IT’S somewhat fitting that Peter Whiteford calls Wellsgreen Golf Range his home.
While the facility owned by his parents has been given an impressive face-lift in recent years with new practice bays, restaurant and shop, the same can be said for Whiteford, who has undergone his own transformation.
Six years ago, speaking to this very newspaper at the age of 25, the frustrated pro admitted that he was looking at job adverts as he struggled to make ends meet on the second-tier Challenge Tour, and began to lose hope in his dream of becoming a top European Tour player.
Fast forward to today and Whiteford now has the world of golf at his feet following his best ever season at the top level, where five top 10 finishes in the 2011 Race to Dubai saw him earn around £400,000 in prize money, while he also made his first appearance in a major – The Open at Royal St George’s last July.
He also just missed out on qualification for the Dubai World Championship by three places in the Order of Merit, and is now an established name on the European Tour circuit, rubbing shoulders with some of the biggest names in the sport at some of the biggest events on the calendar.
And speaking last Friday, the day before he flew out for his first tournament of 2012 – the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship featuring the likes of Tiger Woods, Luke Donald and Rory McIllroy – Whiteford told SportsPress that he now wants to push himself even further up the golfing ladder, by making this the year that he wins his first European Tour title.
“That’s definitely one of the goals this year – to try and win one,” he said. “I had five top 10s last year, and had a wee chance in a couple of them.
“But if I can get myself into the same position a few more times this year, hopefully I’ll get across the line.
“Winning a tournament elevates you into a different category – and if you win one of the big ones you can get a two-year exemption which will certainly helps you relax.
“It would be lovely to win one but you have to get yourself into a position to do it first. You don’t really think about it until the last nine holes of a tournament.”
In order to achieve his ambitions, Whiteford feels there are areas of his game that still need work – mainly his driving. However, he puts his upturn in form down to an improvement in his putting.
“A few years ago on the Challenge Tour, that was the time I started to compete more regularly rather than being a hot and cold player,” he said.
“I was a good putter one week, a bad putter the next, but it’s been more consistent over the last few years, which is probably the most pleasing part for me, because I always struggled in that department.
“I changed a few things and it’s held together for the last few years. I feel more comfortable now, and the game’s always easier if you can get it in the hole from three or four feet.
“I’ve improved my overall game every year, but there’s still areas I want to improve. I don’t think I’m a good enough driver of the ball, so I need to get out on the course more.”
After taking a month’s break from golf before Christmas, Whiteford has been practicisng hard at Wellsgreen for this week’s return to action.
“I’ve been hitting balls on the range everyday, and technically the swing feels okay, it’s just a matter of getting back on the course again,” he said.
“I’m not expecting too much in the first week back in Abu Dhabi, I’ll just try to work the rust off and get the distances back.”
Also on Whiteford’s list of priorities is to increase his record of making the cut.
He added: “Consistency is the key for me this year because I’m still missing a lot of cuts, around 40 per cent, which isn’t good enough.
“I’d like to at least half that. The more times you make the cut the less rusty you are because you’re playing more golf.
“If you miss three cuts in a row you’ve only been on a golf course six times in three weeks, and the guys you’re competing against could have been out double that.”
Whiteford’s playing partners for the opening two rounds in Abu Dhabi are Graeme Storm and Robert Jan-Derksen. You can follow his progress at europeantour.com.