In this week’s Player Blog presented by Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Aaron Cockerill talks about his route to professional golf, choosing to come over to Europe, and experiencing it all with his fiancée on the bag.
Everything that I’ve kind of done in golf and where I am now has not really been the plan, it’s just kind of happened. Compared to most of the guys out here, I took up golf quite late. I started playing when I was about 12 on the weekends with buddies, but I didn’t play in a tournament until I was 15. Where I live in Winnipeg in Canada our season is so short, typically from early May to around mid-October, so I would play hockey in the winter and then I played baseball and golf in the summer, and I was probably better at baseball.
One of the stories I’ve told before is that I was on a travelling baseball team when I was younger with one of my best friends, and we were somewhere in Manitoba, and he got me to play in a golf tournament he was playing in. I ended up winning, and I was kind of hooked to golf after that. In baseball I was a pitcher, so if I would do my job and someone else would make a mistake it would kind of bother me, so when I won that tournament I saw what it was like to do an individual sport, and that’s what drew me to golf.
Professional golf wasn’t really on my radar either, and even going to college in the U.S. was a late decision. After my last year of high school I was deciding what I wanted to do and found a place that would take me to play in Texas – a smaller Division 2 school. I played there for one year, and played pretty good and got myself a transfer to Division 1 at the University of Idaho for the next three years, and honestly I hadn’t really thought about it until my senior year. I needed to have a job after that, as we all do, and my coach put the bug in my ear to think about playing professionally. I had a lot of decent results but I wasn’t the greatest college golfer so I was a little sceptical, but I was able to get on to the Canadian Tour and have some success and here we are five years later.
Making the decision to come over to Europe was something that came out of looking at my options. I was playing the Canadian Tour for a couple of years and trying to move up, but there was a year I got conditional playing status on the now Korn Ferry Tour and didn’t end up getting into a single tournament. It was the first time I thought about coming to European Tour Qualifying School instead, and that’s when it all changed for me. I made it to the Final Stage but not high enough to get a card, but it led me to play the whole Challenge Tour season and I got into a handful of European Tour events. It gave me so much more, and I’m so happy that I decided to take this route, and even happier that I got through Q-School the second time. I’d convinced my parents to come over for that one last year, and it was their first trip to Europe, so that was awesome. That was probably one of the best moments of my golfing career at that point.
I’m very thankful about the path I’ve chosen as I’m sitting here in Cyprus looking over the ocean. Before coming out to Europe I wasn’t well travelled at all, other than Canada and the U.S., but with the Challenge Tour and this year, it’s got to be close to about 35 countries that I’ve been to now. It’s awesome, and I try and make sure I experience wherever we’re going, whether that’s taking a day or two to go and sight-see, to make sure I get the full experience, and I’ve had a blast.
My fiancée has now come over and she’s going to caddie for me for a couple of months, so we’re able to do this together. We’re just two kids from a small town in the middle of nowhere in Canada, so for us this is a blast to experience. I always tell her you never know what’s going to happen in your life or what’s going to come. The other day we got a phone call telling me that one of my uncles passed away suddenly and it put those words in perspective. For us to be able to do this together and experience the world is something not everybody can do. Why else would we ever come to Cyprus? I honestly didn’t even know where this place was and it’s amazing.
The idea of her coming out here really started a couple of months ago. I had a caddie for the first six events and I was sitting in a hotel room when we were supposed to get married, and I was thinking what am I doing over here, we could be experiencing this together. She’s caddied a lot for me over the years, and she probably did about seven events on the Challenge Tour last year. Those weeks would be great, and then if there was an off week we’d travel somewhere.
We’d joked a long time ago that once we were married she would take time off work and come travel with me. We were supposed to get married in August, and because of Covid-19 we’re now doing it next year, and she was considering a career change from public accounting, so we decided she’d leave her job and come for the rest of the year. She may stay at home in January, but if we do well we’ll see how it goes. She did Italy last week and two before that, and we’re going to do two in Cyprus, stay and travel around the island for a week, then we’ll do South Africa and go home for Christmas.
Most winters I’d go down to Phoenix to practice, but we’ve just bought a house so when we go back I’ll probably spend a few weeks off, tinkering with our house or doing other typical Canadian winter activities like ice fishing and pond hockey. And then we’ll make a decision over whether she’ll stay at home or come back out with me.
It’s been great so far, and I think we’re pretty good combo. If I’m whining or moaning she’s not afraid to put me back in my place, but it’s been fun and she’s really good on the course. I can pace off my own yardage, and I just need someone to talk to about things other than golf on the course and she does that so. Obviously it’s a lot of time together so sometimes she’s probably sick of me, but it’s been a blast. Last week she started bringing a list of dirty jokes every day so she was entertaining our group.
I think coming over here, getting used to travelling and the different types of golf courses and conditions have been the biggest adjustments. I remember getting a shock when I was playing on the Challenge Tour and I had to putt through a big puddle. I called a rules official and they squeegeed the green, but he said to me ‘this is Europe, son’, and I was just like ‘okay, I guess’.
Last year probably showed that in my Challenge Tour results at the start of the year, but I think I got better as I began to get more comfortable with different styles, and different conditions too. At home, players can shoot low when it’s good conditions, but here everyone is definitely a lot better at grinding out good scores. There’s a few tournaments I’ve played in horrible conditions where I’ve shot one over and been pretty happy with myself, and then still seeing guys shoot five under; that would not happen at home.
This obviously hasn’t been the Rookie year I expected, but in a way it’s kind of worked for guys like me: I’ve got a decent amount of tournaments and I still get to keep my card, so I can use these events to learn. I feel like I’m getting better at shooting good relative scores in relative conditions, and I think now that I’ve had the opportunity to play this many events out here I now know that if I play well I can have a chance to win.
It was hard for me when we stopped initially because in Canada we had a lot of snow, so I ended up helping out at one of the food shelters for a couple of months until the weather started coming around. But after that I managed to get into a bit of a routine, and I’ve been pretty consistent since we restarted. I’ve not had any really high finishes yet, having tournaments of three good rounds instead of four, so it’s just a matter of putting four together. I’m taking it tournament, and country, one at a time, and just trying to have as much fun as I can.
When coronavirus cancels / postpones the Euro Tour 🎣 pic.twitter.com/capsudw8wq— Aaron Cockerill (@A_Cockerill) March 11, 2020
There’s a lot of things I could never have pictured coming out here. I definitely would never have envisioned playing in a twosome with Lee Westwood, a guy I grew up watching, in a national Open when I was drinking beers in college, but I got to do that at the Italian Open last week. We both had our fiancées on the bag, we both played well, and nipping him by a stroke with a birdie on the last was pretty fun, too.
I’m the only Canadian out here right now, but I think you’ll probably start to see a lot more guys come over. Friends have asked me, and I know a lot of them even came over to play Q-School last year. I think it’s a great option, and I think more guys will continue to do it. At the stage that I was at, it was the best possible avenue for me. When you’re in that stage of your career, why wouldn’t you try and come and play on this Tour, travel around and see more things. It’s the best way to go.