Riding The Rookie Rapids

eddy: “A miniature whirlpool or whirlwind

It has been the weeks off, the hours of practice interrupted by kind and genuine people, that has made me realise the extent of my successful rookie year on the European Tour. To me it feels normal, I still hit the bad shots and feel the frustrations. Smash the clubs and growl at the referees. The bits few people see. But yet as time has passed by this year, I have received perpetual praise and endless compliments. I’m of course flattered and thankful, but there is a growing part of me that is becoming more and more uncomfortable. 

Recently I was in Oxford with my girlfriend and we were talking about a few random things. After five minutes she became irate and asked me to stop twisting the conversations into something related to me. I was shocked. I didn’t even know I had. Since when did I go from being single minded to self absorbed, I thought! (the line is fine but must be adhered to) I have changed slightly, and although I’ve felt aware of it occasionally it’s been pretty automatic and difficult to rebuff. It’s been challenging not to let all of the kind words infect the mind at least a little bit. It just seems that it’s always about me. The people I feel most sorry for are my family. My dad, brother and sister who all work in golf environments suffer constant enquiries about me. They have to explain the inexplicable poor finishes and numbers that scorecards read, many times over. They take the hit 30 weeks a year, I take it the other 22! I don’t want to sound ungrateful and we as a family do appreciate the incredible support I receive. (To have over 50 people travel to Portugal to watch me play shows just how popular my dad is!) 

 It was only when I read up on aspects of the human mind a few years ago that I came to understand how excessive praise can lead to complacency and other unwanted outcomes, therefore I am thankful to my subconscious for pushing the ‘be extra hard on yourself’ button. It’s the only way I know of stopping myself looking too far ahead. But that doesn’t come without problems. It’s a mix I’m finding to be tricky, but probably the most important thing I can learn. Success ultimately depends more on your perception of what the world throws your way than the hours spent on the driving range. 

 Maybe it’s not just me who has lost a slender touch on reality. After finishing double-bogey, bogey on the Sunday of the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, the headline in the local paper, which a few friends have amusingly renamed the ‘Pepperell Herald’, read ‘POOR FINISH COSTS PEPPERELL’. It did cost me some places, points and money but £29,000 is a lot of money. If my finish had of cost me my tour card I would have understood the potential rapacious implications behind the headline. But rather, in reality it has added to what they themselves have already labelled a fantastic rookie year. £29,000 is an amount that if offered 18 months ago I would have snatched with both arms. I’m sure the Editor would too. 

 I know rookie years in demanding environments teach you many lessons and I’m in no doubt that many of my counterparts and friends have had similar feelings. I feel fortunate to have another shot lined up at the ‘big time’ next year on top of what I’ve learnt. I am determined to remain the same Eddie despite the eddy going on around me. 

 From That Wise Old Owl, cheers. 

 

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Hogan The Hawk…And The Dog

It’s taken me all of twenty-two years and a couple of hundred days to realise the impact Mr Ben Hogan had on the game of golf. Bizarrely (I now think) a month ago I wouldn’t have been able to picture Hogan’s signature moves in his swing nor tell you he won 9 Majors. (10 Really!) Now however, few minutes go by without me visualising his wonderful tempo, and his ‘Anton-Du-Beke-like-hips’! Forget Mark Ramprakash, Hogan would’ve nailed it. But what gives me hope as a golfer who is always trying to improve his technique is that when you study Hogan’s swing in the early days, although it was still aesthetically pleasing, it was not as complete as it would become. Ben Hogan deserves to be idolised due to the nature of his success.

Image He didn’t arrive the best, he became the best.

Thinking about it if I had have been more aware of my sport’s history then I would’ve come across Ben Hogan years ago. Probably 11 years ago in fact as that’s when my Dad came home with a young chocolate Labrador called Hogan! It is fair to say ‘Hogie Bear’ doesn’t glide around with the same mystique.

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All would probably agree Mr Hogan’s mystical and reclusive way of doing things helped create the aura of a tenacious and workman-like champion. In today’s world I think it can be profitable to be this way inclined. Adam Scott appears to be similar to Hogan in this sense as he plays very occasionally and remains quiet in the media. An equally good way to sell tickets rather than talking a lot on social media and alike.

