FROM the pitch and putt at Coate Water to the brink of the European Tour, it’s been quite some journey for Swindon’s Martin Sell.
The 33-year-old is a matter of days away from beginning his first full season on the Challenge Tour, a feeder series to the main circuit, and when Sell tees off at the Kenya Open at Karen Country Club on Thursday, February 14, the latest and most important chapter in his career will begin.
In Africa, the Wrag Barn pro will be up against the likes of Oliver Wilson, who played for Europe’s Ryder Cup team at Valhalla in 2008, and former BMW International Open champion Nick Dougherty.
It is a far cry from his early forays into the game of golf.
“I used to play a bit of pitch and putt with my dad at Coate Water but nothing round a proper course,” said Sell.
“I played football all the time when I was a kid so I didn’t really play golf. I started when I was about 15. I got into it through friends at school and we used to play nine holes at Broome Manor. Then we joined up at Ogbourne Downs for a few years and I came to Wrag Barn in 1997.
“I got fairly good fairly quick and just got the bug for golf really. I kept playing and playing and improved that way.”
Sell’s talent was obvious from the outset. Within three years he was down to a single-figure handicap and in 2002, having never even won the senior county title, he roared into the final of the Amateur Championship at Royal Porthcawl. Only Spain’s Alejandro Larrazabal prevented him from grasping the prestigious title.
It might have been disappointing not to triumph, but the relative success of the former New College pupil presented him with opportunities with the national sides.
“After the British Am at the end of 2002 they put me into the second squad, the England A squad. I went for a few training sessions and went to France to play and we won that tournament,” said Sell.
“I went on a couple of winter training camps with them and they had skills tests at the end and I kept winning them.
“In the early part of the next year we played in the Spanish Amateur and got to the semi-finals and I lost to Alvaro Quiros (later a six-time winner on the European Tour).
“We came back here and I won the Selborne Salver and the Hampshire Hog, so after that they put me into the elite squad and I was in there for the back end of 2003 and all of 2004.
“England was great, I went to South Africa for warm-weather training and got really well-looked after, and we also went to Australia and had good times.
“There were some really good players there and a lot of them are now playing on the main tour, like Richard Finch and Ross Fisher.”
Off the back of his England success, Sell turned pro in 2005. Having progressed to that point in a decade, the Swindonian could be forgiven for thinking that a place amongst Europe’s elite was not too far away, but the reality was somewhat different.
Sell has spent a good deal of time in recent years playing on developmental tours such as the Jamega and EuroPro circuits, which while a solid standard, are known as developmental for a reason.
The vast majority of players at this standard are looking to take further steps in their careers, and Sell admits he would have preferred his swift rise through the ranks to continue after turning pro.
“I’d have liked to have had it progress a bit quicker, but there’s nothing I can really do about that. I’m happy where I am now,” he said.
“Maybe (his quick early progression) was a downfall in a way, because maybe I just expected it to happen and didn’t really put the work in that I should have done.
“I was thinking to myself that there was only so long I would continue to play if I was stuck at the same level. If you’re not seeing any kind of progression then almost what’s the point?
“But the good thing about golf is you’re going into your 40s and still playing. I would have liked to be in this position five or 10 years ago, but I am where I am and I’m determined to make the most of it.”
Sell’s experience of the Challenge Tour thus far is limited. He has played three events and gained prize money on one of them, 437.50 Euros at the Wales Challenge in the year he turned pro.
A place in the top 15 at the end of the year would see him realise one of his biggest ambitions, qualifying for the European Tour, which he has attempted through Q School on a number of occasions.
But what does Sell think the chances are of him being a matter of months away from mixing it with the game’s elite?
“From talking with my coach (Matt Woods) and speaking with Howeller (European Tour pro and friend David Howell) it’s definitely a realistic goal for me,” he said.
“The Challenge Tour suits me more than a one-off Q School, just because of my consistency over the course of a year.
“Over a period of a year I feel I would do better. I’m likely to have a few top-20 finishes and accumulate money that way.
“I think it’s definitely attainable.”