Happy New Year

I suppose it makes sense to write my first blog of 2018 during my first flight of 2018. It’s been made easier by sitting in business class as opposed to economy, simply because I don’t have to deal with the anxiety that the person next to me can see what I’m writing. The process of exposing your innermost thoughts is way more embarrassing than the publication of them. In truth, I haven’t really got anything in particular to say so I’m just gonna roll with it and see where it goes….

Probably the biggest story of 2018 in golf will come down to one man: Tiger Woods. The fact that he is still the biggest draw in the game says so much about our world. Our obsession with image, personality and the past it seems, as opposed to substance amazes me. I say that with respect, i.e. not meaning Tiger can’t substantively impact the game moving forward (I think he can), but if he had of just won in Hawaii the way Dustin Johnson did, then the golfing world would be hyperventilating. Tiger can probably shoot 68 in his next event and receive more attention than Hideki Matsuyama did for winning at Firestone the way he did last year. It leads me to think that the days of awe-inspiring achievements are behind us. Instead all we are craving is a story, a comeback, controversy or even batshit crazy stuff like Conor McGregor boxing Floyd Mayweather.

The irony I enjoyed most about Tiger’s comeback event in the Bahamas was the way Rickie Fowler won it. I’m a big Rickie fan, as I am a Tiger fan, but for him to do that to the field on Sunday I thought was quite poetic. But the substance issue exists in pretty much every other walk of life, as I see it. Harry Kane scored more goals in 2017 than anyone, but because it wasn’t Lionel Messi, who cares? Donald Trump, for all of his flaws, is refusing to be paid to be the president, which basically means he’s saying he doesn’t want taxpayers money. But who cares, because he tweets stupid stuff now and again and isn’t the “PC”, career politician we all seemingly want…

Somewhere along the line our actions have become totally irrelevant. Unlike those 280 characters.

Before boarding this flight I listened to the No Laying Up podcast, “The Killhouse.” At one point they were talking about their favourite courses of 2017 and they mentioned The Old Course. It reminded me of my own experiences around the Old Lady. When I first played there years ago as a junior, I hated it. I couldn’t see what any of the fuss was about and I didn’t get it. But the more I’ve gone back, the more I’ve grown to love the place. I was also glad to hear one of the guys say how easy it is to hit the Old Course hotel… It is absolutely one of those places you must go and see, and of course play if lucky enough.

I think it was DJ on the podcast who spoke of his experience up the last hole where he fatted a wedge from 70 yards and then proceeded to stiff a putt from 30 yards. Again it reminded me of when I had pretty much given up en route to an 89 in the St Andrew Links Trophy a good few years back. I putted it from 100 yards on the 10th hole.

The field in Abu Dhabi this week is strong and it’s going to be awesome teeing off on the opposite side of the course to the big guns.

All seriousness aside though, it’s worth taking a look to see where the field has gone down to. It’s amazing actually to see how far down the list isn’t going. In 2013 when I was the 12th card from the Challenge Tour I ended up 1st reserve for Abu Dhabi and got into Dubai. Nobody from the Challenge Tour category is likely to play Abu Dhabi, Dubai or Malaysia this year. I don’t know exactly why this is, but it’s a bit of an issue for the Tour in my opinion. I think it’s now logical and totally respectable if you’re a Q School graduate to simply not bother even playing the European Tour this year and instead focus on the Challenge Tour. Having said that, if it’s the case that Challenge Tour guys aren’t getting into say, six of the biggest events, then I don’t know what the best play is. One answer I guess is just to win an event. After all, that’s pretty simple…

I’m not here to provide solutions. But I am attending my first committee meeting next Tuesday.

As a 26 year old man who has never sat in on anything truly important in my life, I’m at a little bit of a loose end as to how best approach my new role as an upholder of fairness and free hotel rooms for those who can most afford it. I’m not cool with being seen as the guy who criticises, and comes up with no solutions. I hate those people too. However, it’s a scary prospect to have to potentially vote on whether or not an individual should be fined for slow play when those extra 15 seconds could’ve given Hugh Heffner a wonderful last dying breath. Joking aside, I am excited to learn more about the Tour and put forward any opinions or ideas where I see fit.

Quickly to finish, I just want to make you aware of the equipment changes that I’ve made, so that you don’t have to ask me over Twitter.

