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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Gold Medals Aren’t For Everyone

With Adam Scott and Louis Oosthuizen both withdrawing from the Olympic Games, golfs inclusion in the event has once again come under the magnifying glass. The general feeling towards golf being in the Olympics seems to be one of positivity, certainly within the circles I mix around in on the European Tour. It would be foolish to say that golf won’t benefit in one way or another from its inclusion.

My understanding is that the people at the top hope golfs inclusion will primarily boost interest in the game and subsequently participation down the line, thus benefiting the golf industry eventually. This may well happen, and there would be those that proclaim ‘mission accomplished, job done’. But at what cost will this happen?

Currently, the main markets for golf according to a World Wide Golf Report by Datatech are The U.S, Canada, Japan, South Korea and The United Kingdom. The United States accounts for around half of all golf activity worldwide. However, apart from South Korea and China (not mentioned in the list), where golf participation is growing, the other countries are witnessing declines in the amount of people playing the game. And with no signs of that trend abating, you have to ask who will be inspired by golf featuring in the Olympics. The Japanese people are experiencing economic woes and have been for the best part of 30 years. It’s hardly coincidental that since their economy began shrinking, so too did the participatory rate for golf. It’s difficult to see how or why people would all of a sudden choose to start playing more golf in countries like The U.S, Canada and The U.K, unless the game changes significantly to accommodate for people who are clearly put off by the nature of the way golf is currently played. If you are part of the ruling Communist Party in China, golf is seemingly played with as much trepidation as stealing a Mars bar from the local off license. To me, it’s difficult to see how The Olympics will have much of an effect on these developed nations.

So let’s turn to the idea that new countries, or ’emerging markets’ might become entranced by golf. Firstly, these new countries will likely be some of the poorest on the planet. They will almost certainly have to be funded by overseas investment, for their governments, you would hope, would see more sense in spending public money on education or infrastructure as opposed to golf courses. Secondly, you have the uneasy truth that building golf courses in these untouched parts of the world would cause lasting damage to local communities, small businesses and ecological environments. (On a similar topic, George Monbiot wrote an interesting article about this in The Guardian recently)

I don’t want to paint a bleak picture, it’s just I think it would be speculative to say that golf will see significant increases in participation around the world due to its inclusion in The Olympics. I think any inclines or declines we are currently witnessing will likely continue trending in that direction for a while, regardless of golfs Olympic status.

Apart from maybe the U.K, where golf originated, golfs popularity has risen alongside booming economies. The rise of golf in America, could be contributed to a number of factors; individuals like Arnold Palmer and Tiger Woods, a growing economy which America has largely enjoyed since World War Two, or population growth. All of these things have played a role. But look at golf in China over the last decade, it has grown exponentially among the upper classes, alongside their economy. But things have turned economically. Golf participation in America has declined since the financial crash in 2008. People have less money and so they are spending less on hobbies and interests. The same thing is almost inevitable in China. There is huge uncertainty about the Chinese economy. I saw an example of just one of their problems when I played in The BMW Masters last year just outside Shanghai. The amount of empty mansions circling the golf course at Lake Malaren is astonishing. And I believe part of the reason the event is no longer taking place is because the owner of the resort owes BMW millions of pounds and hasn’t paid up. Possibly a sign of what’s beginning to unravel in China. My point is, golf seems to have an inextricable link to big money, big business and corporate enterprise, and when those things begin to slow down, so too, does golf.

Finally, I’ll stick up for Adam Scott and Louis Oosthuizen. They have a right to do what they want. The Olympics isn’t and has never been a main prize in golf. Dare I say it, it never will. You can’t say they aren’t interested in growing the game either. Look at Louis’ academy for example. He has, and is, putting back into the game just what he got out, through helping kids improve just the way Ernie Els did in South Africa over the last couple of decades. Adam is by all accounts an extremely humble, down to earth guy. He has taken Australian golf to new heights along with Jason Day in recent years. Then consider that top golfers have a lifestyle of opulence. The kind you won’t find in the Athletes Village in Rio. You might say they should just suck it up and stay with the rest of the athletes, or, like me, you might say they want to win and so to win, you shouldn’t change a winning formula. You should look to find accommodation that is more suited to the kind you would live in during normal competitive weeks. Which is what one golfer has done I believe, at a cost of tens of thousand of pounds. I won’t mention names but I was told of this by a caddie who will be at Rio himself. Therefore logistically I imagine Rio will prove to be nightmarish. 

