As much as golf is a game of inches, it’s also a game of moments. And choices. Dimi Papadatos discovered this firsthand in May last year.
The New South Welshman – quite clearly, and proudly, of Greek heritage – had his own choice to make. He just didn’t know how pivotal it would turn out to be.
Papadatos won the 2017 West Australian PGA Championship at Kalgoorlie Golf Club. In golf, it is polite to return to a tournament you have won and defend your title. And Papadatos had every intention of doing that. In fact, he was already in Western Australia that week. But the phone rang on the Saturday before tournament week and an official from Europe’s Challenge Tour told Papadatos he was in the field for the next week’s Open de Portugal. The catch? Papadatos would have to leave the next day.
“I could have given it a miss, or have a run at it and see if I could have a top 10. I felt like I was playing well, so I rolled the dice,” Dimi Papadatos tells Australian Golf Digest.
“It’s not as easy as it sounds; financially forking out the cash and flying out to places for very little prize money. It would have been very easy to not play Portugal and go and defend my WA PGA title instead. I was already in WA and planned on driving down to the tournament.”
Above: The best result by Dimi Papadatos on the European Tour this year was a tie for 15th at the Betfred British Masters in May.
But he took a gamble and jumped on a plane to Europe. Papadatos arrived in Portugal on the Monday morning. By the Sunday, he had secured his maiden European Challenge Tour victory, carding a three-under par 69 in the final round to come from behind for a one-shot win.
“Winning in Portugal set me up for the rest of the year,” Papadatos recalls. “It’s hard to make the right decisions all the time, but you’ve got to give yourself those opportunities when they count.”
“It’s hard to make the right decisions all the time, but you’ve got to give yourself those opportunities when they count.” – Dimi Papadatos
Challenges On Tour
Dimi Papadatos pocketed €32,000 ($A51,620) for the victory and it did indeed set him up for the rest of the Challenge Tour season. Along with two further top-five results that season – including a joint runner-up finish at the Bridgestone Challenge in England – Papadatos was among the top 45 on the money list who advanced to the Challenge Tour Grand Final. From there, the top 15 are given European Tour cards.
Above: Dimitrios Papadatos (left), Abraham Ancer and Jake McLeod all qualified for The 148th Open via the Emirates Australian Open at The Lakes in Sydney.
But his breakthrough season in Europe was somewhat soured by an episode Papadatos has admitted he regrets. At the finale in the United Arab Emirates, the 28-year-old needed to jump four places from 19th to lock up his European Tour card. And he was looking good after four birdies in his first six holes of the tournament.
But Papadatos was disqualified after the opening round for using a damaged club. He’d blown his lid, understandably, when he carded a triple-bogey on the 10th hole and then a quadruple-bogey on the 12th. After finding the water for a second time, Papadatos slammed his 8-iron into the turf. He used it again in a fairway bunker on the 14th, but it wasn’t until he pulled it from his bag on the 17th hole that he noticed a slight bend in the shaft. Papadatos reported it to officials and he was disqualified for using a club that had been altered or damaged other than in the normal course of play.
“After that, I had a 14-and-a-half-hour flight home to think about it,” Papadatos wrote candidly in a European Tour blog. “I was quite angry at the result and how I finished the year.”
It was a cruel twist to what was a very promising season. Although Papadatos was still able to secure some European Tour status for 2019 courtesy of finishing 21st on the money list, it was not the result he was after.
It also brought back painful memories of the final stage of European Tour qualifying school in 2015. On the last hole of the final round, Papadatos needed to make only a double-bogey to secure a European Tour card. But he pulled his drive left and after his ball rolled under the lip of a fairway bunker, he made triple.
Having broken through for his first professional victory in 2014 at the New Zealand Open, that 2015 European Tour Q-school experience set up a rough couple of years for Papadatos. The tall, athletic golfer struggled with his game. He missed a series of cuts in Australia, Asia and Europe in 2015 and 2016.
“The first few years trying to make it in Europe and Asia, I played very poorly,” Papadatos recalls. “My game wasn’t good and I struggled with the travel. I was hard up against it in my first year, in 2015. Then in 2016, I didn’t have any status. So I only played three or four Challenge Tour events from sponsor’s invitations.
“I wasn’t handling the schedule. I was going around in circles missing cuts, spending a lot of time and effort struggling. I knew my game wasn’t ready and it was a bit of a wake-up call. So, in 2016, I decided to play a lot in Australia and refresh. I started to get my game and confidence back.”
His game certainly came back. In 2017, Papadatos triumphed at the Victorian Open in February. It was the first time the fast-growing Victorian Open enjoyed tier-one status and thus attracted a minimum of 16 world ranking points for the winner.
Papadatos doesn’t regret the gruelling first two years in Europe. He feels they toughened him up as a golfer.
“It was good experience; ideally you’d have a smoother progression and start your career a bit quicker, but at the same time you can’t expect to go fast,” he says. “There is no one holding your hand or booking your hotels. It’s just you and you’ve got to manage the travel and keep your game sharp. I’ve had the highs and lows, but a lot of learning experiences which have served me well.”
Papadatos just didn’t know how soon those lessons would pay off.
Above: Papadatos owns three titles on the Australasian Tour and one on the secondary Challenge Tour in Europe.
That 14.5-hour flight to Sydney last November after the disqualification at the Challenge Tour Grand Final would not have been the most enjoyable for Dimi Papadatos. But this Toukley kid is tough.
Within days of getting off the plane in Sydney, Papadatos was teeing up in the New South Wales Open to begin the Australian summer of golf. He tied for ninth at Twin Creeks. But that was just a warm up. Papadatos would enjoy a career-defining performance at the Australian Open the next week. He contended throughout the Open, ultimately finishing second, five strokes behind winner Abraham Ancer.
The silver lining was Papadatos secured one of three spots to this month’s British Open at Royal Portrush courtesy of the Australian Open being one of the R&A’s Open Qualifying Series events. Papadatos achieved a lifelong dream of playing in a Major championship.
“I’m ecstatic to have qualified for The Open,” he said. “It’s going to be awesome to play in my first Major, ticking something off the bucket list, and I can’t wait to get over to Northern Ireland.
“I like playing in the UK because you get some very testing golf, so it should be good fun. To get to play with the world’s best players is going to be a great experience. I dreamt about playing in The Open growing up and I never thought I’d make it, so I’m pretty chuffed about it.”
“I dreamt about playing in The Open growing up and I never thought I’d make it.” – Dimi Papadatos
For good measure, earlier this year Papadatos made a reconnaissance mission to Portrush, which is located a little more than an hour north-west of Belfast. It is ranked among the best golf courses in the world and will play host to Northern Ireland’s first Open Championship since 1951.
“I went up to Portrush a few months ago; it’s quite a different course but it looked unbelievably good,” Papadatos says. “I just can’t wait to play The Open.”