As a player I have never truly decided upon technical preferences I like to see in my own golf swing, mainly because I have never understood the golf swing! With the help of Mike and now Ben Hogan’s Five Fundamentals however, I feel I have become far more aware this year of what ‘proper technique’ entails and what I am after in my golf swing. I think this is important. My prediction would be that every great player in history became increasingly aware over time of how they wanted to swing and only experiences under pressure would persuade them to make necessary changes. I could not agree more with Hogan when he said a great swing is only a great swing if it performs better under pressure than it did under regular conditions. Great players don’t just earn a lot of money, they win a lot of tournaments. The difference lies in the understanding and robustness of their techniques, and the view that only winning matters, because if it didn’t, they wouldn’t strive to improve faulty mechanics.

To finish I would like to congratulate Tommy Fleetwood on his maiden European Tour victory. I, like many others am quite sure he will become one of the best players in the world. Thankfully however, he doesn’t take my kind words as gospel truth. Rock on Tommy and I’m sure Ben Hogan’s swing, mystique and legacy will continue to mesmerise many future golfers as it has done mine.

ImageFrom That Wise Old Owl, cheers.

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What Professional Life Is Teaching Me

It’s a good job I enjoy having time off! Since nervily holing out on the 72nd hole in Scotland over a month ago, I have enjoyed a nice break away from competition. I visited Rome and Venice with my girlfriend which was very nice and quite unusual as although I travel to many cities with golf I never explore. Since very little has happened in my golfing life of late I’ve decided it’ll be more entertaining to begin somewhere and let my mind meander off into the abyss…!

The English Amateur came to Frilford Heath recently and while it was nice to see some old faces I saw an environment which I do not miss. Witnessing the pressures of selectors, coaches and parents reminded me of some of the reasons I wanted to turn professional. But whilst it was a scary proposition at the time, becoming a professional golfer has been a liberating experience. The responsibility and accountability I’ve had to take as a pro is fundamental to long term success I feel. And while it was comforting to have felt a stable organisation supporting and providing for me, it has been far more rewarding to have faced up to certain fears and other pressures of professional sport.

This is what I believe dictates the differing lengths of time it takes for amateurs to succeed as professionals. It is the culture shock. The realisation of the wider world and the bottomless pit of potential anguish. The burning question in my mind is why do some people succeed quickly, others slowly and some not at all? 

While my professional career is rather embryonic I can already identify periods of learning, periods of competing and periods of working. In other words, my relatively quick success is all down to the fact I haven’t reacted passively to my experiences. I am yet to have found a smarter, faster and more efficient way to improve. From Anthony Robbins to Jonny Wilkinson, each and every book I read I saw this underlying theme. It’s a learning culture you have to create in your mind. The fact I did have 9 months at the start of my professional career struggling helped me. When your bank account is low you can only afford to take one week at a time. Paradoxically I found it easier to cultivate a ‘learning mindset’ when my surroundings were most precarious. 

It’s amazing how quickly you can improve. It’s also frightening to see how some players lose their form rapidly. Nobody is immune to either. That’s what I’m learning to love about success; certain principles remain; constant awareness, a vulnerable environment, quality advice and coaching and a level-head. 

To answer the unanswerable above then, this is all I have done and maybe talent is the reason I have taken to it faster than others but I prefer to be less nonchalant and more anthropological and say if I can do it, so can others and it is only by actively learning it is worth achieving. 

From That Wise Old Owl, Cheers. 

 

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He Rose Whilst Others Pondered

It’s not often you walk off a golf course, beaten and humbled, and acknowledge its beauty. Merion is a rare phenomenon. Another rare phenomenon is missing 21 consecutive cuts. There has been lots of talk about Justin Rose’s early days, rightfully, as it is what has made his victory at the US Open so popular and special. I have nothing but admiration for him.

Unfortunately for you JR fans however this blog is predominantly about me! Although I will try to enlighten, whilst providing a swift portrayal of Merion and an insightful take on my first visit to a major.

Describing Merion is a tough task. When people try to explain, say, Augusta’s contours and nuances to me, I find it impossible to grasp the images they are conjuring, as I have never been there. So with that in mind, I’ll go no further. These places are somewhat indescribable, the only way they can be appreciated is by visiting. Merion, I believe, is such a place.

So what runs through your mind when you’re standing over your first ever tee shot in a major championship? Nerves? Excitement? Well, for me it was rather normal. To me, astatic emotions depend on what can be called a magnitude relation. That is the relation between your expectations and the importance of the event in your mind. When you raise your expectations and actively demand more of yourself, pressure appears faster and closer on the radar. Likewise, if you talk up the scenario, more pressure arrives.

