MATT Southgate said saving his European Tour playing card at the last-chance saloon gave him a “big reality check” which means he’ll now appreciate the value of every ball he strikes this season.

The Thorpe Hall pro admits he considered giving up the game completely following a string of below-par showings in his debut season on the Tour, but now says the smile is back on his face following a month of success.

“I was very close to updating the CV after a very tough year,” said Southgate, who saved his card with a gutsy showing at the qualifying and has since gone on to make the cut at two top events, the latest earning him 3,975 euros at the Alfred Dunhill Championship on the weekend.

“So it was great to get the opportunity to save my card and get the opportunity to have another go.

“When my back is up against the wall like that I just seem to play my best.

“And coming through the qualifying school like that has got me back in the right frame of mind. I now realise that wanting something that much and having to play that hard is what produces the results.

“Losing my card was a big reality check. I now know you don’t just get things on a plate and you have to work hard for it.”

Southgate, 24, who lives next to Southend Central Station, also revealed how he’d been inspired to renew his appetite for the game by the historic win of the European Ryder Cup team in Medinah in September.

He said: “The way Europe won in the Ryder Cup was hugely inspirational for me. It showed that sometimes it won’t just go nicely for you, but you still just have to get the job done.”

Southgate’s next confirmed invitation is at the Joburg Open in South Africa between February 7-10, and he says he can’t wait to get going again in the new year.

He said: “I’m just going to play as much as I can before the re-rank and just get as high as I can on the re-rank. So I think I’ll play fewer tournaments on the big stage and just play when I can.

“I think I hit the panic button a bit early this season and played too early on the Challenge Tour. I should have maybe stuck it out at a few more European Tour events, even though I knew my category was not great and there was not a lot of money on them.

“But playing on the Challenge Tour put me in a different frame of mind. I was not in a happy place playing on the Challenge Tour, because it was not the main Tour and it was not what I wanted.

“So I was playing with a bad attitude. I’ve worked so hard to get here by progressing up the rankings and improving year on year and this year I’ll be fully focused on every shot I play and know how important it is.”

Southgate’s Thorpe Hall club mate Richard McEvoy continued his record of fine showings at the Alfred Dunhill Championship by finishing tied 15th for a prize purse of 20,550 euros.

He is 25th in the early-season Race to Dubai Rankings, while Southgate is 30th. There are 45 tournaments taking in 26 countries on the continent’s top golfing competition, and those who finish inside the top 115 automatically retain their place for the next season.

This year Southgate and McEvoy will be joined by Basildon’s Daniel Brooks after he qualified for the European Tour with a top 21 spot on last season’s Challenge Tour.