Not Through Popular Demand

It’s Friday 10th October and I’m in Portugal, sat in bed listening to the thunder roar outside, thankful I’m not one of the guys hanging around the locker room. What is also unusual about this day is I woke up with an ‘urge’ to blog! Lacking serious motivation and ideas however, I decided to look for some. I toured the internet briefly and looked around at other blog sites but nothing was inspiring me. So, I decided to re-read some of my old posts and strangely I found them interesting and alas, inspiring!

Often this year players, caddies, spectators and all manner of people have asked me if I still write. I’ve of course said no and shunned the idea sometimes of returning to WordPress. I’ve realised the link between reading and writing, and as I have read less as the year has progressed, my desire to pen anything has deteriorated also. So it was strange to me to find inspiration in what I had written last year! It felt nostalgic reading over my old blogs, remembering the time and place they were each written. I smell some bitterness in some of my most recent blogs towards top players who get paid a lot through appearance fees, but now I’m most definitely more resigned to the fact that a ‘world’ is a difficult place to change even if the desire is unquenchable. Tearing me away from myself for a minute, I also see an honesty and bravery in what I have written and that’s genuinely encapsulating.

My realisation is you don’t need to look for a topic, just write candidly and openly about your life as you see it.

2014 for me has been interesting. An extremely sluggish beginning to the year gave way to some exciting performances, which then gave way to a few agonisingly frustrating attempts, which then led to some of my best golf. Frustrations grew with Mike (my coach) and I decided to take a little break away from any coaching for 2 months, before returning to utilise his methods at tournaments once more. Within that 2 month period I felt as though I ‘got away’ from technical thoughts and began to ‘play’ golf again. This is not to say Mikes coaching wasn’t required, I just altered the way we worked for a brief period, which has proven to be beneficial for me. One thing that I have respected this year is that my game is special to me and I haven’t tried to chase what others seemingly have. This relates to mistakes I made last year in trying to copy some of Ben Hogans ‘moves’ as I called them. That, I believe, led to my bad form at the start of this year. That recognition I feel is significant.

Without wishing to sound like an oracle, I recall telling Jamie and my dad earlier this year that 2014 would still be better than 2013. I said that because I knew not only is a year a long time, but my philosophy wouldn’t allow it. My philosophy being: to always reflect using intuition and experience. A prolonged spell of bad golf is one thing I fear, and what many of us fear out here. The best way to make sure that doesn’t happen is to be aware of the direction you are travelling and use other people as examples if required, remembering that nobody has divinity or is unique when it comes to improvement.

With some golf left to be played this year and in some big events, the near future for me is potentially very exciting and using Victor Dubuisson’s career as an example, things can change quickly, for the better.

Meanwhile my delayed round 2 tee time is still distant and not long before dusk, so that gives the ‘Pepper Army’ plenty of time to recover after last nights escapades and me enough time to relax.

From That Wise Old Owl, cheers.

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Looking Ahead

At least a career in golf accommodates for periods of slow growth. I believe I now understand a little more why it sometimes takes a decade in professional golf before reaching the summit. Success at this level is far beyond talent. It is about continuously doing what you know works and when it becomes mundane, doing it even more. And that is harder than it may sound. I have fallen into this trap and whilst I am frustrated by my poor performances of late I am at least optimistic about the upcoming months because I have realised my mistake.

This has also made me aware of how vital it is to have in place a team of people who can inform you of the hard truths. As individuals no matter how advanced or experienced we are in our fields it is extremely difficult to remember the important and sometimes very basic things and always do them.

This is why I think Malaysia will be the turning point for myself. It was great to see Mike (my coach) again and I sat down with him and Jamie (my very small caddie) and discussed my recent form. It was very honest and we agreed that all I needed to do was what I was doing last year; Drills, Drills, Drills! So while 70 guys were nearly dying in the Malaysian heat last weekend I spent two days reintroducing myself to the stuff that gave me some success last year. And on the eve of the China Open I am feeling quietly confident about where my game is at. I can see shot patterns developing in practice that I remember from last year and quite simply haven’t seen at all this year.

