Back To School

I’ve never really like the word ‘school’. It reminds me of a time in my life when authoritative figures reigned over me. To be honest, I’ve hated authority all my life and have done all I can to avoid being dictated to. It’s not that I want to be a dictator to others of course, I just prefer the joys of individual freedom. Two weeks ago at PGA Catalunya, I was back at school. A different kind of school admittedly, but a school nonetheless.

I acted my usual way in some respects. For instance I disposed of two clubs during the week, borne out of anger because the teacher (the golf course and golf itself in this instance) didn’t give me what I wanted. I opted out of attending the mandatory players meeting on the Friday afterwards. It is true I did have commitments at home on that Friday, but still, the rebellious chimp inside quite enjoyed displaying the figurative middle finger to the powers above. After all, what can I be taught that I don’t already know? That approach got me seven GCSE’s. Comfortable enough to qualify for a job stacking shelves at Asda. Although with my looks, I’m sure it would’ve only been a matter of time before Tesco’s came looking.

I did however manage to achieve one thing I never could at school: success. In spite of all my unappealing tendencies I outlined above, I came through a very difficult task this time due to my attitude. It’s far better than what it used to be. Still not perfect on the golf course sometimes, but off it considerably improved. And after Portugal, the only thing that could’ve derailed me further, was a bad attitude.

When I saw the draw for the first two rounds, I was so excited to be playing with Laurie and Ross Kellett. I’m good friends with Laurie. We talked about the stock market, wine, life, downforce, even what it would be like to be a golfer without a galloping mind. Me and Ross just talked about rabbits. I saw Gary King again. A cool chap who has grown up since the days of being involved in prank phone calls and throwing sweets at passengers trying to sleep on aeroplanes. Matt Nixon, Scott Henry…it was even nice to see Tom Lewis at Q School. I never thought I’d see the day Tom Lewis smiled while being at Q School.

The irony for me was that Q School corresponded with The Race to Dubai finale. I’ve been part of that event the last two years. Last year in fact I upgraded to a suite at The Atlantis for 250 pounds a night. What a bargain! A year on and I’m hobbling around PGA Catalunya on a windy day trying to avoid disaster so my mum can keep as many cigarettes in her packet as possible. Of course I wasn’t thinking about disasters, but watching my mum and dad wander around, I’m not sure the same can be said for them. PGA Catalunya is a tree lined course and beneath the trees laid hundreds of giant pinecones. I only know this because every time I hit a slightly off shot, I would watch my dad scurry into the woods, hunt about, and exit with two or three more giant pinecones. It was his way of stripping away the nerves I think. Little did it do for my confidence.

But they were there. And all credit to them because as parents not only have they had to watch me suffer with the blocks and hooks this year, the pain of losing my Tour card live on TV, they’ve now also had to go through the exhausting, unrelenting event that is Q School. At least my dad has got his front tooth back though (that story can wait).

I suppose I should mention what it was actually like to play Q School. Exhilarating is the word. In a totally different way to what it’s like the be in contention at Wentworth, but still, totally encapsulating. I’ve never played an event where so much can rest on one shot. Witnessing Richard McEvoy scrape through on 5 under par was one of the bravest performances I’ve ever seen. He has two kids at home and a wife who works as a teacher. I hope they realise how hard he had to work to get his Tour card back. Personally, I was playing so well tee to green that I never really felt too much pressure. I did get a little edgy coming in on the final day. When I realised winning the tournament wasn’t possible, I was just relieved to walk off the last green at 10 under par and 5th place considering the shots I was beginning to hit.

All in all it was such an amazing and interesting experience. The kind I haven’t had for quite a while. Probably since the Grand Final on the Challenge Tour in 2012. Although I can’t say that even came close to the psychologically tormenting nature of Q School. Regaining my Tour card will come with many benefits, but for now, the best one is where I’m heading: Leopard Creek. My girlfriend will do her annual duty of carrying the bag, and her daily duty of keeping me happy. I came 8th last year, playing at times like a bit of a buffoon. The way I’m feeling now, I hope for much better…

But we all know how this game is…

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The Tapestry Of Life

I’m sure there’s a Chinese proverb out there somewhere that satisfies my thoughts, one that explains my downfalls, one that lays out my pathway to a brighter future, but nothing you read can ever replace the reality of something. I’ve always felt that even if the closest person in my life died, I could take it and move on, use it for motivation and inspiration. But the shock of reality is what gets you. Thankfully nobody has died, I only ‘lost’ my Tour card. The prospect of that happening never scared me, the future doesn’t scare me. But the shock of what happened in Portugal was something I wasn’t expecting.