Currently I’ve got the Titleist driver in the bag, but I am doing testing with TaylorMade before Abu Dhabi so will see on that front. Dustin’s performance in Hawaii inspired me to get back in touch with the ‘dark side’ and test. Callaway 3 wood and 5 wood. They’re bloody epic. Mizuno JPX irons. The ‘Tour’ heads, not the ones you’ll find on the shelf in your pro shop, sorry. Also I’ll be using the Mizuno wedges. Not only do they feel like a Mizuno, but they look like a Vokey*. And the Bettinardi blade remains in the bag after some incredibly average performances last year.

You may see, should I make it onto the TV in the near future, that I’ll be wearing a hat that is completely blank. I do not have a hat sponsor. So if you know anyone who would like to sponsor me, then divert them away from Twitter and show them my raw, emotive, and profound blog.

Here’s to a great 2018 for us all.

 

 

*Not 100% true.

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A Year In Review

I am writing to you with regards to the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open.

I actually had a good week last week in the US Open and finished Tied 16th. This result has lifted me to the top of the Access List and barring some extraordinary results in Germany this week, I’ll get into the French Open. That’s great for me obviously, however it only qualifies me for the French Open. And while the French Open is a great event, frankly, I much prefer the Irish Open.

Therefore this morning I asked the European Tour if they would be able to transfer my start, once finalised into the French Open, over to the Irish Open. Unfortunately this is not possible due to Access List regulations.

Because of this, I am asking if you would consider extending me an invite into your event.

I am also willing to donate a percentage of any prize money earned to Rory’s foundation. Although not too much as my past results at the Irish Open have been quite good and being English I want to keep as much prize money for myself as possible…

On top of this I am happy to provide time for you, whether that be before or during the week to help promote the event in any way I can.

Finally, I just wanted to let you know that I am in fact half Irish myself. And I have 73 cousins, so the gate receipts would be significantly boosted.

Thanks for your consideration,

Best regards,

Eddie Pepperell.

Writing invite letters became a passion of mine this year. I started the year with more professional notes, always drafted by my manager, for me to amend where I saw fit. By the time the Irish Open note had to be drafted, my patience had eroded, and my manager’s influence vanished with it. Needless to say, I never received the invite into the Irish Open.

In 2017, for the first time in my career, I experienced the bitter reality of not being involved in tournaments that I truly wanted to be part of. It was painful watching the BMW PGA, the Irish Open, the Tshwane Open, all historic and great events, on TV. I felt helpless, knowing that I was watching my career fall further behind everyone else’s. Like that of a snooker player I suspect, waiting in the corner, hoping to get another shot at it, but not knowing when. The uncertainty was most frustrating.

Those who follow me on Twitter will know I’ve joked about the dog being the turning point for me this year. While little Guscott has been quite the addition me and Jen were after, the truth is obviously more complex. March and April of this year was when I planted the seeds that helped me return to the upper echelons of the European Tour, or Top-Ten-No-Win golf as I call it. We moved out of our flat into a house, a move which underpinned my sudden appetite for risk, as I was convinced the housing market was hitting a top. To go along with this, I, and TaylorMade agreed to part ways, allowing me to use equipment of any sort. This also represented a risk as it meant me giving up free cash, something which professional golfers are hardly fond of doing. What this period of the year proved to me was how I was right to take these risks, because I believed they would ultimately be worth it. I put aside any fears of experiencing short term losses, and instead went along with what I was figuring out, and pursued my convictions. I’m most proud of this.

It’s at this point I will write about my equipment changes and how they helped transform my game from Q School participant, to a Top-Ten-Few-Short machine. I owe much gratitude to Titleist, and in particular, one man; The lanky Oracle with glasses. I went to see him in April. I explained to him my shot patterns, what I did and didn’t like to see, and what I wanted. I came away from that session so much more knowledgeable. I said to him that I was afraid to use the driver because I’d hit so many shots low and left with it. Subsequently, and purely out of fear, I would then hit some high and right. He explained to me that my driver simply wasn’t creating enough backspin to basically rule out the low, left shot. In hindsight, I was so incredibly naive when it came to the technical aspects of equipment. As soon as we added backspin to the driver, and put a different, higher spinning ball in play, the low and left shot pretty much disappeared, and my confidence gradually returned. This change was 100% the reason behind my top 20 at the US Open. I was unafraid to hit driver that week on a course that demanded good driving, in an environment that was also quite challenging.