Another thing I have realised is how copying somebody else can be detrimental. Around the end of July last year I started watching Ben Hogan on YouTube and whilst my eyes filled with fascination and enormous envy I attempted to copy some of his ‘moves’. To begin with it went well but as time wore on and the same videos bore on, my ball striking got progressively worse and I was soon to be in helter-skelter mode. Mike, to his credit admitted he should’ve stopped me but he’d only known me 3 months. Jen has know me over 6 years and still I don’t listen so Mike would’ve needed to be uncomfortably forceful. Similarly Jamie acknowledged the same thing but again like Mike our working relationship was still young.

I don’t think I’m unique, or in other words I believe many-now brilliant players-made similar mistakes early in their careers. The key is always recognition. It is about being self-aware and that is tough. Becoming a world class player doesn’t have to take fifteen long years on tour, it can happen very quickly if you as an individual recognise some very important factors and implement people around you who can be honest and vocal using their wisdom that us young people inevitably lack.

Think about Neo in The Matrix, the greatest talent ever to step foot on planet-miles-from-here. He made mistakes, he didn’t believe Morpheus when he told him that he was ‘The One’, at one point he believed The Oracle was correct and we all knew that she could never be right because of her terrible perm. At first Neo was a bit of a fool and he took some beatings from Agent Smith but he never gave up and he trusted Morpheus and eventually Neo became a world beater. And he did it blind. Talk about a success story. Of course this is fiction but Neo represents many great stories. I’m of course not saying I am the Neo of golf and will become ‘The One’, firstly I don’t consider black to be my Sunday outfit and Agent Reed stands in my way. To be frank I forgot the point I was trying to make but I just really like The Matrix.

Seriously guys, from that Wise Old Owl, ni hao.

 

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A Victorious Period

It’s July 2010 and I find myself in a warm Sweden proudly representing England alongside five team-mates who would unknowingly provide me with my lasting memory of amateur golf. It is day one, which means we are only just beginning what is known as a long and tormenting week. Three balls are the order of the day and one of my partners I remember well but the other has since departed my memory. This says more about the one who remains. A man with a global reputation within the amateur game, although not just because of his celestial talent but also his wildly unpredictable temperament. Already he strikes me as the most French looking man I have ever seen. He has a charm only I can envy. And whilst others look away in horror or worse look down with disdain when he is very obviously unhappy with himself my fascination and respect grows. The most talented player I’ve seen, Victor Dubuisson. 

I don’t know him too well and he seems like a person who doesn’t wish to be known too well. I know only a bit of his background and I hope it’ll come out in the wash soon as from what I remember it isn’t entirely normal. When I see Victor doing what he’s doing now I think it was only a matter of time. 

We’re on the 17th hole on day two of the European Team Championships and France are precariously close to not qualifying for the top bracket of matchplay. It’s a par 3 over water, a 6 iron. The French are relying on their talisman, Victor, to bring them home. Instead he hits his tee shot into the water. Head down. He takes a drop about 40 yards from the green and if my memory serves me correctly he may even hit that shot into the water. But my memory definitely serves me right when it comes down to his reaction. He launches the lob wedge into the ground and in a quite typically French manner, a bit like Pascal Sauvage in Jonny English, he jumps up and down stamping on his club yelling expletives in his native tongue. It was eye opening. The French never made it through. I remember Victor sat in a chair in the clubhouse afterwards with his colourful headphones on listening to his music. He had his head down, like a child who was aware of his bad behaviour and had been sent to the naughty step but I knew he sat there because he chose to. And he had this smirk on his face, this look as if to say, “Je ne suis pas unquiet”. A rare exception he is. 