Unfortunately 2016 has been the year I came to the realisation I don’t love this game the way I used to. It’s like being married to someone you have such a deep, inextricable connection to. It beats you up, yet you still come back for more. Don’t get me wrong I love the challenge of getting better, and I really enjoy being in the hunt on Sunday. That makes me feel alive. But golf has shown me it’s darker, more insidious side this year. Of course the irony is you only ever witness this part when you, the individual, start spiralling out of control. I’d say I started wandering the corridors of discontent with my game sometime last year, and I thought I knew which door I needed to take to get out, but yet I could never open it. That hasn’t happened to me for a while. I went from being a talented 18 year old, to a good professional because I used my brain and figured out what my weaknesses were and how I would go about fixing them.

For me, 2016 is full of lessons. I’ve worked tirelessly this year on the range, especially since June, and yet I hit it worse on the course. I’ve learnt that no matter how good you feel in practice, that sense of perfection gets thrown out of the window once you enter the realms of competition. Logically this game doesn’t make much sense. In competition it’s not about what you know, it’s purely down to what you do. I’ve learnt, not for the first time, that looking at your golf swing in slow motion on the camera, yearning to see better positions, guarantees you nothing. I’ve gone full circle in remembering that it’s the order in which things move in the golf swing that truly matters. I may be considered smart, but if I was as smart as some may think, I’d never have found myself in the position I am, because honestly, I knew much of what I needed to do. But sometimes learning is remembering, and that’s harder than I could ever have imagined.

This is where it goes even deeper…

Possibly darker too. I never envisaged that struggling on the course with my golf would have the impact it did on my mood. My quality of life waned as my golf deteriorated gradually and became more frustrating. I considered myself rounded enough not to let anything golf related affect my personal life. But the truth is, I had to eliminate many aspects of life to enable me as a golfer to succeed in the first place. I had to become my own best friend because growing up I sacrificed relationships for my golf. But that’s also why I’ve always maintained that the most important thing in life is to be a nice person, because careers come and go, but if you sacrifice being a good person in order to become a great achiever, you’ll experience the unintended side effects once it’s all over. And loneliness will probably top that list.

On a brighter note, Donald Trump could be president this time next week…

Putting the doom and gloom above behind, the future looks pretty appetising for me. I’ve figured a good deal out regarding my swing recently. Since the Italian Open to be specific. Physically I’ve changed things up a little bit, incorporating the two trainers I’ve been working with so that we’re all singing from the same hymn sheet so to speak. I’m looking to carry on the good form I showed at the end of this season into 2017, and indeed Q School before that. I’m spending Christmas in Bali with friends. I own gold so if and when Donald Trump does become president, I can sell it and live like an Arabian Prince for a while. And above all, I live 250 yards away from Waitrose which sells the best cake on the planet. Mary Berry ain’t got shit on this one let me tell you.

I wasn’t even going to write this blog, until Richard Ashcroft started playing on my Spotify. Any Ashcroft fans may be able to spot his influence in this blog. Blinding lyricist that guy.

As a friend text me recently who works on the Tour; ‘Sorry things aren’t as straightforward as you’d like. Tapestry of life etc…’ We wouldn’t want life any other way would we?

 

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P-J Willett vs Miller vs Sanity

One day to go, and it’s really heating up out there. Not the temperature, it looks freezing. Danny Willett’s brother has really threw the cat amongst the pigeons. Or Danny under the bus, depending on how you want to look at it. We’ve got ‘the worst European team ever’ vs some ‘shiny teethed, lego-like, (once) resentful children with over medicated wives’. And I thought the rhetoric in the Trump-Hillary debate was bad…

Has Jonny Miller not learned anything about recent history when it comes to the Ryder Cup? Or indeed sport in general for that matter. Someone should tell him about Leicester City, a team worth the same amount as Sergio Aguero’s nail clippers, who won the Premier League last year. Or how about in the 2004 Ryder Cup, when Montgomerie and Harrington gave Woods and Mickelson a good beating. That team in 2004 had 9 GB&I players out of 12. And I think I’m right in saying no major champions at the time. Fast forward 12 years, and we have just as many major winners in our team as they do. It all goes to show how golf is almost entirely unpredictable, and so making a prediction is a pretty paltry thing to do.