There are reasons to play in The Olympics, that I can see. It could be seen as doing the game of golf a service in return for what is has given you. But I think a player has every right to have reservations about golf in The Olympics. The kind you cannot criticise. Debate yes, but not criticise. To me, The Olympics represents everything that is still pure about sport and endeavour. 

A green jacket is to golf what a gold medal is to Athletics, Gymnastics, Weightlifting, Swimming, Cycling, Volleyball, Archery…. Golf has been corporatised and monetised to a stage where even I, at 130th in the world, can enjoy a wonderful lifestyle. To include golf in The Olympics is almost insulting to the gymnast who earns very little, and sacrifices as much as any golfer. 

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Mixed Emotions

Just as Valderrama peeled off some of the rust in my game after seven weeks off, so too did it inspire me to dust off the cobwebs from my keyboard. It takes special places and experiences sometimes to force you to sit up and take notice. This would’ve been felt across the board by many players last week. Whether you’re a rookie on the Tour and feel like you have just been in a car crash, or whether you’re someone like me, who despite knowing how challenging golf can be at this level, still felt as though the airbags weren’t enough to prevent a sore impact. 
Sometimes it’s best to forget and move forward. That would be understandable considering Valderrama is a course, particularly when set up the way it was, that is comparable to a fright night experience at Thorpe Park. Only worse. Meltdowns and “head-offs” are commonplace at Valderrama. Not me though. Admittedly I’ve had my moments in the last year where I would’ve made The Riddler seem pretty psychologically intact. But last week I was remarkably calm despite continuing the poor form that has plagued me for a while now. 

And that’s what makes me think things could change. The tipping point may have just been reached. Because for too long I’ve felt so deeply frustrated and totally disillusioned with my game out on the golf course. In fact, the last six months have proven to be maybe the most frustrating period of my career. Certainly since I was ill with glandular fever back in my late teens. There’s been a real sense of stagnation and that’s a feeling any sportsman or person with ambition detests. The harder I’ve tried, the worse it’s got and the more angry I’ve felt. And so consequently there has almost been a resignation in recent months out on the course for me. That feeling of Groundhog Day. And what’s possibly perpetuated the feeling is the fact I’ve been making cuts! It’s bad enough being in 50th place for two days, let alone four. 

But when the coin is flipped, it does show a positive. It’s what I just mentioned; the fact that I’ve made cuts. Because unquestionably two years ago I would’ve missed every cut so far this year. I really feel as though not one aspect of my game has been firing. (Apart from my hips from the top) And as Andrew Johnston wins in Spain, a guy who I know from my junior days and who we as a family really have a lot of time for, I’m making the same mistakes, day in, day out. The feeling is reminiscent to when I was 18 and fell ill and had to watch everyone I had worked hard to become better than overtake me. 

That’s why experience is crucial. Because when I look back to when I was 18, I see a broader picture of progression. And that’s how I’ll eventually look back at this period I believe. Progression isn’t always made during the wins, it’s often cemented during the downturns in form. Cuts made when playing way below your top level is progress. And while for me it’s frustrating to not be seeing more good stuff, it’s promising to see that I can still play four days golf at this level. 

It’s worth telling you a bit more about AJ though. “Beef” is a legend. I first came across him during regional training when I was probably around 15 or 16 years old. He was always thick set, strong, and bubbly. If he wasn’t talking about Arsenal he was bobbing his head along to some grime on his iPod. (Which by the way, is a genre of music) A white Dizzee Rascal in another life maybe. He was a brilliant junior, played for England and was progressing well. Then his dad died. I remember his dad used to come to tournaments like all the dads, but he never got involved in the petty shit that poisons morale. He, like my dad and a few others, saw their kids as people doing what they loved with potential and not some future money maker. I believe he died from a brain tumour in the end. And all this happened after AJ was suspended from England golf after celebrating a Boys Home Internationals victory a little wildly by getting locked out of his room in just his boxers, strolling down the road to the golf club and sleeping in the clubhouse. Only to be found the next morning and subsequently have the police interrogate him. Yes he may have had a few drinks the night before but so what. His world must have been turned upside down for a while. And so to see him win in Spain, nearly a decade on since his dad died, provides me and my dad with more joy than I have ever felt at another persons success. 

