Settling Down Again

St Andrews was a memorable week in more ways than one. I won’t forget the feeling that ran through my normally apathetic bones when I saw that putt drop on the 16th green on Sunday. And the feeling I had as I saw my tee shot on 17 sail into a sea of yellow bricks was reminiscent of the lonely, dark, lost sensation I had at Wentworth two years ago when I pulled my 3-wood out of bounds. “Golf can be a cruel mistress” is what a friend of my girlfriend text her.

But to play golf on the biggest of all stages at St Andrews in an Open Championship is truly what dreams are made of. To step on the 1st and last tee, everyday, knowing that barring some sort of bodily malfunction a fairway will be found, and a birdie putt probable, is comforting. The week started well for me making a nice birdie at the 1st. Giving the “Pepper-Army” something to cheer for early, made the trip already rewarding. In terms of my game, I felt frustrated most of the week. I felt like I was pushing to make things happen but couldn’t quite get them too, until Sunday of course. Friday and Saturday were probably more frustrating for the spectators than the players. We get fussed over and asked about how tough it must be, but in all honesty, my lack of reasoning when attempting to answer that question during the week suggests to me it’s not that tough at all. After all, I hopped over the wall, walked across the 17th fairway and got back into bed. Not before meeting Gordon Strachan on the way! (legend)

The competition couldn’t have asked for a better finish in my opinion. There were the usual suspects up there and when Spieth holed that putt on 16 it looked for the world that he would sail to another amazing victory. But 17 is a tough cookie, I can attest to that. I read that Jason Day lost two shots during the re-start saturday morning and that that may have cost him winning. I’m not convinced. Golf tournaments are won too often by such small margins. To me this suggests that the web of cause and effect is nearly always at work. Jason Day is a good enough player to have won a major by now, and comfortably. The fact he hasn’t arguably has something to do with this phenomenon.  And it was fitting I suppose that Zach Johnson lifted the trophy on a course almost as old as the God he believes in. I’m beginning to think there may be something in this God malarky…

Looking ahead I feel that the experience of shooting a low round in a major will stand me in good stead. And the nice messages and compliments I received after that round gave me great confidence. It’s sometimes hard to see yourself objectively and so reading and hearing those words must mean that I have some good things going for me. I’m under no illusions however that my swing needs to get tighter and more controlled moving forward, and that’s something I’m excited about.

There is one more thing worth mentioning… I’m not lonely! Obviously the BBC article which came out the weekend of the Scottish Open got a fair bit of publicity in the golfing world, and I have been asked about it endlessly since. I thought it was a great article and Ben Dirs’ writing added something really nice to the piece. However there were quotes in it that were from my blog over two years ago. I’m keen to point out that those were my feelings at that particular time and many hours have elapsed since then. One thing that has been great is how many players have taken time out to say how they were impressed with the article and one has even asked to sit down and chat with me! This means a lot as it’s my peers I respect the most. To be called “the REAL most interesting golfer in the world” however is wayward. I’m not entirely comfortable with that sort of attention. It’s only a matter of time before people will be disappointed to find out all I really like doing is eating Twiglets and watching Game of Thrones.

Up next for me it is the USPGA, my third major. Only one away from the Grand Slam!

Until then,

Cheers.

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Will Anyone Play In The Future?

I can’t believe it, another article has been posted about declining participants in golf. Ironically, if yet unsurprisingly, this one was posted on the BBC Sport website. I enjoyed reading the comments from the public below the article, because they revealed the vastly differing opinions we all have. Some claim its to do with time and money. Some claim its because the coverage is interminable. Some even say golf isn’t a sport. And some comments are removed. (I dread to think how worn that persons keyboard must be)

There’s no question that a mixture of these reasons, and more, are culpable for the declining figures. But I think it’s important not to take too much notice of what people say. The reason I say this is because of the word people, meaning; human beings.

I don’t think it’s even worth venturing into the abyss that is the human mind, not that I know a great deal about it. Rather, I would put it like this; What do Football, Tennis, Cricket, Formula One, Boxing and Golf all have in common? A declining interest. Whether it be because of the money footballers earn, the elitism still referred to in tennis and golf. The tedious nature of cricket. The monotony of formula one, whether it be the predictability of the winner(s) or the cost to be involved. The actions of Floyd Mayweather. These are all reasons, again, among many more, that are turning people off these respected sports.