As I predicted, my blogs have become less insightful the better I’ve played this year. This is probably down to the fact I’ve spent more Saturday’s and Sunday’s on the course, as opposed to being at home, reflecting on another disappointing week. What I have (re-) discovered though, is that our best golf is usually played under the orchestration of a quiet mind. A state that is focused, but not searching. I have managed to finally take the reigns a bit more with my coach and where it used to be a case of him keeping me on the straight and narrow, I have sometimes felt this year it’s been the other way around. That’s not meant to discredit his incredible knowledge or methods, I just feel I’ve gotten better at understanding my own imperfections and habits, and how best to stay on top of them, rather than abolish them.

As I enter a period of rest before 2018, where my season will begin, I feel as though my goal is simple; To keep doing what I have been doing. However I am all too aware of how hard this is to do. Because as with all actions, come consequences. A good thing may always be a good thing, but what starts a bad thing is often the response to the unintended side effects of something, even if that something is good. So I shall continue along the same path I have been on, but try to double down on identifying any irregularities that may creep up on me.

I hope to make 2018 the year where I’m the one receiving invite letters in 2019.

Have a spectacular Christmas.

 

 

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From The Grave To The Rave 

As I fly over Spain en route to Ibiza, I’m reminded of the pain and adulation that will follow below over the next four days. Valderrama will play host this week to an enormous array of consequences, something it is probably well equipped to provide, given its natural brutality.  

What’s worse is that I have friends playing who are in need of good results, just to keep their playing rights for next year. A position I was obviously in twelve months ago. Thankfully for them I guess, they’ve seen what I’ve managed to achieve this year, off the back of losing my card. This may provide them with some solace, I don’t know. But I suspect, due to our self absorbed tendencies being golfers, that their minds are deeply immersed within the winding cork trees of hell. It’s probably a good thing that the season ending event is being played around such a demanding golf course, as good golf will be sure to be rewarded. Valderrama is more than a putting exhibition, it’s a competition where getting the ball in play first is most important. 

Another thing I’m reminded of, is the importance of understanding time. Twelve months ago, for a short moment, it did feel as though my world was crumbling down around me. I had to spend fifteen minutes in solitude reading every news app I had on my phone at the time, just to escape my own thoughts and immediate emotions following my double bogey finish. I only cried once I got back to my hotel room. This shows how gut wrenchigly painful it was for me a year ago, because I still felt these emotions in spite of being very aware of how it was only a moment in time. And one that I knew wouldn’t define me as a golfer, only refine me. 

It’s always amazing how people suddenly ‘turn up’ when time is running out. The way Marc Warren has since September, just like he did last year. The shortage of time unquestionably focuses the mind. Some players will be going out this week simply knowing that they have to find another level, if they want to be part of the Rolex Series next year. Some may find ‘that’ level through nine holes, and then it becomes a mental battle to sustain it. Others will start poorly, as they have most likely been doing for a while, and the blues will kick in much earlier than they would’ve liked. This is the event where reality sets in, just like Q School. It’s a disgusting, yet wonderful period of time in golf. Because we go from being used to going week to week, to only seeing a cliff edge. And the drop for some will look scary, and for others look like an opportunity. 

My dad’s foresight impressed me a year ago, as he predicted that 2017 would be my best year, and as things stand, he’s going to be proven right. I also felt the same. Out of bad often comes good, and usually always to those who think. Everything and everyone moves cyclically, something that is disappointing to the person who only wants hype. Successful people are level headed not because they were necessarily born that way, but because they learnt to be that way, in order to move with the inevitable eddy’s that careers bring. 

Ibiza beckons for me though. Clubbing season is over, although not yet for Mick, I’ll be seeing you in Turkey. 

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October Ramble 

It’s been a while since I’ve written a blog. I’ve been busy actually doing what I’m supposed to do; Play good golf! Gone are the days of waking up Saturday morning, slightly hungover, low and moderately depressed, wondering how I’m going to hit a fairway and break 75. It’s felt at times recently like I couldn’t shoot 75 if I tried. Golf is such a funny game. Or a bastard of a game, as myself and Victor Dubuisson see it. (Don’t know that for sure, but pretty sure) 

My recent run of form is down to a number of things, none of which more important however than the obvious fact my golf swing is in a better spot than where it was 6 months ago. I’ve largely focused only on my set up and takeaway since May, and this simplicity has led to much more consistency. Me and John Daly now have something in common; We both believe the left arm (lead arm for right handed player) is the most important function of the golf swing. 