The great thing about it all however is here is a guy who, if raised in another country, would’ve been shot down for his unorthodox behaviour and apparent lack of empathy towards others but instead he was supported. I saw it. The French coaches and managers who, although at times I’m sure were slightly embarrassed, always seemed to comfort him, not give him a hard time and allow him space. And they were aware that over time with age and maturity he would develop skills to control his emotions and look how he has turned out. He is an extremely soft and nice guy on the outside and inside. You can see his shyness when interviewed and his awkwardness when he’s holed out and doesn’t know where to look. But as a performer he is driven and tenacious. He is an introvert who is obviously not overly fond of the hype but a lot of people are fond of him, me being one of them.

 

 

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The Title Came Last, thankfully

There’s no rush I tell myself as I attempt a beginning to this muse and with that unshackling of the mind I’m off. So often we get stuck, or feel stuck, not actually stuck, just in need of a slight shift. Now and again the answer we’re looking for is just written on our backs. The only way of seeing it of course will be via introspection as no mirror can show you and if one could it’s angular profile would provide exactly that. One year on from when Wifi was my best friend I feel as though what he now provides isn’t strong enough. Music is coming up trumps for me. Wifi is only enabling me to visit the four pages I have saved as bookmarks and only ever visit unless my boredom takes me to a deeper or more exotic level. At least with music and it’s ever changing tones and metaphorical consequences I can experience something new.

And as I start a new paragraph with ‘and’ I enjoy the inevitable anguish the fastidious fellow will feel who is only capable of pointing out ones failure(s). Of course unable to remind himself that convention is a thing of the past, yet even I started a new paragraph for no reason. We’re dragged towards normality and convention like magnets. What’s funny is I’m only a matter of lines in and already concerned what anybody who reads this will think. I don’t remember caring quite as much as I do now and only is it age and fear that brings it on.

I am ok. We’re all the same.

Well, not all of us. I will talk to the waiter supplying my knife the same way I would the chef who cooked the food itself. My Dad has definitely taught me well. I will say hello to a smoking cigar strolling along the range, even in the knowledge I am unlikely to receive the same experience. And he isn’t even the worst. I am realising roughly twenty-five times a year with each signing-in that this environment isn’t what I was expecting. It is cold despite the warm temperatures. I feel occasionally lonely despite the circus in which I am supplying. But what did I expect? I’m not sure. I didn’t expect much from anything or anybody but myself. And on the odd occasion my expectations are surpassed by a stranger I can’t help but smile. But never more, it goes against the religion I have followed to get me here. Critique has supplied me with answers but not happiness. And I’m not finding any in the answerless conundrum that surrounds my curious mind. But I love competing.

I am a little confused. But I hope most of us are.

Thoughts are only representative of time but internet mistakes are forever, hence the reason I decided to discontinue my 140 character rampage for the opportunity to express myself in length. And I have fallen into the trap of seemingly everybody else who participates in this world that just can’t stop talking. Even if I did believe in secrets I’m not convinced I would keep one. A reclusive mind is mysterious but mine hasn’t reached that point yet. I’m in the adolescent ‘change the world’ mode. Which is strange considering I don’t envy anything about my adolescence. Even though I know it’s a waste of time I still write and post in the hope it might affect someone but not effect them too much as individuality is perfection.

Even I’m slightly scared that I can write these words, made worse by the fact they are occasionally embellished based on a truth. Why exactly I am about to post this I’m not totally sure but I think I would rather these thoughts be explicit and not remain implicit. I am not worried about the ramifications of an onlookers surprise which suggests I am ridding the fear that has gripped a part of me with recent age. And that is a good thing. For it is fear that stops us all.

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Play To Pay

What does the future hold for a sport so reliant on its top players? That’s where golf finds itself in my opinion. And the European Tour is in the firing line. I feel strongly about this and am concerned. It may well be me just being silly me, and hopefully it is. But I think there is a  precarious quandary in which golf at the highest level in Europe finds itself. It touches on a point I made in my last blog but I don’t think I expressed myself vigorously enough. It’s to do with appearance fees.

