April 29, 2022

The upcoming Beautiful Thailand Swing is a career lifeline for multiple MENA Tour winner Luke Joy.


By Kent Gray
Luke Joy makes no attempt to sugar-coat the past 2½ years as a mini-tour journeyman with almost nowhere to play, zero certainly surrounding his professional future and challenges at home that conspired to put even the pandemic curveballs into context.

“It’s been brutal… brutal,” said the Abu Dhabi-based Englishman before acknowledging bride Lauren’s role as a career saviour and emotional rock despite her own personal battles. “If I didn’t have my wife, I'm lucky enough she's a successful PT [personal trainer]…” 

Joy’s answer tapered off as he internalised not only his soul mate’s lop-sided contribution to fiscal survival in the UAE during the pandemic but also the emotional rollercoaster ride the couple have been on since just before the outbreak of COVID-19.

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In mid-2019 Lauren was diagnosed with stage four endometriosis, a painful inflammatory condition where tissue similar to the lining of the uterus is found outside the uterus. Thankfully successful surgery in London that December, just as COVID-19 was sweeping the globe, has translated into the joyful pitter patter of tiny feet. The arrival of wee Hugo, the couple’s first child, on February 1 this year means Dad has even more reason to hit the range and revive his stalled career.

It makes another resurrection, that of the MENA Tour’s 2020 Journey to Journey season, timely. Better still, the circuit’s freshly-minted strategic alliance with the Asian Tour means the Beautiful Thailand Swing starting next Tuesday will be co-sanctioned by the Asian Development Tour (ADT).

As such, the four quickfire 54-hole events in Phuket not only promise a combined US$300,000 in prizemoney and enhanced OWGR status, but more importantly a view to a bright new future on a circuit suddenly emboldened by a $300 million investment from Saudi-backed LIV Golf Investments.

As a two-time winner on tour, Joy is the most decorated of the 55 MENA Tour players set to tee it up at Laguna Golf Phuket and Blue Canyon Country Club over the next three weeks. At 17th in the current Order of Merit, he’s also well-positioned to capitalise on some, if not all, of the early sweeteners provided by what is set to become a full merger between the two development tours. They include an invite to one of the Asian Tour’s new $1.5 million-plus International Series events for the eventual MENA Tour champion, the promise of two further ADT starts and, also for the top-10 in the now rebranded ‘2020+ Journey to Jordan’ standings, exemption to the final stage of Asian Tour Q-School for 2023.

RELATED: What they're playing for at the Beautiful Thailand Swing

It's no wonder Joy, who won the MENA Tour’s Dubai Creek Open and GOLF CITIZEN Abu Dhabi Open in a breakout 2014, is a big fan of the new opportunity laden pathway.

“I mean don’t get me wrong, when we had starts for the European Tour stuff which I was very lucky enough to play my way into, the Dubai Desert Classic, the Dutch Open and  Morocco and places like that, it was great,” said the 33-year-old.  

“But it was like one week, you had one week to perform and you basically finished top-10 at that event or it was done. It's like a shootout and where those guys [on the DP World Tour] are playing week-in, week-out, 13 on the stimp [metre] greens, firm, rock hard and stuff like that, that is quite a tough adjustment to get straight away. 

“Whereas now, if it was in the same situation, the same Order of Merit positions, then next year you'd have an Asian Tour card so I think the progression now is far more valuable.” 

That was crystalised for Joy during a stint caddieing for Saudi amateur Saud Al Sharif during the Asian Tour’s $5 million, season-opening PIF Saudi International presented by SoftBank Investment Advisors in early February. 

“I also saw the limitations that the European Tour potentially has to offer someone like me at the moment with them cancelling Q-school for the last three years. Basically, I didn't quite understand the logic of how the Ladies European Tour can have a Q-School and yet the European Tour can’t.

“I'm just kind of seeing maybe that this new route with the MENA Tour and the Asian Tour would probably be quite a good avenue to go down. 

“I wouldn't say that I'm visualising wins on the European Tour, or visualising wins on the Asian Tour because I'm not there yet. I need to put a plan in place to see where I can get to. Down the road, I see myself on a bigger tour but just at the moment, I’m just going to have to wait and see what avenues open up to see which side of Abu Dhabi airport I'm going take, either to Asia or Europe.”

All signs point to Asia currently and for that, Joy is grateful. Anything has to be better than the last two-plus years with his career on ice. 

“Obviously we don't really have the benefit of, for instance, getting furloughed or anything like that. You’re a performance-based, commission-based entity where when you play well, you win money and you can put food on the table. If you don't have any opportunity to do that, it's quite a tough one to sort of salvage. 

“I'm lucky enough to have a university degree [via Drake University in Iowa which boasts Zach Johnson among their alumni] to fall back on but some of the guys who don't have an educational background, and they still want to stay in golf industry, I really don’t know what you could have done. I mean, I started up a granola company just to keep things ticking over in my apartment, you know just random stuff that you would never even have thought of. You had to be adaptable, think outside the box. But yeah, it's been pretty crap.” 

Joy will enter the Beautiful Thailand Swing around his current ranking of 1724th in the OWGR but has been as low as 486th.  That was in early January 2018, just a couple of months removed from his best finish on the ADT, second place by a shot to Thai Poosit Supupramal at the Defence Raya Golf Championship in Pakistan.

“That was pretty much my best year to date,” Joy recalls of an actual 14-month stint from September 2016 to the ADT event in Pakistan where he finished runner-up no less than seven times in OWGR events. 

“I mean, getting into the top 500 in the world playing on a mini-tour was pretty impressive because the ranking points were basically nothing.”

Given Joy’s last professional outing was his title defence of the King Hamad Trophy at Royal Bahrain last November, it’s little surprise he’s approaching the Beautiful Thailand Swing with nothing more than cautious optimism. Sleepless nights and nappy changing duties for a now three-month-old take precedence over-sharpening ones wedge game after all.

That said, Joy isn’t jetting his way to Phuket to “make up the numbers.” He’s won on the MENA, EuroPro and JAMEGA Tours and sees no reason why he can’t add a trophy engraved with the ADT to his mantelpiece.

“I've always tried to make sure that I'm not a donator to the prize fund, you go in there to do a job and some weeks it will go well…” said Joy before another of his patented pauses for thought.

“You know, I want to get to the elusive 10th professional victory. I think I've been going for nine years and I think last year was actually the only year I haven't won as a pro which was quite frustrating, not to get that buzz of winning. So I want to try and get to at least 10 and then get to 20 as quick as possible after that.”