Probably the most exciting part of my recent form is what it’s actually built on in terms of me playing. And that’s a strong 3 wood I have in the bag. I’m not saying I’m the English version of Henrik Stenson, but I feel like Henrik Stenson out there at times, just with a prettier face… I would say though that I am comfortable hitting my driver now, whereas I wasn’t a few months ago. There are still certain tee shots with specific wind conditions however that make me slightly uneasy and that’s when I turn to the 3 wood. This setup has meant that I am pretty much always in play. And then it’s just a matter of how well I play from there, and that’s down to iron play but also sheer golfing ability. I’ve never doubted my ability to play golf, or my iron play, whereas in the past I’ve certainly doubted my driving. That swamp is gradually being drained thankfully. 

It’s at this point where I’ve run out of things to say about myself. So I’m going to turn to topics I’ve spoken about in the past, but not elaborated on. 

Firstly my pessimism surrounding the European Tour. It is all to do with the economic landscape as I see it moving forward. It’s nothing to do with the product the Tour has to offer, or the way the Tour is being run. Frankly, I just don’t know where the money is going to come from. Pre 2008 financial crisis, there was lots of events in Europe, which was unsurprising due to the economic boom the whole of the world, but especially Europe was experiencing. Since then however, much of the investment, as I understand it, has come from the Middle East and Asia. Southern Europe has practically been in a depression since 2008. In 2007 there were 9 tournaments in either Spain or Portugal. Compared to 3 this year. One of which was co-sanctioned with the Challenge Tour. This isn’t something us players can complain about, this lack of investment hasn’t come about because the Tour aren’t doing their job, it’s because Spain and Portugal are economically in a terrible way. As is the rest of the World, we just aren’t seeing it play out… Yet. And this is why I’m pessimistic. Because anyone who follows the economic landscape can see what’s beginning to unfold in the Middle East and China specifically. Luckily, The UAE isn’t overly dependent on a high oil price, due to the fact it’s invested domestically in making sure it can be a productive state moving forward. It is however, like China, massively loaded with private debt. And this is a ticking time bomb. 

I suppose the funding for events can come from government entities, and highly wealthy individuals. Like that of the Sheikh in Dubai, or people like Johann Rupert, both of whom are massively important to the European Tour. China however I do not see this happening. To finish with a particularly sobering note, the whole world is up to its neck in debt. It’s easy to say credit has always existed and liquidity has always been volatile, but the maths of it all just doesn’t add up. There’s simply too much. I think the PGA Tour will also suffer, but that’s for another day. 

I’ve put myself forward to be on the Players Committee of the European Tour. I’ve done this because I want to understand more about the position the Tour finds itself in. I want to discover for myself what I suspect to be true, that finding sponsors in this climate is incredibly difficult. I hope also, for obvious reasons, that my inhibitions are proved to be wrong and that there are strong foundations being laid. 

Just bring that moderate Saturday depression forward to Tuesday. 

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Small Victories 

Some victories are obvious, often the ones where there’s a trophy involved. But some victories are oblivious. Like the one for me on the 12th tee in Denmark last Sunday. It was a tee shot that gave me nightmares last year and this year I learned my memory is very much intact. Desperate to hit 3 wood, due to the fact I’m extremely comfortable and confident hitting that club under any circumstances, on this occasion driver was the only option. There was a bunker in the middle of the fairway at 270 yards to carry and a bunker up the left at 290 to carry. The wind had been down and from the left all week meaning 3 wood was sufficient. Sunday however was different, It was into and from the left. 11 o’clock. And the breeze was fairly stiff at this point. With deep rough up the right, to my mind this was the second toughest tee shot of the day behind the dreaded 18th tee shot. 

I pulled the Owl head cover off my driver pretty quickly once arriving on the tee, in an attempt to show my caddie an air of confidence. Even though inside I’m still very much aware of my miserable history on this hole. Last year I lost balls on this hole. Golf balls that is. I said to my caddie, “3 wood isn’t enough is it?” He said “no, I like driver.” I knew that. I don’t know why I asked. Driver it was. Aiming just left of the middle bunker, I committed to the same feelings I’d had all week, in the hope I didn’t get the dreaded feeling of the club falling behind me. The swing was a blur but when I looked up, after striking the middle of the club face, the ball flew perfectly down the middle. This was no Ryder Cup, and I’m no Nicolas Fasth, but a fist pump was a necessary celebration. Even in 30th position, this was a victory. 