I’m not going to argue this as fact, but in my opinion, it’s as realistic to argue this as it is to argue time, cost, elitism etc as reasons. People get bored and look for new things. People get put off by overpaid, immoral sportsman. Even though there are far fewer than in other walks of life. As Russell Brand would argue, that’s probably why very few care for politics when it’s brimming with corruption and deceit.

The people in charge of golf at the highest levels have decisions to make going forward like every other industry, corporation and alike. How do you move the game forward financially (because that’s what everything is about) without affecting participance?

I’m not convinced it’s possible. I wasn’t a huge boxing fan a week ago, everywhere kept saying Mayweather vs Pacquiao could change boxing. After listening to Mayweather and reading more about his past, he deserves nothing of what he’ll get. I won’t even use me as an example for football. I’ll use my dad. He used to adore football, and although he still loves the game, he admits his love has dwindled. Why? Because of the way some footballers behave and the astronomical figures they earn.

I don’t think golf has reached this point yet. Both in terms of money or the way professional golfers behave. To me, golf as a sport still has a lot going for it. And yes, whilst it’s worrying to see participance in the sport declining, it would be more worrying to see players being booed when they walked onto a tee. More worrying to see the best golfer flaunt his money and taunt the second best for having less.

Golf will be a sport forever. As will football and the rest. New ones will come along, like cycling, and ‘steal’ other sports fans. But as long as the population continues to deepen, capitalism keeps ruling and inequality keeps growing, I’m not sure there’s a lot we can do.

From a European Tour perspective, the best thing they have done for their immediate future is move East. Despite it being uncomfortable for a lot of people, financially it’s made sense. And in the grander scheme of things, participation across the world will probably increase over time. But like other issues, moving east for financial reasons may seem a good idea initially, but eventually it will create friction.

So maybe the best thing the European Tour can do is join up with Asia. But then watch the British public bash more keyboards and play less golf. Come back West and the game will inevitably grow more at home, where it began. But money will be severely affected at the highest level.

If it’s about money, I know where I’d put mine. But the world is destroying itself because of money, so maybe it’s best to think twice.

Answering the question above; Probably not. Not even Donald Trump.

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My Black Swan

It’s interesting the difference two years can make. Roughly around this time in 2013, I wrote a blog about life on tour. As I pointed out back then, it was most definitely induced because of some boredom I was experiencing at the time. Fast forward two years and I’m sat alone, in my hotel room, awaiting my penne bolognese I’ve ordered from room service. The situation is the same, yet I don’t feel in any way the same. This tells me that actually loneliness wasn’t the reason I wrote that blog.

Before I even attempt to understand why I feel so differently, I think it’s worth noting how this is another wonderful example of what we believe we feel, and know, can be imprecise. I love these moments. This is why I love reading Malcolm Gladwell’s books, because they offer up perspectives that are both angular and abstract.

So why do I feel different? There is the most obvious reason; the fact that only yesterday I came close to winning and picked up a nice cheque. But one week ago, before I came 4th in Qatar, I still would’ve felt as content as I do now. There is the possibility it could be down to money and finances. After all I am financially far more secure than I was in 2013. But I’ve noticed that the money doesn’t make me happy. It’s made me less fearful about certain things yes, but not happier.

In truth, it’s likely a combination of the two above, along with the sensation that I’m confident about my golf at the moment, settled in a relationship, have my own space back in England to live in, and still have a caddie that makes me look like a basketball player on TV. But that’s not really the point I’m hoping to make. The point is back in 2013, before I’d had any top 10’s, any money and really, in hindsight, any true confidence in my game, I credited an open, honest and insightful blog to loneliness, even though, it had nothing to do with that.

I think looking back, that blog came from fear. When I read it back now, I am actually impressed! I don’t mean that arrogantly because I can look back at myself objectively since it was two years ago. It was genuine and I can understand how it resonated with people who travel and live a similar life to me. I think I was fearful (understandably) of a new environment, a different challenge, and also of the size and potential perils of the European Tour. But this opens up another question; why have I come through that period relatively unscathed (I say that with trepidation) when others haven’t?

