GIVEN what’s happened to the PGA EuroPro Tour since Michael Stewart won on the third-tier circuit last month, it’s not surprising that the Troon golfer delivers the kind of gasp of relief that could just about register on the Beaufort Scale.

“For me it’s sayonara, I’m out of there and I got off just in time,” said the 32-year-old of a startling turn of events that culminated in tour officials announcing that the development tour would be pulling the shutters down at the end of the campaign after 20 years in operation. The Tour Championship in Ireland, which finished on Friday, was its last hurrah.

Stewart’s first win on the circuit in the Scottish Masters at Leven in mid-September guaranteed him a place in the top-five on the order of merit and promotion to the European Challenge Tour next season.

As it turned out, that win was akin to being airlifted off a sinking ship. “But there are lots of boys now worrying about playing opportunities next year,” noted Stewart of those who are going to be left flapping around for a lifeboat. “If I was outside the top-five on the rankings, I’d be thinking ‘jeez, what does the future hold?’.”

Fortunately for Stewart, his future looks more upbeat. The former Scottish Amateur champion has chipped away at the professional coalface for so long, his fingernails are almost laden with soot but Stewart is finally seeing progress.

Part of the GB&I Walker Cup team in 2011 that beat a US side featuring Jordan Spieth and Patrick Cantlay, Stewart turned pro that year. It’s been a decade of ups, downs, toil, trouble and a temporary career change. No one ever said gaining a foothold in the professional game would be easy.

“It’s been a hard, hard slog,” said Stewart, who could still fast-track himself to the main DP World Tour through the qualifying school next month. “I got a card for the Sunshine Tour in South Africa at the end of 2012 but I was a bit naïve when I went out there. I thought I had a decent status but I was there for maybe six weeks and spent most of my time trying to pre-qualify for events. I’d spent three grand and didn’t get a chance to make a penny of it back. I then played on the Alps Tour and the EuroPro Tour but by the end of 2019 I was thinking of stopping playing. I tried a bit of caddying for a friend on the European Tour and then Covid came along and wiped out the entire EuroPro Tour season.

“My mate’s dad owned a company that made hand sanitisers and I ended up working for him for 13 months. I was all hands on deck. They had an NHS contract to supply 190,000 bottles a week. I done everything. I got my forklift licence, I loaded stuff on to wagons, I made deliveries, I cleaned up the yard. There was so much uncertainty about when or where I’d be playing golf again, I became convinced that my job would be in a chemical factory, not as a pro golfer.”

Amid the general tumult of the pandemic, Stewart’s passion for the game endured. “It was still what I wanted to do and I loved everything that came with golf but I needed to progress,” he added. “You can’t be on the third-tier all your days and expect to make a living. You’re in a fantasy land if you think that.”

Inspired by the rise of his great friend David Law, who is now a main tour champion after a long apprenticeship on the Challenge Tour, Stewart has also benefitted from working with Alan McCloskey, a coach so positive he could instil some optimism into Private Frazer from Dad’s Army.

“You’re not entitled to anything in pro golf but when you see what the likes of Davy has achieved it gives you fuel,” said Stewart. “He took time to find his feet and every golfer develops and matures at different ages. This is the most upbeat I’ve felt in a long time and I’m definitely playing the best golf of my career. There’s plenty of hard work to do and I need to keep improving. But hopefully I’m taking steps in the right direction.”

Professional golf can be a long and winding road, but Stewart is getting there.