As for P-J Willett… Well, you can’t argue with some of what he said. Although generalisations shouldn’t really be made, particularly at a time when political correctness governs what many of us refrain from saying. And of course any American has the right to point to the fact that we have some fat Brits who scrounge from the state, insult immigrants for doing the jobs they’d never do, visit Gregg’s every day and get free healthcare for smoking 40 a day… None of us are perfect.

Unfortunately for Danny, he now has to shoulder this at Hazletine. As if being a rookie wasn’t hard enough, especially in America. And feel for Danny some more, not only is he disliked by much of the Tour, he’s now disliked stateside. But to Danny’s credit, if anyone can play with a chip on their shoulder, I think he can.

This isn’t really much of a blog. As much as I enjoy reading and watching some of the hype in sport and politics these days, I can’t help but feel exasperated at how much over analysis there generally is. I wanted to get that across mainly. Jonny Miller and P-J  may think they’re doing golf and the Ryder Cup a favour when they speak with inflammatory intent, but it’ll all be undone when you get Montgomerie and Critchley in the commentary box together. We’ll go from deranged patriotism to comatoseness within seconds.

After all that, I’ll make a prediction; Over 25,000 burgers will be eaten by the American fans this week.

Good luck boys.

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Going ‘Ome Late Friday

“A storm is brewing in financial markets, as prices disconnect from fundamentals.” That’s one headline from Bloomberg that appeared on my Twitter timeline this morning. It got me thinking, why do so many of us fail to see the problems until they are on top of us? Over the last year I’ve wanted to learn and understand a lot more about economic matters. Politics I found to be too divisive. Economics however is much more hard hitting and factual. Of course with hindsight, it’s quite simple to see how things go from good to bad. Boom to Bust. Take 2008, to me it’s pretty obvious that when house prices rise as fast as they did, there is clearly a bubble, that in time will correct. And of course it did. But how come so few saw it coming?

As always, trends and cycles are universal. Whether it be economics, business, sport, even life in general. We have good periods, times when life is good. But as night follows day they give way to short, and sometimes long periods of pain and suffering. It’s seemingly unavoidable. I just played with Alex Levy. In 2014 he had an incredible year. He said to me his life changed as he earned a lot of money and his reputation grew. But this year he’s had a hand injury, he’s split up with his girlfriend (which was very tough for him) and his grandfather is really quite ill. I hope he doesn’t mind me using him as an example of how peoples lives and careers ebb and flow, ostensibly without different input or action.

This has fascinated me for ages. I never imagined life when I was young to be as tricky as it is. I don’t use the word ‘hard’, because for me, life isn’t hard, it’s fantastic relative to almost everyone else. But maintaining balance in ones life is like walking a tightrope. And when you reach a point in your life where you feel settled, you invariably lose sight of what enabled this in the first place. This is when it’s easy to enter a downtrend!

Honestly, I think I reached this point sometime last year. Life for me was great. I paid off my mortgage, ate out in Giraffe 5 times a week and never thought twice about the cost of petrol or business class flights. Although I didn’t think I was being lazy or unthoughtful at the time, compared to the way I was from 2010 – 2014, I probably was. And this year so far has been a struggle. If I viewed myself the way I’d look at the economy, I would soon realise that I’m in a recession! My job is to make sure it doesn’t become a depression. My golf has been heading backwards for around a year, and it took me 9 months to realise it before making a structural change (changing my coach). And now I’m in the period of starting a few things up again and making a couple of necessary, albeit difficult changes.

The difference this time for me is that I don’t know what the future looks like. Over the past few years when I struggled a little, I did the smart thing of just heading back to the basics. I tried to do this in May, and I wrote in a blog that I felt I was turning a corner. But that corner never came. That’s why I changed coach, because all of a sudden what I saw as the fundamentals weren’t working for me. That signalled to me that I had a structural issue. Now I’m working with a new coach and I don’t know exactly what to expect. This is providing me with some sleepless nights and anxieties. I’m ok with that, that’s life. We all fear for our futures when there is uncertainty. And so at the moment I am relying a little more on hope than I’d prefer. I’m not a big believer in faith and hope, just logic and reason. I’m strangely also seeking more praise and attention from Jamie than I ever had in the past, I can only put this down to a slight insecurity as my confidence has waned somewhat.