It’s impossible to know for sure, and I most certainly don’t want to sound like I’m celebrating my development over others. (That’s not the goal) I’m simply curious when it comes to things like this. Some people will say it’s because of my talent, or my swing, or something entirely fallacious like my caddie. We can never be certain. But I would prefer to argue that I have managed to advance, albeit slowly at times, because of my appreciation of what each moment means. And that’s why I’m exemplifying my first blog about life on tour, because I believe it is an illustration of me doing exactly that. I’ve said it before, and I’m not a genius at it, but I try to be very good at it; nothing is more important than perspective. Jordan Spieth is great, not because he is inherently a better golfer than us other young players, but because he is sensationally smart and has found a way, very early in his career, to reach a consistent level of excellence through observation and analysis.

So the only true advice I could give to any young person is that nobody is worth knowing unless you know yourself. And that fear and (perceived) loneliness are entirely natural and you shouldn’t run away from them.

From That (and I honestly hate this bit) “Wise Old Owl”, cheers.

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I Have a Feeling

With 2014 nearing an end and the golfing calendar winding down in Europe, across the pond excitement still rages as Tiger Woods prepares for another ‘comeback’. Lots of articles are being written; predictions, swing assessments, much of what you’d expect. I’m sure Woods has heard much of it before. I’m interested to see how it pans out, as is everyone, but for me because of who he’s chosen to work with; A bio-mechanic coach called Chris Como. In a world becoming more and more technological and technical especially, Woods’ decision shouldn’t come as a surprise, and early videos of his ‘new swing’ look surprisingly void of technical thoughts and inhibition. It’s obviously too early to say but looking in from the outside, if they can achieve that natural ‘feeling’ Woods has talked about whilst combining some of Como’s expertise in bio-mechanics, I think we’ll see some great stuff.

I read in one article Woods talking about how he wants to go back to swinging it like he did at the beginning of his career. In the same article the author cleverly, (and I’m sure conveniently) pointed out to a paragraph written by Woods in his 2001 book saying how after he won the 1997 US Masters he sat down afterwards and saw 10 things he hated about his swing! He acknowledged it had performed amazingly well but still ridiculed it enough to make changes. I think it shows off not only his genius to do this but also it shows another, more complicated side of professional golfers.

It comes back to one word; feelings. They are as precious as oxygen. And, like oxygen, after a few breaths you begin a journey where only every so often are you reminded of what it feels like to appreciate a breath or rekindle a feeling. Feelings get lost and often forgotten. What I wonder is whether Woods and every other golfer experience the journey of a ‘feeling’ the way I do.

It begins on day 1, on the range most likely, and It’s fresh and unambiguous. That feeling you can’t believe has only just reared its head. Fair to say you flush it for a while. You turn up the next day and it’s still there, like your local corner shop waiting for you to come and take advantage of. But as we enter day 3 and day 4 all of a sudden that ‘feeling’ has meandered off into the darkness, into aisle 47 in Tesco’s shelved alongside the cumin spice in the “World Foods” aisle ready to be confused with and misused.

I’m convinced I’ve discovered the DNA of a feeling. Only, I’m also convinced It’s been discovered many times before. I think what I’ve detailed above happens very often with all golfers at every level. However, the top players must be able to recognise which ‘feeling’ provides the most success over a period of time no shorter than 2 years and never, ever forget it. Some of the most consistent careers in golf have surely been built around 2 or 3 feelings that are sacred to the individual. What happens is when the feeling disappears you naturally resort back to your faults. Let it happen, and be faithful in the knowledge that when the time comes, that ‘feeling’ that is right for you, will reappear and be ready to be utilised once again.

This is why I can see Tiger Woods getting back to some of his best because he will be experiencing old feelings that helped win him 14 majors. He will see old shot patterns redevelop and he’ll soon remember how to figure them out the way he used to. This guy is arguably  the smartest and most hard working player to ever play it. The only thing in this game that changes is you. We change with age, experience, fear, all sorts of things but if the DNA of a ‘feeling’ exists, and if it exists like I think it does, then 2015 onwards could be fruity for Mr Woods!

From That Wise Old Owl, cheers.

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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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