Letter from Europe
May 06, 2020

Challenge Tour pro Steve Tiley swaps the fairways for the factory, making hand sanitizer for COVID relief workers

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Photo by: Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

Steve Tiley has never been afraid of hard work. Perseverance is also on his list of attributes. Eight times the Georgia State graduate has visited the European Tour qualifying school. But it’s safe to say no part of his life in golf has prepared this genial 37-year-old Englishman for what he calls his current unscheduled visit to “the real world.”

Tiley’s father, John, is the brains behind his son’s hopefully temporary switch from fairway to factory. The owner of Nutracrest Limited, based in Kent, south of London, Tiley senior converted his nutritional supplement production line into one making and bottling the hand-sanitizing lotion so desperately required by, among others, Britain’s National Health Service. And now, with the European Challenge Tour— where Tiley junior won for the first time last year—in abeyance, the son is working for his father, churning out as many as 5,000 bottles a day.

“When the COVID-19 pandemic started, my Dad was disgusted with certain companies over-charging for things that were suddenly in demand,” says Steve who competed alongside the likes of PGA Tour players Matt Every, Ryan Moore, Spencer Levin, Webb Simpson and Dustin Johnson during his four years of college golf in Atlanta. “People were having to pay silly amounts for hand sanitizer. So he decided to do something about it. We’ve been selling it on at just about cost-price to the NHS Trust [who ordered about 35,000 bottles], care homes and key workers—anyone who needs it really. What we haven’t done is sell any to anyone who will sell it on for a profit.”

Working a four-day week on the 3 p.m.-10 p.m. shift, as well as helping his wife (a primary school teacher) with the home-schooling of his two children, Tiley has personally been involved in the production of around 20,000 bottles out of an output well in excess of 100,000 so far.

“There aren’t many skills I can use from playing golf, but work colleagues have noted how driven I am,” Tiley says. “When you play sport you are constantly searching for how to do it better. I just tend to try and do above and beyond all the time.

Tiley says specific task is often being on the machine that puts the caps on the bottles. “But if things go wrong, I’ve learned the settings and can fix most problems,” he says. “I’m also able to manage the calibration of the pump. That can vary, so it needs a lot of attention. Athletes self-motivate very well, particularly when you play a sport on your own, you set your own goals. Every day I am thinking, How am I going to get better at golf? And I have used that in the business, thinking, How can I make this machine work better?

All of which is very different from knocking a ball around Europe and beyond on the Challenge Tour. But Tiley is realistic. With career earnings of €445,581 on the Old World’s second circuit, he lives comfortably but is hardly able to sit back without any cash coming in and wait for professional golf to return. He once shot 66 in the opening round of the 2010 Open Championship at St. Andrews, and the biggest check of his professional life was the €43,264 he earned for finishing 26th in the 2013 Open Championship at Muirfield.

“I won’t lie, the money I’ve earned in the factory has been useful,” he says. “The bills still need to be paid every month. If the European Tour is in bother, you have to assume that the Challenge Tour is in even deeper trouble. It’s a worry, especially when you see massive companies having financial difficulties. So working at the factory is something I might have to think about continuing. If things are as bad as they look like they might be, this is going to be my life for the next couple of years. I’m sure other Challenge Tour players will have to get jobs outside the game too.”

Indeed, it’s a bleak picture for those, like Tiley, who own up to “journeyman” status on tour. But it’s a safe bet that few of his peers will find employment more rewarding or useful to society in these troubled times.


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