Does all of this make me weak or in need of help? No. Turning sleepless nights into dreamy ones is what life and careers are about.

In the past I’ve said I don’t have goals. Goals are what can stop people from falling behind because they should have a link between outcome and intrinsic drive. The problem with me is, I wouldn’t retain the drive or motivation from any goals I could set because I know intrinsically they have no meaning. If and when I were to die, I wouldn’t want my children to remember me as the winner of the Bob Hope Classic. My motivation in the past has come from struggles and the knowledge that I don’t want to go through that experience again. So as you can imagine right now I am motivated. To use another “Big Short” quote in fact, “I’m jacked to the tits”. I just need to use this wisely.

Anyway, I’m approaching Geneva Airport now on the train. First Class of course. Paid for. Imagine what I’ll be writing if I miss my next 3 cuts……

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Tyrell’s Got Flavour 

A few years ago, when I got my card, I was invited to go to Woodhall Spa to talk with Tom Lewis and Paul Casey to the English amateur squads. I may have written about this before, but I remember walking in and on one side of the room was a whiteboard. On it were lots of numbers. It was to do with statistics, and possibly the statistics of the players in the room if memory serves me right. Either way, I remember thinking it was pretty Einsteinian. I saw this before I went up to speak and recall saying to myself that I should bring this up when I do speak as what I’ll say may ruffle a few feathers… 

Our time came to chat. I think Paul at that time was working with one of the England coaches who happened to also coach the boys team. Both Paul and his coach were right into their stats, which is fine obviously, I absolutely see a place for them in the game. Then I found out that every single player, boy or girl, had to fill their stats out else they wouldn’t get their funding. I get that the players were simply being asked to “buy into” the philosophy of the coaching staff at the time, but I was unsure about the benefits of this somewhat Orwellian measure. 

This is where Tyrell Hatton, Andrew “Beef” Johnston and Andy Sullivan come in. I am trying to imagine them in that environment. I mean, would’ve told someone at the EGU to shove it up their ass, so god knows what may have come out of one of their mouths! Although, to be fair, the three guys above probably wouldn’t have been too forthright with their views at the time, but I certainly know what they’d of been thinking. 

Beef was suspended from the England team for a period when he was still a junior. I wrote about this not long ago. Tyrell, I feel confident enough in saying, was never in favour with the EGU. His temperament probably had something to do with that, even though Tyrell’s temperament has turned out to be one of his biggest assets. And Sulli, well Sulli was busy stacking shelves at this point. Also, Sulli is the kind of guy who shoots his 65 then goes down the pub for a few beers. I can’t see him logging onto strokeaverage.com and detailing how close he hit that 8iron on the 4th at 9pm… 

You probably know the point I’m trying to make, but I’ll make it anyway. How much talent slips through the net when you put these stringent requirements on people, especially young people. Of course, there’ll be some who love the analytical side of the game and will happily abide by the rules. But naturally, there will be guys, like myself and probably the guys above, who would’ve preferred not to have done it. 

Victor Dubuisson would’ve likely ended up in a juvenile detention centre before becoming a professional golfer if he were English. When I think how different I am now to when I was 16/17, it’s remarkable. I guess I was lucky to have Dave Ridley and Brian Hemmings there. When I think back now, I laugh, because Brian was always the shoulder I had to lean on, even though some of my thoughts at the time would’ve seemed so irrational. But the system would bend, the coaches were flexible. They had their beliefs about what it took to become a great golfer, but they never forced it upon you. They understood how an individual becomes more responsible with age, and if the individual doesn’t, then by and large they fail.

I hope this story doesn’t contradict all I’ve said above, it’s not meant to. And it was a rarity. 

We were at a training camp at Arcos Gardens once, it may have been 2010. And we had to play 18 holes. Every player had to. It was part of the overall skills challenge that week. I was drawn out with Sulli, in a two ball. It could’ve been the first time I had really met him. By the 8th tee he knew who I was alright, when, I hit a bad tee shot, and really frustrated with my game, I asked the head coach if I could go in and practice. Fair request I thought. He said no. Sternly. So I gave him 150 yards and screamed at the top of my lungs, “C**TS”…. I can’t write it all. I felt part of an Orwellian nightmare that day! And all that was asked of me was that I play 18 holes a golf! Me and Sulli still laugh about that. 

Thankfully they never threw me off the team because of my antics that day. 

Anyway, It’s good to see Tyrell, Beef and Sulli doing the English proud. And what’s better, they’re blue-collared boys doing it. 