I am guessing now, but with hearsay in mind, I reckon if all appearance fees given to top players from the 2014 Desert Swing were poured back into the tournament prize funds, we would be playing for roughly $5-6million each week instead of $2.5million. That’s about the normal size of a PGA Tour prize fund. From what I understand, the PGA Tour doesn’t allow appearance fees. So effectively, the sponsors of these events in the Desert are pumping half the money into five or six peoples pockets. I wonder if the tour done away with appearance fees, how many top players would still come and play for $6million. My guess is quite a few.

Obviously the main reason for this situation as it stands currently is no top players would come and play without being paid hefty sums. And without them, the sponsors are understandably reluctant to pledge the same amounts as they do. Before even talking about ways this could potentially be resolved, I want to express my concerns with what is happening. Some players are being, dare I say it, a bit greedy. It’s easy for me to say that I know as I’m not in their fortunate situations, but the truth remains. To put it another way, some players are only returning to play on the tour that has paid (some of) them (well) over £15million in their careers, if they can be paid another large sum for just turning up. It epitomises greed and signals symptoms of amnesia.

Another scenario I can see panning out, and I’m hoping this will lead to the demise of appearance fees and not the rise, is the fact that there are a growing number of players becoming very good and very marketable. Inevitably, they (or their agents I should say) will push for an appearance fee. It could happen then that in the near future, 25 guys are being paid to show up and the other 125 are playing for £500,000. That surely sounds too ridiculous to even give thought but the way it’s going…

So how can it be resolved? The European Tour must be tougher on its players and the PGA Tour must remain humble and not seek a ‘world domination’ that isn’t worth existing. World ranking points could be spread differently. Rather than ranking points being dependant on the pool of players playing, they could select specific events which carry more points regardless of the fields. And there should be no bias towards the PGA Tour. Each tour must be respected as being equally significant. World ranking points must represent the crux of the change. They are the key to playing bigger events with bigger purses.

To finish, I again want to reiterate the players involvement in all of this. The future of the European Tour is largely dependant on its top players. I bet it’s lovely sitting by the pool in Florida driving a Ferrari but if one day in the future it was me looking back once retired seeing an environment that gave me all of what I’ve got struggling, because of the need to add another zero onto my bank account, I’d feel a bit empty. (I understand why players move to the US with the climate, facilities etc to foster improvement and that I respect) It’s slightly sad that giving back to the European Tour is going to be of the same necessity as creating opportunities for children. But the divide is growing and there’s a reason the United Kingdom is so special, because it taxes the rich and gives to the poor. Not the other way round.

From That Wise Old Owl, cheers.

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Ecosystems

The world is full of ecosystems. None are greater than the ecosystem that is life itself based on evolution. It is obvious for any educated person to see how felling trees or poaching rhinos is bad not only for the animals directly affected, but also ourselves. Peoples short sighted selfishness will ultimately be to the detriment of their children and their children’s children. But this exists everywhere. 

I was dining with Mr Tom Lewis recently, and that pleasure is always mine as his enigmatic mind always sparks great debate between the two of us, and I put forth a point he couldn’t comprehend, which isn’t that unusual. I said that we should try to give back as much as we possibly could because the more we gave, the better we would be for it. Now, the great thing about giving back is not only does it feel good, but people assume you are being altruistic and generous, but we all contain selfish genes. It’s an ecosystem that I would pour energy into, to get more back and improve with. 

I played out a scenario. I said lets imagine we go back to Woodhall Spa and England Golf. We spend the weekend with a group of players and give them as much of our wisdom and advice as we can. They can then use that as motivation to improve and in doing so, eventually turn professional. They then receive another dose of ‘Lewis-Love’ or ‘Pepperell-Pain’ and again use that to improve until one day, a day less futurebound, they beat us on the European Tour. I argued that this would be beneficial to us because we would have been challenged, forcing us to reflect and introspect and ultimately get better ourselves. This is golfs ecosystem. It’s no good being a top player and avoiding its significance, it would be prejudicial.  

