After a decade gallivanting around the world, Menston’s James Hepworth has called time on the European and Challenge Tour to spend some quality time with daughter Camilla.
Not that golf is going completely on the back burner – Hepworth joking that he’ll now have enough time to conquer the biggest invitational tournament of all – the Open Championship at Royal Lytham and St Annes in the summer.
Harrogate-born Hepworth, 36, has been a professional golfer for the last 15 years with two full seasons on the European Tour as well as a Challenge Tour victory with the 2006 Apulia San Domenico Grand Final in Italy being the highlight.
The former Ashville College student also won the 2003 Challenge Tour American Express Los Enicos Open in Mexico and admits that professional golf has brought him some highs but also lows, with the recent trekking from country to country for scant reward proving too much.
The Ilkley Golf Club star finished 91st in the Challenge Tour rankings last year with a top-five berth needed to secure a place on the full European version – a spot sealed by Leeds golfer Danny Denison.
Hepworth, though, whose daughter Camilla was born in 2008, has recently had his mind elsewhere and the focus is now on family time. But golf will remain on the agenda, both competitively and as a coach at the Shay Grange Driving Range in Bradford.
“I’ve done it for 15 years now, travelling around since the age of 21 and I feel that I’ve missed a big chunk of my life, if you like,” Hepworth told LS1.
“I get a bit homesick and I want to see my little girl more often. I just want to live a normal existence – we’ll see what happens.
“Camilla was born when I was on the full tour and I think it’s fair to say that a lot of my focus has been on my daughter. It took a bit of attention away from my game and it’s great now that I can see more of her.
“But I’m not packing in golf entirely and I’m still going to play but what I am focusing on is the teaching at Shay Grange Driving Range, owned by Jordan (Gibson), my best friend.
“There’s also plenty of events in this country that I can still play in, no big ones, but money events and things like the Yorkshire PGA and pro-ams. I might also play a few Euro pro events in this country.
“I could also qualify for the Open so I’ll have a go at that. normally the Open qualifiers interrupt my schedule for the Challenge Tour.
“That last three years I have not even entered it so this year I could be winning the Open!”
What a story that would be, however unlikely, but whilst the last few years have not gone according to plan, Hepworth has been no stranger to success during his 15 years as a pro.
Challenge Tour successes in Italy, Mexico and Northern Ireland have been the highlights but more than that, Hepworth can now look back with fondness at two full years on the European Tour, rubbing shoulders with the sport’s stars.
“My first year on the full tour was in 2004 and it was a little daunting,” said Hepworth, who began playing golf aged nine when hitting balls with dad John between rugby posts.
“You are playing with your mates and then suddenly you are practising next to (Jose Maria) Olazabal and all the top players.
“It’s a little daunting, but very exciting.
“However, once you get to know all the players you relax a little.
“But then I changed equipment and it didn’t quite work for me. I was doing deals where you get paid for using certain equipment and I went for the money rather than sticking with what I should have.
“I didn’t play particularly well but then I won a big tournament in Italy on the Challenge Tour to get my card and I was back. I knew all the guys and felt very comfy.
“I played with (Lee) Westwood – not that I played very well – and I was leading the Scottish Open, the PGA, at Gleneagles. It was a good experience.”
The quest for success, though, has come at a cost and with the lure of his little girl at home in Harrogate, the weekly and expensive dash around the world in pursuit of golfing glories has become too much.
Reflecting on the demands of being a pro golfer, the former Bradford Golf Club player admitted: “It does, after a while, get a bit too much.
“You’ve got your schedule on the Challenge Tour so you have got 25 or 26 events and it can be South America one week and India or Kenya the next. Then across Europe.
“You’ve got to get there for a practice round on the Tuesday and you find yourself getting up at five o’clock Tuesday morning to get a flight.
“The course could be two hours away from the airport and you have got to get to the course and then you have got to have a practice round.
“You are trying to be well behaved so you don’t go out, you don’t go for a beer and you try and have an early night and eat well, go to the gym and do all the right things.
“You are also in remote places as a lot of the time it will be a new course that they are trying to promote.
“It’s a financial burden if you are shelling out every week and a few times last year I missed the cut by a shot on the last green.
“Once you start getting into a bit of a rut you start to think about it which, obviously, is not going to help you.
“You are thinking ‘crikey, I’m spending a lot of dough here, I need to finish in the top three’. The pressure builds.
“Don’t get me wrong, if you are doing very well it’s great, it’s justified. But if you are not there’s a bit of pressure.”
That pressure has now been alleviated and Hepworth – also a keen fell runner and fitness enthusiast – is already enjoying his role as a coach at Shay Grange.
The golf centre is to specialise in left-hand golf with a special launch over the weekend of March 3 and Hepworth is excited about the future.
“I have done a few lessons and I really enjoy helping people and seeing them improve quickly,” said Hepworth, who turned scratch at 15 and who holds the course record at Ilkley.
“Hopefully it will take off at Shay Grange and I will still be able to play as well.”