HAVING grown up quickly to adapt to the rigours of professional golf, Ryan Cardwell is confident his first year on one of the toughest tours can only go from strength to strength.
The 19-year-old of Yeovil took the plunge by going full-time in April and is competing on the 888 Poker PGA EuroPro Tour alongside some of the most experienced golfers in Europe.
His first four events have proven a steep learning curve, but Cardwell believes his adaptability and a top 30 finish in his most recent outing demonstrates he is worthy of his place.
Cardwell, who plays at Long Sutton, said: "The first two events were a challenge, they really were. It's a tough environment, nobody's really chatty to start with. You don't know each other so it's really competitive and it's a bit of a dog-eat-dog sport.
"You're very much on your own and it took a couple of events to get used to that. The standard is a lot better, with the cut at the last two rounds set at two-under-par, which was the toughest on any European tour.
"It's been tougher than what I first expected and these guys are top players. The realisation of me having to compete with them has only just set in. I felt a bit over-awed in the first two events, but now I am settled, I know I can compete and that I belong there.
"When you feel comfortable that's half the battle. At first I felt almost an outcast. I was one of the youngest and I was thinking 'wow, I'm here now'. There's always cameras about, presenters milling around and a lot of spectators.
"It took getting used to but as you get through the tournaments you see more of each other. But when it gets down to the serious side, these players have been doing it for years and I'm trying to learn and feed from them because they are the ones to learn from.
"I have played two previous winners and I was picking their brains all the way around, looking at how I could improve."
With his first pay cheque as a professional now also in the bank, Cardwell is well-aware of the importance of his performances to what is often a lonely livelihood.
"Normally if you do a bad job at work, you might get a ticking off but still get that brown envelope at the end of the week," he said. "If I do a bad job I make a loss.
"I have got to look at it with that realism but at the same time that is the last thing on my mind at a tournament. I have got to do my best to sign for a good result at the end of the round.
"If I had someone backing me, that would ease the pressure and performances would probably improve but at the moment I'm not in that situation and I have got to work hard and knuckle down.
"The travelling is hard and there are a lot of motorway miles, as well as trying to find cheap accommodation. The key thing is to keep costs down right now."
But despite initial adversity, Cardwell is more motivated than ever and now showing increasing amounts of quality he has targeted a climb into the competition's overall top 30.
He said: "If anything, this has all fuelled my motivation because there is nothing like a negative to drive you. Missing the first two cuts was hard to take but it made me work harder and I know I have got to work even harder still.
"Receiving my first pay cheque as a professional for finishing in the top 30 at an event gave me a confidence boost and I realised I could compete. I had a few mistakes and if you took them off I would have been right up there.
"It's such a nice feeling to know that I belong there and I'm not just making up the numbers.
"I'm 80th in the order of merit and the top 60 keep their tour card and go into the tour championship. That's my goal for the end of the season and it's very achievable."