Dane Bairstow has paid tribute to Manchester United star Tom Cleverley for helping him pursue his dream of becoming a successful professional golfer.
The 23-year-old Bingley St Ives member enjoyed his best season yet on the amateur circuit last year, culminating in him winning the coveted Karl Curran Trophy for being the most consistent player in Bradford.
And childhood friend Cleverley, who has gone on to become an established Premier League footballer after first being on City’s books, has provided sponsorship to help him make the step up to the pro ranks.
Bairstow said: “Tom was always asking how I was doing and I’d tell him about events I’d done well in.
“He knew I’d had a good year and, just before I was due to go on holiday at the end of the season, I got a call from him, saying he’d back me if I turned pro.”
With funding hard to come by in the current economic climate, Bairstow was not surprisingly delighted to accept the offer.
He admitted: “I was a bit choked up after Tom rang me. It’s hard to say where else I would get the finance needed as I don’t come from the richest of backgrounds. I was quite overwhelmed.”
Cleverley said: “Dane’s always been the best golfer I’ve played with. I know he’s been working really hard on his game. He’s one of my best mates and I’m pleased to be able to help him out.”
The midfielder believes Bairstow has the talent to establish himself, adding: “I’ve been to a couple of events and watched the pros. With a bit of work, Dane definitely has the potential to be as good as them. Hopefully this will be a platform to go on to bigger and better things.”
The pair have been good mates for more than a decade since they were junior members at West Bradford Golf Club.
Cleverley soon had to switch his focus to football after joining the Old Trafford youth system but Bairstow remembers the determination that has driven the midfielder all the way to an England call-up was there from an early age on the golf course.
He said: “I’m not joking, he was the most competitive person I’d come across on the course when we used to play together as 12 and 13-year-olds. He was so feisty!”
While Cleverley has become established at the highest level of his sport, Bairstow is now determined to follow suit in golf.
Having previously been among the local area’s most prominent juniors, last season was his big breakthrough year at senior level – both at district and county level.
He was crowned Bradford Amateur Strokeplay champion at West Bradford and played a crucial role in his new club Bingley St Ives’ stunning rise up the Yorkshire Team Championship ranks from Division Four to Division One.
Now the Lidget Green-based player is aiming to make his mark on the Europro developmental tour, having secured his card in stage one of qualifying earlier this month.
The circuit is notoriously tough to make money on but Bairstow is ready for the challenge. And importantly, some of the costs associated with being on the circuit – such as entry fees, travel and accommodation – will be taken care of by sponsorship from Cleverley.
Bairstow, who is also backed by Chillax Drinks, said: “I’m stepping into the unknown but you’ve got to believe in yourself. Financially I’ll be better off and that will help massively when you’re not playing to make a wage and scrimping and scraping.”
Having grown up on the Scholemoor estate near Lidget Green, Bairstow has had to work hard off the course to enable him to pursue his dreams so far.
The former Queensbury Upper School pupil has done a whole range of jobs to help fund himself as an amateur.
And he admits that those experiences have made him all the more determined to make it in the paid ranks.
Introduced to the game by his dad Trevor, Bairstow said: “He’d been working near St Andrew’s where every other shop was a golf shop and ended up coming home with a set of clubs for me.
“I’d go to the field across the road and start hitting balls and found I was connecting with them quite well, so I went for a lesson with Nigel Barber at West Bradford and it went from there.”
Yet at one stage, Bairstow was contemplating a career in a different sport. Living close to Clayton Rugby League Club, he developed a talent for the oval-ball game and earned a scholarship with Bradford Bulls.
Playing at half-back for Clayton in the Pennine League, he used to combine the two sports but admits the risk of injury means he can no longer do that.
He opted to pursue his golf ambitions with the knowledge that a professional career in his chosen sport can last a lot longer than in rugby league.
Early signs have looked good in the build-up to start of the season, Bairstow finishing tied second in his first UK tournament as a professional.
He carded a bogey-free five-under-par round of 67 at The Bedford course on the southern-based Jamega Tour, which saw him finish ahead of former Ryder Cup player Paul Broadhurst and European Tour pro James Hepworth, from Ilkley.
His first Europro event saw him finish an impressive tied 14th in stage one qualifying at Mottram Hall. Hollins Hall’s Chris Howe was also tied 23rd, although the pair missed the cut in the battle for category status in final qualifying.
One thing is for sure – Bairstow will be giving it everything to repay the faith shown in him by his good mate Tom.