mini tours in America where you needed to shoot 30 under par every week and it wasn’t the best move.

"I wasn’t a great putter at the time — I was the typical Irish golfer, really good on tough courses, being able to shoot even par. But then when it came down to shooting  five, six under every day, I struggled massively. I became just another number out there when I would have been quite a good amateur player. 

“That’s the main thing for young guys, especially if they are playing Challenge Tour. The courses on the Challenge Tour are generally very easy and fellas have to be able to shoot five or six under par.

"So I tell young lads to go out and play off the green tees at their home course or even off the red tees. The more you shoot five or six under or put your mind in that place, the better it will be. 

"If you are thinking even par, that is what you are going to shoot all the time regardless of what course you play on. The biggest thing is to get guys out shooting low numbers.

"In the past, I would have always looked to play of the tips wherever I was going. But now I enjoy playing as far up as I can and actually shooting as low a score as I can. That’s the biggest determining factor in whether you can succeed in pro golf. It’s how low can you go really.”

Set to play the first four events in Singapore, Myanmar, Bangladesh and Malaysia, he hopes to have seven or event tournaments under his belt by April. Given the high standard, he knows he must be competitive from the off.

"The standard out there has gotten so much better in the five years I have been playing," he said. "When I started out, the co-sanctioned events were heavily skewed towards the European Tour players and of the 65 making the cut, around 40 or 50 would be European.

"But now it is half and half and the majority of the co-sanctioned events for the last two years have been won by Asian Tour players. 

"With the partnership with the European Tour as well it just produces a huge opportunity. It is a good way of playing on a major tour with the advantages of having a full European Tour card without having to go through the Challenge Tour or the Q-School ranks."

Given the huge variety in conditions from one week to the next, Turner feels he will be ready if he makes it to the European Tour.

"The biggest challenge on the Asian Tour is you could play four weeks in a row and play entirely different conditions every week," he said. "Even in these first four, the grass will change drastically from Singapore to Myanmar to Bangladesh. 

"At the start it takes quite a bit of getting used to, just to be able to roll up and adjust straight away to whatever is presented to you that week."

As for his hip problem, he hopes it is a thing of the past, both for him and others.

"It is quite a new injury really and they are diagnosing it more and more now in young athletes," he said. "Lots of people have it and you get referred pain — bad groins or lower backs, even down into knees.

"People have corrective surgery but it never solves the underlying problem as Roy Keane found out. Now they can, which is great."