I sometimes wonder whether it’s better to have and fight the demons, than never have them at all. Helps you understand confidence eventually. 

I had a new caddie last week in the very experienced Mick Dorran. Since me and Jamie split back in May, I’ve partnered up with a few different caddies. It’s be great and something I’ve found to be refreshing. I haven’t written much about why I decided to end things with Jamie, even though I’ve had some thoughts. 

It’s hard to describe the relationship between player and caddie. It truly is like a marriage though. And divorce is an inevitability. In my case, the divorce came about due to a feeling of staleness and stagnation. We had been together for 4 years and we’d had some great times. Jamie has been a friend and a coach to me, and I’m still happy to see him around on Tour. But the truth was I knew my behaviour wasn’t on point due to his presence. I know myself, and I know that I behave differently around strangers. I’m more respectful. Familiarity breeds contempt and contempt is such an ugly trait. Something I never want to feel. Yet I could feel it developing with me and Jamie. I was concerned that I would act irrationally and say something I would regret, even though Jamie is smart enough to know whatever would be said would be due to the stress of competition, not my nature. Still, I didn’t want it to come to anything like that. 

While my driving held me back at times earlier this year alongside some poor putting, my attitude was also to blame for some performances. I knew a change of personnel would lead to an improved attitude instantly. 

It’s something I suspect Rory felt with JP. I read that Rory felt the relationship had just gone stale and he wanted to freshen things up. I believe him.  

I’ve always found the best way to be disciplined is to eliminate possibilities. It’s a lazy way, but it’s a sure thing. Hence the reason so many caddies get fired most probably. Why should we work on changing our behaviour when we can improve it just by hiring and firing? 

My cousin once said to me, slightly intoxicated, “give yourself the opportunity to surprise yourself.” I’ve always remembered it. I believe this is where true confidence is born. Moments like the 12th tee in Denmark for me. 

I hit my best drive of the day down the 18th hole. 

Confidence is a funny thing. 

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Find Form In July, Buy A Rolex In August. 

I’ve wrestled with myself over posting this blog. I hope my wording is sufficient enough to make it obvious I am not bitter or twisted about what follows. And it goes without saying that any names mentioned in this blog isn’t me attacking them, it’s simply me using them as examples of what I believe injustice looks like. 

The Rolex Series. 

I’ll start with France. I played the French Open this year. I qualified for it as part of category 0 something. That category was ‘the top 3 players on Race to Dubai, who aren’t exempt.’ I was third on that list, so I got a place. I was intrigued arriving at Golf National to see what would be different in 2017 than every other year I’ve played it. It turned out the players lounge was about it. Not to forget the purse of course. My breakfast options had been upgraded however. I could now go for eggs on top of Marmite on toast, which is a personal favourite, followed by Nutella on toast topped with a banana. A great way to start any day. Apart from these two things however, the rest of the experience was exactly as I remember any past French Open being. The crowds were like before; decent, but more atmosphere at the British Par 3 Championship. The course was fantastic as always. The 18th hole was still a bastard. All that was truly different was that, A) I actually had a decent finish, and B) I earned €64,000 for finishing Tied 23rd. Twice as much as I earned in Sweden for coming Tied 8th. 

I was a TV viewer for the Irish Open. I requested an invite and couldn’t believe I didn’t get one after I mentioned in my letter the fact I’m half Irish with 73 cousins so the gate receipts would be boosted if I was part of the event. But hey ho. I thought Portstewart looked stunning. I love so much about Ireland, both North and South. The story of the week for me was Matt Southgate. Matt is a top lad, with a heart of gold. I was delighted to see him get an Open spot at Cinque Ports and continue that form in Northern Ireland. Tied 2nd was a great result. Something I managed in 2015. And then I saw the prize money breakdown and realised that you could win three €1 Million events, and not earn as much money as Matt did for coming Tied 2nd. Now having finished Tied 2nd myself at an Irish Open not long ago, I know which is tougher, and it isn’t the Tied 2nd part. It’s the winning three €1 Million events. This wouldn’t be a big issue if the rankings weren’t solely down to money, but they are, even though it says points. Because up until the final three events, the points do correlate to money earned. 