Many people attempt to play down the situation. I’ve heard countless top sportsmen say, “I’m going to treat it like any other day”. In Michael Johnson’s book however, Slaying The Dragon, he identifies the reality of these scenarios with extraordinary brutality. When he steps onto the track in an Olympic Final, he acknowledges that it isn’t normal, It’s a special time and he must step up. This, is his magnitude relation. He ratchets up the importance of the event and demands incredible inner strength. Admittedly, it is easier to do this for 10 seconds than 5 hours. Personally I’ve found that adding pressure can really help, at the correct time. I think I can speak for most golfers when I say that doing it on a Thursday is more often than not detrimental. But on a Sunday afternoon, coming down the stretch, I believe it is important to realise the magnitude of the situation and revel in it. That’s when, as a golfer you feel most competitive.

After Wentworth I had a number of people comment on my apparent unflappability. I want to confirm I was as nervous as I have ever been whilst in contention. But nerves can become something far less terrifying and instead palpable when other things align…

This is where life beliefs and golf cross paths in my experience. Honestly, I was surprised at the lack of nerves I felt at Merion. For my first major championship, I was feeling enormously calm. After reflecting it struck me how it may stem from my beliefs about life, not golf. I believe we only live once. I believe we’re a minute, tiny fraction of humanity and therefore largely unimportant. Some people may find that distressing, others, especially religious folk may disagree entirely. The truth becomes irrelevant, the fact remains my beliefs have an immediate impact on my golf. Situations that would “normally” contaminate the body and mind with a rush of blood and anxiety, like the US Open, don’t anymore due to my outlook on life.

A big part of my life has been honesty. I believe it is so tremendously important, and sharing beliefs and ideas is what much of life is about. Weeks like Merion provide you with a platform to look closely at yourself. Missing 21 cuts does the same. To me then, it is utterly fitting that Rose blossomed at a place like Merion, in a US Open.

From that Wise Old Owl, Cheers.

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My Week Flying High

I arrived Tuesday morning with my caddie, Jamie, in his Renault Scenic; a automobile worthy of the road but not of the parking space it filled – Ernie Els’. From the moment Paul Robigo, the warmest car park attendant in the south region welcomed us to Wentworth, I knew it was going to be a special week.

I’m not one to be overawed by a place or circumstance but stepping foot on the 1st tee at Wentworth, surrounded by people – most of whom I suspected to be decent golfers – I was feeling the pressure. A necky-3wood into a stiff breeze left me another in. Another necky-3wood and a poor chip and putt and that was me already over par. A traditional ‘Pepperell’ start. My habit of relinquishing any chances during my opening round wasn’t going to happen this time.

There is a reason for that – Jamie. He has been my putting coach for a few years and I decided the week before to ask him to caddy. He’s a great green reader and someone who doesn’t put up with any crap, just what I need sometimes. My week at Wentworth showed to me how immensely important it is to have the right people around. Particularly at important times and junctures. With Jamie on the bag and Mike (my new coach) present also, I realised how if I were to remain patient, this week could be a great one.

Patience it was, and with the weather turning very nasty and some other top players turning their minds elsewhere, this was a opportunity. Doggedness and tenacity win battles and after throwing up on day 1 on the 11th (due to illness) and a 5am alarm on Friday, never had there been a better time to dig in and flourish.

A quadruple-birdie finish on Friday catapulted me into the top 10 and with it a late Saturday tee-time. I thought I was nervous on Thursday’s first tee shot! The support however was brilliant, “c’mon Edwardo” was a popular cry and there were even a few “c’mon the Owl” shouts flying around.

The only shot worth talking about was my tee shot off 15 on Sunday as it had the potential to cost me some sleep. And hassle off the fastidious type. The reason no sleep was lost is because I went through the same routine and the same thoughts as the 6 iron I hit to 4 feet 10 minutes previously. I was actually comforted walking off that tee knowing that if I’d of hit that shot on the range my coach would have liked it (the left shot I hadn’t seen in weeks because of my bad habits). Unfortunately it just came at a bad time. The same thing happened to Matteo and Marc Warren but at that moment Lady Luck shone down on them. Whoever says luck isn’t important has obviously had either too much or not enough.

Some people often struggle with contending at weekends – that has perplexed me in the past. For me there has always been one striking and simple thought when being in the hunt on Saturday and Sunday: you’re playing well so you have nothing to fear, you don’t even need to think about golf anymore. It just comes down to course management and containing emotions, if you do this well you will always have a chance to win.

The BMW PGA was the biggest event of my life, I contended to win and that’s how I thought. I could’ve won! The greatest confidence boost I’ve taken is in knowing that the paragraph above contains messages that hold true regardless of the scenario.

