No golf, no income, nowhere to practise but Johanna Gustavsson keeps believing

This, of course, isn’t the fault of Tyrrell Hatton. One is, however, entitled to offer a penny for the thoughts of members of the Ladies European Tour as the winner of the men’s Abu Dhabi Championship collected a cheque for $1.3m. For the recent European Tour stretch in the Middle East, there was just short of $15m up for grabs, even before appearance fees bestowed on players for a tasteless jaunt to Saudi Arabia are factored in. Nice work if you …

The LET provides no such opportunity. There are hopes that a new season schedule, due to be published imminently, may provide the highest collective prize fund in history. New events will be added to the rescheduling of those postponed in 2020. But first, the long lull.

It is not the fault of the LET that early year tournaments due to be held in Australia, Kenya and South Africa were simply unfeasible on Covid grounds. But the upshot is highly troublesome for players; having finished the 2020 season, in Spain in late November, the likelihood is the LET will not return in competitive form until May.

If Johanna Gustavsson harbours deep frustration, she masks it well. The 2020 season was Gustavsson’s fifth and best on the LET, earning her €50,000. Striking context is supplied by the $2.9m won by Sebastián Muñoz on the PGA Tour, like Gustavsson 21st on the money list. Renato Paratore, who was 21st in the European Tour’s Race to Dubai, pocketed just short of €700,000. Golf’s great gender pay gap is alive and kicking.

Now back home in snowbound Sweden, Gustavsson has not played a round of golf since Spain. Returning to sunnier climes for training felt pointless with no tournament on the horizon. Practice can only take place in a warehouse or, when it comes to putting, in the living room. “You just have to keep believing you are in a good place, that your swing is in a good place,” she explains. “You just keep working so that when you get the chance to play, you can make the most of it. But it’s such a long process.

“Last summer was difficult. I could spend so much time back in Sweden with my family but I had the thought of: ‘If we don’t get back playing, I’m going to have to get a job and do something else.’ We started playing, of course, but now I’m back here, which isn’t so nice because it’s not summer anymore. You can practise but you cannot hit shots into a net or putt on a matt all day, there is a limit. I started to look at doing something else but it’s hard to get a job or do something different only for a while. It’s tricky.”

In her early golfing years, Gustavsson worked in nursery daycare during the winter to subsidise her play. “It was good for me then, a feeling of being financially stable because I wasn’t playing every week just to survive. I had good years with good people … but I don’t really miss it.”

A return to that work has crossed her mind, especially over the past month, but she worries about contracting illnesses when back in that domain. Instead, a quiet life alongside boyfriend Alex Wrigley – a teaching professional – has ensued. “I’m not struggling because Alex has been able to work and I did make some decent money,” Gustavsson says. “But we are not spending lots at the minute because you don’t know how things are going to go this year. We aren’t doing anything crazy.”

Gustavsson, who should have the Solheim Cup in her 2021 sights, looks to be one of the lucky ones. You will reach only the 55th player on the LET’s last money list to find yearly earnings under €20,000. When high expenses – mainly for travel – are factored in, this is a dispiriting scene.

It seems sad Gustavsson partly accepts the huge disparity that exists between male and female professionals. “You are so used to it being like that,” she says. The 28-year-old can access discounts on equipment and nothing more as firms throw sets and balls by the barrowload at male golfers. Such deals are, by her own admission, “quite rare” for women.

The LET’s suspension seems especially harsh, in sporting context only. A much-heralded alliance with the far wealthier US-based LPGA Tour was announced last year but has not been afforded any opportunity to bear fruit.

“You want to be the one out there playing and we were at tournaments in Dubai and Saudi not so long ago,” Gustavsson adds. “We have some great people doing their best to get us more tournaments. We already have a lot of sponsorship and more people have been showing interest. It is looking very promising. Hopefully after the pandemic we can see the positive stuff that the collaboration was going to bring.”