Whether he looks forward or back, Nick Flanagan struggles for answers.
Once a Hunter product tipped to challenge the likes of Jan Stephenson and Jack Newton as one of the region’s greatest ever golfers, Flanagan returns for the TPS Hunter Valley at Cypress Lakes Golf and Country Club facing his own golf mortality.
This week is the second in a three-week stint of tournaments on home soil designed to test whether the wrist injury that has hampered Flanagan’s career so significantly will allow him to continue at all.
There were encouraging signs at Bonnie Doon last week where he shot 67 on Saturday before the final round was abandoned, yet doubt lingers as to how it will feel at the end of next week’s NSW Open.
Since his emotional tie for third behind Adam Scott at the 2019 Australian PGA Championship Flanagan has played just three events, 733 days passing between his third-place finish at the New Zealand Open in 2020 and last week’s opening round at TPS Sydney.
He has also become a father to a daughter, Scottie, and son, Marshall, he and wife Corrine introducing them to their paternal grandparents in Newcastle for the first time just last week.
It is his commitment to his family that makes Flanagan question how long he can keep playing; his life-long addiction to tournament golf constantly teasing him to keep going.
“I’m finding it hard to make a decision at the moment because I don’t want to let go of the golf but it seems like a lot of things are telling me to,” an honest Flanagan admits.
“I’ve had a lot of time to sit back and think about what I’m going to do in the future and I still really haven’t been able to come up with a decision.
“I’d love to keep playing as a career but things have changed so much in the past two years, I’ve got to think about feeding the kids and keeping a roof over their heads.
“Without the playing opportunities I would have had before COVID, it’s been a pretty difficult decision to make at the moment, whether I’m going to keep going or look for other avenues.”
Ranked as high as 129th in the world and a four-time winner on the Korn Ferry Tour, the COVID-19 pandemic served as a giant roadblock to a Flanagan comeback.
In the space of three events starting at the Australian PGA at Royal Pines in December 2019, the now 37-year-old climbed off the proverbial canvas, elevating his world ranking from 1,118th to 409th before COVID stopped everyone in their tracks.
“It seems like that’s part of the MO with my career; as soon as I feel like I get on a roll something happens and I’ve got to start over again,” says Flanagan, who is scheduled to tee off at 12.35pm on Friday at Cypress Lakes.
“I felt like I was just starting to hit my stride again – I was injury free and looking like I was going to get into a bunch of European Tour events and finals of Q School.
“I got the exemption finally to final stage of Q School two years in a row and they cancel it two years in a row.
“It’s just a lot of bad timing I guess but I had two kids during it so a lot of positive things happened as well.
“Maybe it’s the universe again trying to tell me something.”
Such is Flanagan’s status on the ISPS Handa PGA Tour of Australasia he is already eyeing off a return to Australia later this year to play a full schedule that will include an Australian Open and a $2 million Australian PGA Championship at Royal Queensland co-sanctioned with the DP World Tour.
The desire and belief are not in question, the answer instead relying on how much more golf his body can sustain.
“I know my game’s as good as it’s ever been,” Flanagan insists.
“Even after these two years I still feel like I play really good golf, it’s really just going to be a matter of whether my wrist injury can handle it and how that continues to go.
“These three weeks are more of a trial run to see if I can get through it.
“I wake up in the mornings and it’s quite painful but it seems to be able to get through a round of golf without any problems.
“It’s hard to step away from the game considering it’s the only thing I’ve ever known.
“After three weeks we’ll know a little bit more.”
The TPS Hunter Valley Hosted by Jan Stephenson and Peter O’Malley starts at Cypress Lakes Golf and Country Club on Friday at 7.30am. The final two rounds will be broadcast live on Fox Sports, Kayo Freebies and Sky Sport NZ from 2.30pm on Saturday and from 12.30pm on Sunday.