The US Open Qualifying on Monday really contained very few lessons. Confidence holds on for 24 hours.

My next competitive tee shot will be off the 1st tee at Merion. There won’t be a 1 iron in the bag so I will not be compared to Hogan. There will be a jockey-sized caddy on the bag but I won’t be compared to Frankel. There will however, be a 22 year old fired up and ready for a battle. So as far as I’m concerned I hope Merion is playing its toughest.

From that wise old Owl, cheers.

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The Fine Line.

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The past few weeks have been tiring, eventful and brilliant. Contending to win golf tournaments is the reason we practice tirelessly as golf professionals. For me, contending in Spain was a completely new experience, and one I absolutely loved.

In my post round interview, after I debased Reading FC and fractured a fledgling relationship with a TV Commentator, I stated how winning golf tournaments never really changes regardless of the opposition. If you commit to your shots and focus you’ll always give yourself a chance to win.  I did this, except I didn’t come out on top. Winning on The European Tour is hard. 

Despite not being victorious in Spain, I felt a rich sense of satisfaction. I felt I had focused extremely well and thought with similar conviction as when I previously succeeded. The only difference this time around was that I fell two shots short. When I reflected afterwards, I saw a person who if he were to do the same five more times, he would win at least once, probably more. This is what, in my opinion, consistent winners do. They realise how winning is a very fickle thing littered with volatility. All they do is think the same, focus hard and always commit. And if unsuccessful realise how next time may be very different. 

Nick Faldo and Jack Nicklaus came second in their careers almost as many times as they won. If asked why this is and what they did differently, I’d be very surprised to hear an elaborate and accurate answer. Coming second or just short is seen as disappointing. For some, to say they’ve come second again seems embarrassing. But the truth is, golf is such a difficult game played by some very experienced professionals, determined greatly by luck. Reinventing wheels because of minute differences will never be a smart choice. 

As a newcomer to the tour, seeing a near miss as more of a failure than a success would be understandably silly, but in a ‘Tiger’ driven game where winning is the only acceptable outcome, second won’t cut it. I get that. But let’s remember the manner of close calls are far more telling than the close call itself, and only the player knows the manner, recalling mine concretes this thought. I believe the line between winning and coming close – when intrinsic properties are the same – can be almighty fine.

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From That Wise Old Owl, Cheers.

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The Future’s Bright, The Future’s Guan

Tianlang Guan’s performance at The Masters has not only put his name on the golfing map, but also a nation with over one billion citizens. Normally when a sportsman has success you turn on your local news to see the Mayor express her joy and amazement and quite possibly offer him or her the ‘keys to the city’. Only one man had that pleasure in China, and he was killed by Agent Smith. At 14 years old, Tianlang Guan is about to experience pressure that none of us can fathom. At 14 he has become a national icon. 

One thing that did seem quite evident during The Masters was Guan’s maturity and ostensibly unexcitable gaze. Nothing will be more important in the coming weeks for him other than to simply ignore 95% of what is both said about him, and to him. This is where his native culture will play a huge role and in my opinion, a positive one. 

China appears to be very different from Western cultures when it comes to media scrutiny and national support. Now having never read a Chinese newspaper for obvious reasons I’m risking making statements based on falsehoods, but I’ve done that before. Although the pressure is obviously huge on athletes from backgrounds such as China, the national media doesn’t appear to scrutinise and persecute in the same way as ours does. And also, and more importantly as China is fast becoming a world superpower, companies like Samsung are signalling a nations intention by taking on Apple, who probably have more money than America anyway. With China developing so quickly worldwide, Guan’s rise will tie in nicely with the rest, meaning he’s not the only native on the rise. He will escape the pressures of sportsmen and women before him due to his indigenous cohorts doing exactly the same in many other fields.

It seems the heaviest pressures positioned on kids in China comes from the parents. Even more so than in the U.K! Guan’s Father will still play the most decisive role in his future success. We all know of people who if it were not for their pushy parents would’ve probably gone further in their careers, hopefully Guan’s will move heaven and earth for him without being hell.

Finally, he needs to remain an amateur for at least another two years. In my opinion the best thing that can happen when he plays in New Orleans is for him to recognise the currently unfavourable and unchangeable differences between him and the rest at this present moment. Premature success is only premature if the beholder cannot cope with the psychological consequences. And although Guan seems incredibly mature at 14 and probably capable of analysing experiences correctly, when you have fewer hairs than an egg, competing as a professional should almost certainly wait.

From an eager Owl ready for tomorrow, Cheers.

 

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