Sit down for half-an-hour with Jake Roos, and it’s apparent that you’re dealing with an enquiring mind. And that’s not necessarily the case with your average professional sportsman.
And while he might not have all the answers when questioned about the issues facing the game in South Africa, when he stepped away from the game at the end of 2015, it could have been a loss for the future of golf in the country.
He wanted to get away from something that had become unpleasant for him. “I went through a bad patch,” he says. “I thought I’d never really play again. I was gatvol and not really keen to play at all. I needed to get away from it all. I was looking at doing other things, actually.
“The thing that really caught me was that I was playing overseas and I was travelling on my own. Going from country to country, and not playing well in a tough environment – that’s what got me to the point where I felt it was not enjoyable. Being by yourself – I played 10 weeks in a row at the end of that year… and you can just spiral downwards if you’re not careful.
“You’ve got to surround yourself with good people in your network, but that’s not always easy to do if you’re travelling all over the world. Even in South Africa, it’s hard.
“After letting the dust settle, I gradually got back into wanting to play. It was a bad time for me – it wasn’t like a good break. It’s progressed nicely, and I feel I’m starting to enjoy it a bit better.”
His comeback in the 2016-17 Sunshine Tour season delivered him a purple patch of four top-10s in five starts, and 50th spot on the order of Merit. It’s been even better this season, with four top-10s already, and a near-miss for a title when he lost in a six-hole play-off to Justin Harding in the Lombard Insurance Classic.
And while he’s happily back into a career which includes six Sunshine Tour wins and two on the Challenge Tour, he’s deeply aware of the difficulties facing players trying to make a living from the game.
“I feel for a lot of the guys out here,” he says. “They’re trying hard and they’re not really making any money. But the game doesn’t owe you anything. Just because you’re on the tour doesn’t mean you have a right to do well. That’s where a lot of guys are mistaken – they are almost demanding stuff.
“People out there don’t necessarily realise what it’s all about. They see Ernie’s private jet! Our Tour is very good. It’s growing and I feel we’re adding nicely into Africa, but it’s still… you’ve got to finish quite high on the Order of Merit every year to make a good living. Look at the whole picture, and to do that every year is quite hard. Touring is a tough life.”
Being the kind of person he is, Roos has tried to contribute to the well-being of the other players on the Tour too. “I’ve been on the Players’ Committee for six years and I’ve been on the Board for the last two years,” he says.
“I do feel I want to look out for the best interests of everyone. You’ve got European Tour members who are winning big money overseas and are hardly playing here, and you’ve got development guys who are getting funded by the Gary Player Class. So you’ve got widely different backgrounds – wealthy people and sometimes, there is a guy who can’t pay his fine and almost can’t tee off because of that. There are two sides to the membership coin.
“But, as I said, golf doesn’t owe you anything – not because you’re a decent golfer, or a good golfer and you’re on tour. That doesn’t mean you should be treated like a king. It’s still a game where you’ve got to perform to do something. Otherwise you should go and do something else.”
And having gone through the pain he did, he has empathy. “It can be very stressful if you’re playing just to survive,” he says. “If you can play to contend, and to be in position to win tournaments, then it’s a lot easier stress-wise, because, no matter what happens, at the end of the week you’re still making money and ticking over. If you’re battling, every week you’re worrying about making money or not. Most guys go through that, because there are a few guys who regularly contend.
“I’m lucky. It’s getting to the point where I can play without having to worry too much about results – just play as well as I can without having to protect a score to make the cut. That’s a bad situation to be in because it’s defensive. You don’t want to make mistakes. The best golfers in the world play to play their best – they don’t play to protect. But if you’re trying to make money, you often play to protect and you can see it out there. It’s a fine line but the situation swallows you in sometimes before you know it.”
So how would he change things, if he were in a position to do so?
“You definitely have to try and increase the prize money,” he says. “The winter events are great. It’s great for us to be able to play for R800,000 in those winter events, but, realistically, if you look at the number of players in those fields, probably 80 percent of them will make a loss. That makes it hard for a lot of people, and that’s not really sustainable. And if it happens week-in and week-out, that’s not going to add up to a good situation for the membership down the road.
“So we need to increase value for the sponsors so we can ask for better prize money. Maybe we have to create better brands amongst the players, or a stronger brand for the Tour itself. I think we’ve got enough events, but we’re going to have to push those winter events above a million, I think. In the summer, we’ve got good events, but the really good events, only half of the membership get to play.
“But players have a responsibility. Generally, the guys are not where they should be in terms of social media. A lot of them are not educated well enough and they don’t see the bigger picture and they just do their own thing and they’re not professional enough with what they post. But because golf is so individual, guys just want to look after themselves and they don’t necessarily see the value of investing in the Tour as an organisation.”
So, having experienced what he did, would he take the risk of testing himself abroad again? “I do expect myself to win again soon, and I often ask myself the question whether I’ll go overseas again,” he says. “You’ve got to believe that you’re playing well enough to play overseas as well, otherwise you could just as well give up. I don’t think it’s good to have a plan to just play here. There’s a ceiling here, where you can only earn so much. There are many more opportunities overseas.
“So I do believe I can get there still but it is getting tougher with a young family. So I am looking at some other options. I’m quite involved with the Tour. That side of it interests me. But whilst you’re playing, you’ve got to believe that there’s the next level as well. You can’t get complacent.
“My perspective is because I’ve got a family, I’d rather be sure I can look after them well. I don’t want to be looking around a couple of years down the line and wondering what I want to do. That’s not where I want to be. Maybe not worrying about the future is the right way to go – just go day by day.”
Day by day would be good if he gets into the administration of the game.