I hadn’t snapped a club all year until the Tuesday of Sawgrass during a practice round. I was hitting a 5 iron into the 7th hole and after hitting what was ironically one of my better shots that day, though still not good, I smashed the club into my bag, bending it severely, and then proceeded to throw it Rory McIlroy style into the lake for the alligators to feast on. It was an act of petulance, borne out of frustration. I walked in after my third shot into the par five 9th, waving goodbye to Alex Noren from a distance who I was playing with. I went straight back to my hotel room for a nap.
My first ever shot into the famous 17th hole was on Wednesday during my practice round. It was into a slight breeze and I landed it straight in the water short of the green. It was definitely the most nervous I’ve ever felt in a practice round. Mick, my caddie, managed to better me and hit it to 27 feet. Not quite good enough to win the caddie challenge, but better than his glorified boss. I did joke that thankfully, things could really only get better from that point onwards and I promised Mick, with little confidence, that I would make a two come Thursday… I must be more confident in the future.
Waking up Sunday, turning on the Golf Channel to watch the interminably repetitive yet addictive coverage of the Players Championship, I saw Martin Kaymer dropping on the 1st hole after hitting it into the water hazard off the tee. A hazard that wasn’t in play Thursday and Friday due to the wind direction, now very much was. That first tee shot was probably the most fearsome of the day for me, not only because it was the first shot of the round, but because I know I can hit the necky flare with consummate ease. Thankfully, my necky flare ended up in the bunker.
I would have a hard time remembering a round in my career where my short game was as good as it was yesterday at Sawgrass. What made it quite bizarre was that my short game of late, along with pretty much every other aspect, has been really pretty shit. I thinned a simple 5 yard bunker shot in Mexico 30 yards through the green. These shots unfortunately stay with me longer than I would prefer, so it means during the period of transition from bad to good, I need to ensure I trust my technique beyond what would usually be sufficient. It would appear, that certain aspects of my game can seemingly be pretty awful one week, and surprisingly decent the next. I’ve clearly improved however at competing and trusting my intuition and skill when things do take an upward turn.
It’s hard to describe what standing on the 17th tee at Sawgrass feels like during a practice round, let alone while being in contention to win an event. I had a brief look around walking onto the tee at all the people surrounding the hole, though, I’m far more comfortable looking at the ground when people are cheering me on, so I didn’t take in too much. I generally feel too inadequate to lap up the adulation. At 140 yards to the pin, it’s a pretty nice number for a 9 iron, as the wind was into and from the right. It’s luckily one of those shots where you can’t bail out, which is the reason I could see a career on that hole which includes many birdies, because you’re choices are limited. There’s really not much room for fear. After hitting my 9 iron to 50 feet, I went back to the bag and said to Mick and Lordy (Justin’s caddie), “at least its fucking dry.”
Weirdly, I didn’t think the putt I had was too difficult. The two breaks in the putt were blindingly obvious. I also knew it wasn’t as fast as I remember seeing historically as I’d practiced a similar putt during the practice round. It was a case of reading the last half of the putt first, then picking the apex point, and then fully trusting your feel. Golf under pressure is often simply just trusting your feels. And breathing. Exhale fully. The crowds chanting “EDDIE, EDDIE, EDDIE” after I holed the putt reminded me of a time when I was at school, oh, no it didn’t. It felt strange being the centre of attention on such a massive stage.
The highlight of my unrecognisable fame came in 2015 when I went on Question of Sport. During the walk in entrance, we were told to take in the ovation from the crowd. This would’ve been fine if I’d have had some alcohol beforehand, or indeed, if I got the impression people in the crowd knew who the hell I was.
TPC Sawgrass is so good.