Stories are what make life interesting and AJ’s story is raw and powerful.  

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Orbiting The Stars

The ‘Big Three’ have re-entered the world of golf. It’s the new, big story in the world of golf and for good reason. But as always, other parallels are to my mind, more compelling. Step in Matt Fitzpatrick and Tom Lewis.

Two weeks ago Matt won the British Masters, this week Tom has just lost his card and will have to go to qualifying school in an attempt to regain it. To the outsider these two may seem to have very little, if anything in common. But you’d be wrong. One was once a product of Pete Cowan, the other is currently with Mike Walker. Which is like saying one is a chicken soup, the other vegetable, both from the Covent Garden Soup Company.

Both of their amateur careers were fantastic. Matt’s best achievement was probably winning the U.S Amateur while Tom’s highlight could well of been beating me to win the British Boys in 2009… Tom also led the Open at St Georges and won in his 3rd start as a professional on the European Tour. So how is it that, in October of 2015, one of these is on the cusp of breaking into the worlds top 50 while the other stews over the possibility of not having a European Tour card next year?

I’ll start with what I think Matt has done well, and this will be short and incisive for good reason. After a poor start to the year, he didn’t panic. He didn’t make wholesale changes. Rather, I would assume, he studied his game, reflected on his form and subsequently figured out what he needed to do technically and physically, to improve. And he’s done just that.

Before I give my opinion on Tom, I want to state how I’ve been quite close to him for a long time and above all, I like him and his family.

Growing up, Tom’s biggest attribute was his ball striking. From the age of 12 his swing always looked pretty and as he got older it got more and more efficient. When we practiced together at events he would always beat the crap out of me, and more often than not in tournament play too! So when he turned pro and won in Portugal three or four weeks later, it really was no surprise. Shortly after that win, he parted with Pete Cowan, why exactly, I’m not entirely sure. I think Tom had an expectancy level after that win that was astronomical and when he didn’t perform to that level, rather than step back and assess, he made what turned out to be, in my opinion, a rash decision.

Tom struggled with his chipping from the end of 2011 onwards and well into 2012. From what I understand he felt a lot of this was to do with the method he was taught by Pete. Personally, I can believe that because I had similar problems shortly after working with Mike in 2013. However after that I decided I’d just use him for long game and bunker play. But Tom changed everything and I’ve always felt that was a shame. He ended up sacrificing his biggest asset which was his long game in an attempt to fix his chipping woes. Honestly, his short game was never incredible, but it was good enough.

If you look at Matt Fitzpatrick’s statistics this year from the tee to green, they are pretty awesome. Tom was as good. Their talents are similar. But their decision making so far has been worlds apart.

The other trap golfers fall into, and I think Tom has, is trying to be like somebody else. I’ve talked about me in the past trying to copy Ben Hogan. Shortly after working with Butch Harmon Tom began obsessing over Tiger Woods. The problem with people like Tiger Woods, Ben Hogan, Rory McIlroy etc, is that they’re very difficult to imitate. As much as it will hurt to die knowing people will never be in awe of me like they were Ben Hogan, it’s a fixation that I know isn’t worth chasing. Instead, we’re all better off looking at the Jim Furyk’s of this world. Because when you see how far he has got swinging it the way he has, that should provide you with inspiration and motivation.

Professional golf is like Mount Everest in many ways. There are so many ledges and cliffs you have to be aware of. Sometimes progress feels fast and you climb in sunny conditions, but there are times when an avalanche tumbles down on you for no logical reason and it’s just about sticking your claws in and holding ground. It’s easy to be a golfer when it’s sunny, but maintaining perspective and making smart decisions when you can’t hole a putt or can’t strike a 7 iron is truly when you make ground.

I think the next twelve months could well prove to be the making of Tom Lewis. He has a strong work ethic and is incredibly resilient, but it will be his decision making that will make the difference.

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