It is only greed that stops this phenomena happening. Markets crash, governments tumble, businesses fail and sportsmen suffer, all because in an attempt to crush the opposition, they instead eradicate it. We need competition. And it must always be fed. As long as Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy recognise this and continue to give back, golf will be in good shape. It would defy our planetary laws if it did not. It sounds like a massive responsibility but like I said, if viewed rightly, the selfish chimp containing the selfish gene will feel happy because he knows at the end of it he will benefit. 

Money is the virus. And agents are, quite literally the agents. With appearance fees growing and more and more people relying on the percentages they are due to pay their mortgages and feed their families, golf might not be so serendipitous. The sheer beauty of life and it’s undeniably ruthless habits is something I can’t help but adore. The success of something invariably always leads to its demise. It seems so engrained in human nature. Yet it is so simple to avoid, it just requires less greed.  

I don’t wish to sound like some enhanced mystic meg and I am aware of my tender age and lack of experience in life compared with people dealing with these potential problems. However I do feel strongly about it and the older I am getting, the more of my Dad I can see in me. And it’s his generosity. I want to be part of something great, and I want to be someone great, don’t we all, but I’m fairly confident that to do so, you must be able to sometimes put greed to one side and help your own ecosystem. 

From That Wise Old Owl (who turns 23 in 2 days so don’t forget my presents!), Cheers.

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MCs, Hippos and Goodbyes…

As 2013 nears to an end, so do my blogging aspirations. To be honest, for a little ‘side dabble’ I’m amazed it’s lasted a year. But only because I see it as a ‘side dabble’ am I amazed. I’ve enjoyed it immensely.  If I wasn’t a golfer I would love to be a writer. I’m not entirely sure what it is I enjoy so much about writing, whether it is the reflective and objective point of view on something or the freedom of more than 140 characters to express and opinion on a subject. WordPress has been my notebook for a year, but I’ve missed the moleskin form. 

The fortunate thing about my life is I’m around enough good people to realise soon enough what’s important and what’s not. As I tapped in for a double-bogey seven on my 36th hole last week to miss the cut by one, all I could think about was how I was going to obliterate my golf bag in the locker room. The fury and rage was as much as I have ever felt. I did give it a few heavy whacks, the kind that would maybe floor a featherweight boxer, but still the bitter disappointment remained. For the first time ever I even cancelled my dinner plans, which just so happened to be with Jamie, my caddie, who had also arranged for me and Jen to have dinner with Justin Walters, his girlfriend, his caddie and his Dad, Jeremy. I sulked for a little while and then decided we best go and eat. So we strolled across the road, in the dark, fraught with snakes, creepy-crawlies and the odd big cat and walked into Hamiltons, the best restaurant around. Jamie was sat with Justin and the rest of the gang just inside and they offered us two chairs to join them, after Justin saying how he understood my disappointment and the reason behind me not joining them sooner. Then it hit me, this guy just has lost his mum. And as I lower myself to sit next to a man who just lost his wife I realise how abundantly insignificant my finish really was. 

I remember how, when I was an amateur, the schedule was such that come September I wanted to take 2 months off and come January I was raring to go again. But with the European Tour being a year round circuit (or circus as some call it) taking time off and scheduling is far more tricky. I know time off and rest is absolutely critical for my state of mind above anything else, and with there being a lot of pressure out here, a fresh mind goes a long way. I have forgotten what it feels like to feel mentally alert and physically fresh, which tells me time off is required. The festive season will be used wisely! It is because of this I have decided to take a month off until Abu Dhabi comes along and almost definitely not play more than 22 events during the 2014 calendar year.  

Like I said above I’ve thoroughly enjoyed blogging and It’s been nice to receive feedback, corrections and the occasional bit of praise. Thanks for your support, have a lovely christmas and here’s to a successful 2014 to all. 

‘Look at that big fat Hippo’, this blog was written on Sunday 1st December whilst sat by the Crocodile River…every missed cut has a silver lining. 

From That Wise Old Owl, cheers. 

 

 

 

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