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Turning pro has brought too many cons for Stewart

RATHER like being on the receiving end of a rasping free-kick that thuds into the exposed extremities, golf can have a habit of hitting you where it hurts.

Michael Stewart is hoping for a change in fortune this season
Michael Stewart is hoping for a change in fortune this season

"There were times over the last couple of years when I thought 'why did I give up playing for St Mirren?" said Michael Stewart.

Things must have been bad. Once a promising midfielder with the Paisley outfit, Stewart gave football the boot in his teenage years to focus on golf and he has been given plenty of food for thought during a tough introduction to life as a professional.

It was all going swimmingly in the unpaid ranks, of course. The Scottish Boys' Championship, the Scottish Amateur Championship and the South African Open crown all rested proudly on his mantelpiece at one stage while a Walker Cup victory over the USA in 2011 brought a triumphant curtain down on his amateur dramatics.

Upon turning pro, Stewart was snapped up by Chubby Chandler's ISM group, the management firm that once looked after the affairs of Rory McIlroy, and things looked rosy. Two years down the line, the 23-year-old is still trying to find his feet. Dropped from the ISM stable late last year, Stewart is now something of a lone ranger. "They were making cuts and I had to go," he said. "I knew it was coming. We left on good terms but it was disappointing. I wanted to be with them for a few years and build a relationship. I'm on my own now. It's been a long two year process, but I think I'm finally getting it right."

Stewart is not the first promising amateur - and he certainly won't be the last - to find himself thrashing and gurgling to stay afloat in the pro pond. This month, he resumes hostilities on the Alps Tour in Egypt at the same course where he had his only real highlight as a pro thus far - defeat in a play-off - last February.

"It has been a bit of a knock to the ego. When I started as a pro and struggled, I was worried about what people were thinking. People were asking 'what's happening?' and I found that hard to answer. People expect it to be a case of 'well you were good enough as an amateur so why not as a pro?'"

When GB& Ireland's amateurs overcame a US side dotted with potential stars in 2011, Stewart knew he was witnessing something special. In partnership with the Englishman Tom Lewis, the home duo claimed a 2&1 foursomes win over the American pair of Peter Uihlein and Harris English. Uihlein and English have gone on to win on the European and PGA Tours respectively, while Russell Henley and Jordan Spieth were two other members of that American side who have flourished professionally.

"You could see it then," said Stewart with Mystic Meg-like clairvoyance. "I played a lot of college golf with Peter and Harris and you felt they would make it. I played Spieth in the foursomes too and he was special. Look at their team; a load of them are tour winners. On our side, apart from Tom [he won the Portugal Masters], nobody has set it alight.

"Obviously at that time I thought I'd be much further on than I am now. The self-belief does take a hit but every single pro golfer at some point has gone through tough times. This season I hope you see the character that I really am. I believe I'll pull through."

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