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Explaining Myself

My bad. My comments in the previous blog about not caring about winning were a little short and abrupt, and so I thought I’d quickly write something to tell you guys what I truly mean. 

It’s true though, I don’t care. Does it mean I don’t want to? No. Of course I’d rather come 1st than 2nd, or indeed 52nd which is a position I’ve occupied more times over the last year than I’d of liked.

The point I was tying to make, and failed to, was that regardless of mindset right now, I don’t believe I can win lots of tournaments and become a world class player. Because the thing I see holding me back, is my technique, with the driver in particular. Once I fix this, I believe I will win plenty of times. 

Some may say, if I can get into contention enough I must be good enough to win plenty of times. But you guys don’t see how hard I make the game for myself. And those times when I am in contention, are the weeks where I’ve either been able to hit driver a handful of times due to length of the course or it’s been so windy that everyone else struggles and effectively comes down to my level. I’ve just been really good from 175 yards and in for 2 years. But that won’t make me a great player, I need to get more control off the tee. 

As I said in the comments section, im not looking for sympathy or anything like that. And like I also said in the comments section, I’ve hit too many wild drives at too many points in too many rounds for me to believe I have a mental issue. I don’t give a rats ass about hitting it out of bounds or down the middle sometimes because I’d rather be having lunch. And yet I still hit it out of bounds. 

Logic tells me the issue is with my golf swing. 

Of course, like Michael Burry said in The Big Short, I could be wrong, I just don’t see how. 

By the way, the milkshakes here are delicious. 

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Jimmy Walked, I Fell 

Like a sack of fucking spuds.

It’s not often I wouldn’t mind being in someone else’s brain, but for a while yesterday I would have taken it. Golf can be a cruel game and my mind was dark for a period, both on the course and after I had finished. 

Maybe for the first time, a chat really helped. It was a chat with my new coach. Full of American optimism, his thoughts were what I needed. He pulled me away from my negative slant and identified that I had in fact led in both my previous two tournaments for a period. I don’t think I have done this in over a year. He, and my caddie also, are correct, the signs are good. 

But I have a problem. It’s not mental and it’s not physical. It’s technical. For me, people overstate the mental aspect of golf. That’s not to say a clear head isn’t important, it’s just a competent, repeatable technique is more important. I’ve never had a problem winning and I never will. I won when I was a junior, an amateur, and when I really needed to on the Challenge Tour. With all respect to the tournament I’ve just played, the thought of winning it didn’t make me tremble at the knees or make my bladder leak… 

In the past I had the ability to at least find the fairway regularly. That has been lost somewhere over the last few years. I can take the blame for some of that, and naturally, my past coaches should also. No question I’ve made big improvements, but also developed a swing reliant far too much on timing. And although I’m blessed with “good hands”, they don’t perform efficiently for 72 holes, 25 weeks a year. Not even close. 

That’s why, yesterday, before going out I had an underlying sense of unease because I knew that somewhere in my game, there’s a shot that is nuclear. It happens on Thursday’s, Friday’s and Saturday’s as well. For a year, my technique has regressed. Everything shows that, from my stats to my scores. 

When Henrik Stenson won The Open two weeks ago, he was a different animal on that Sunday. I’m a massive Henrik fan, who isn’t, and in the past he’s had opportunities to win majors and for whatever reason didn’t. What interested me about The Open just gone was that, in his speech he mentioned a friend who had just died and subsequently Henrik dedicated the victory to him. Maybe this was what made the difference. Maybe Henrik had that “fuck it” moment. Good stuff happens during that time. But unfortunately it sometimes takes really bad things to happen for one to reach that point. This is maybe, and I say maybe as I don’t know for sure obviously, what helped Henrik play so well all weekend. 

Above clearly identifies a different mental approach a person (may have in Henrik’s case) has taken to reach a different outcome. But for me to win, I don’t need that “fuck it” moment. Because honestly, I don’t really care about winning on the European Tour at the moment, or any tour for that matter. I wish I did in some ways, but for whatever reason, I don’t. So for me to win, I need to build a game that is so good that winning happens because I’m simply just better than the rest that week. And that’s what drives me. My biggest obstacle eventually, won’t be the pressure of winning, it’ll be perpetuating my motivation to always improve. 

Anyway, holiday time for me now in Thailand. Milkshakes by day, wine by night… 😀👍🏻 
 

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