The road to the high end of professional sport is congested …


Professional sport is a giant pyramid and what you usually see is its tip. We do not see the mother doing three jobs to nurture her child’s sporting dream, nor the coach who takes a talented player under his wing.

Craig ray

Craig Ray is the sports editor of the Daily Maverick.

First published in the Daily Maverick 168 weekly newspaper.

I have played in a few golf pro-ams over the years and, unless I have played with a seven-time European Tour winner, they have all been with what you would call “buddies.” professionals ”.

What has always struck me is how good these guys are. One of the players, a young South African who was trying to make it in the US and working on the side tour, had arrived that morning to play The Links at the Fancourt Estate in George.

It’s a brutal course at the best of times, where a higher than par score in a regular professional tournament can sometimes be seen as a good day. On this occasion, the weather was fine and the sturdy young South African shot a 68 under five (the par was 73). He had never seen the course before.

If the caddy told him to hit the ball with a draw around a dogleg, he did. If he needed to knock out a five iron in an evil pin position at 190 odd yards, he had that shot too.

More than a decade after that encounter, he is still working on his game and sporadically plays on the Sunshine Tour of South Africa and the Korn Ferry Tour of the United States.

In most years, his official cash earnings show modest earnings of $ 30,000 to $ 50,000, which, compared to travel, physiotherapy, and trainer costs, as well as the “normal” expenses of life. , means that he is running at a loss.

At Valspar’s PGA Tour Main Championship last week, little-known Michael Visacki became a social media sensation when he was filmed in tears during a phone call to his father, telling his old man that ‘he had qualified for the event.

Visacki had to make his way to qualifying on Monday to take part in the actual event, managing a long birdie putt on the last to qualify. Then he told the media about how his family skipped meals to help pay for junior tournaments and how he racked up over 500,000 miles in his battered Honda Accord, going from tournament to tournament keeping the living pro dream.

His raw emotion and the sizable relief of finally qualifying at the age of 27, after years of trying to compete in a big PGA Tour event, struck a chord.

He was showing the other side of golf – and sport. Getting to the top is difficult. Visacki failed to make the cut halfway through the main event, didn’t make any money, and returned to work almost immediately.

As observers of sport, especially sport filtered through the lens of television, we rarely see the other side of being a professional. Most TV reports focus on big events, big tournaments and often big names.

Professional sport is a giant pyramid and what you usually see is its tip.

We do not see the mother doing three jobs to nurture her child’s sporting dream, nor the coach who takes a talented player under his wing. We don’t see parents leaving their life in Ghana and moving to South Africa to give their child a chance for a better life and that child then becomes a Springbok rugby player. We don’t see the kid who wears old used boots and sneakers, or a single disused golf club hitting rocks on a beach, before he becomes a big winner.

For most people, playing sports is simply a matter of physical health, fun, and perhaps a sense of community. But, for millions of people, sport represents a dream of a better life, a dream of glory, or a dream of achieving obvious talent.

And the road to the top of professional sports is littered with shattered dreams, because for one person to reach the top in any discipline means that at least another person’s hope dies. Professional sport is all about crushing someone else’s dream.

In 130 years of Springbok rugby, for example, there have only been 915 players who have played a test for South Africa. For 100 of those 130 years players were only selected from a small sector of our society but, even so, there wouldn’t have been many more players who did – just their identities may have been. different.

Cricket has even fewer and the Bafana Bafana have just over 450 players. In baseball, America’s longest-running and favorite pastime, there were only 17,000 players in the major leagues.

Think about it. Of the hundreds of millions, if not billions, of children over the age of 12 who have played baseball in the United States, only a small percentage of them have reached the pinnacle of the sport. It highlights how difficult it is to become a viable professional athlete – and how little we see of the pyramid when we watch a big event.

Visacki’s story and those of countless others are inspiring and warning. To make a living as a professional athlete, it is not enough to be talented. It is not enough to work hard. Being both is not always enough either.

So when we next watch Bryson DeChambeau, Naomi Osaka, Kevin de Bruyne or Simone Biles win another title and deliver another jaw-dropping performance, remember they got there by climbing to the top of a bunch of broken dreams. DM168

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for free to Smart Pick n Pay shoppers at these Pick n Pay stores.

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Sara R. Cicero