The Scottish Open unfortunately I didn’t get to watch much of. Again though, like the Irish Open, the story of the week to many was another British player Callum Shinkwin. I didn’t see what happened on the 72nd hole but whether he won or not, whichever way you look at it, it was a great result for Callum. As I referred to in a tweet, I played with him in France on Day Four. He shot eighty something and was clearly devoid of confidence and any sort of ball control. But it was obvious he had potential as he has a lot of speed. Anyway, after his 2nd place finish, I noticed he vaulted up the Race to Dubai into 19th position. So I went over to the PGA Tour website to check out who was occupying 19th spot on that Tour, and take a look at their results. Sergio Garcia actually occupies that spot currently. He won a major which I thought may distort my point a bit, so I looked at 20th- Wesley Bryan. He’s won once this year, had 3 other top 5’s, and 1 other top 10. Callum’s season consists of one 2nd place finish and 2 top 30’s. At this point, I want to reiterate what I said at the top, this isn’t an attack on Callum. I was delighted for him. I’m trying to prove another point; that this Rolex Series has distorted the Race to Dubai like something you’d see in a Tim Burton film. 

From what I understand, one of Keith Pelley’s tasks was to produce bigger prize funds to attract the better players. He’s clearly done this, although some notable top players haven’t even shown up for one of the Rolex Series events yet so I’m still to be persuaded that this will work. Either way, no doubt playing for bigger prize funds is one way to attract certain players. My concern is not only about what’s just played out, but also, with the PGA Tour planning on turning every ‘regular’ event into a $10 Million prize fund, where does this leave the European Tour? I think it leaves it stifled again in the same way as before, but this time around, distorted as seen above with the disparity between players earnings enormous, and not indicative of true season form. 

I will stand up for Keith Pelley at this point though and say that an alternative to this is hardly forthcoming. It’s clear that the Tour has moved towards a ‘top player’ policy. This isn’t good or bad, I have no preference. But as with every policy enforced in the world, there are unintended consequences. And I think these are embarrassing as we see them now. The Access List is something that simply had to be done. If you are a Qualifying School graduate like myself, and didn’t happen to have a good week at a Major like myself, it would appear the Access List is likely your only chance of retaining ‘full’ playing privileges next year. To those who question this, I’ll point you to Laurie Canter who this year has played for a combined total of roughly €13 Million Euros. Compare that to somebody who has missed every €1 Million event or below in Europe and not travelled once to South Africa, but who has played the rest, and you have roughly €46 Million being played for. This is minus majors and WGC’s also. 

I’m personally quite staggered at these numbers. 

To finish, as I said at the top, nothing against anybody mentioned above, I just felt some facts had to be highlighted. This isn’t me complaining either, those who know me will tell you that I’m not some raging communist who wants unadulterated equality, I want struggle and I want competition, it’s what separates us. But what I see above is taking those things a little too far. I’m personally quite pessimistic as to the outlook for the Tour, not down to anything Keith can or is doing, more to do with where I see the global economy heading, but I’m a golfer and I should stick to what I do best. And that’s walking my dog. 

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Erin Hills 

The road into Erin Hills is dusty, stony and bumpy. I’m in my Lexus though, number 212, so it’s cool. At the first checkpoint is a young lad with a policeman. They wave me through, I’m heading to Lot A. I drive a little further and soon reach checkpoint number 2. Another young lad, this time with no policeman, just his iPod. He’s actually sitting down and fast asleep. I cruise past him. Thought about beeping the horn but remembered I’m in on an ESTA. The road then turns right and takes a sharp left soon after, and it gets particularly bumpy at this point. My flat white is close to spilling. Now I head straight for about 300 yards, I can see the driving range on my left. The ginormous flags are blowing. I’m getting close to Lot A. A man is guarding checkpoint 3, waving a baton around. As I get really close it becomes clear that this guy is happy to be here. He’s not simply waving a baton, he’s doing a jig, smiling, and welcoming me into car park Lot A. This guy is a highlight. So I turn left and drive into Lot A. All I can see are brand new Lexus SUV’s. This is a major. This is the US Open. This is America.  

The first shot of every tournament is usually the most anxious I get. It can be a place that reaffirms things, but it can also be a place that causes panic, should things go awry. Thankfully this time, I hit a nice solid draw down the middle. My US Open started the way I left Austria; by hitting the driver well. This was maybe the most important moment of my week because it confirmed that everything I’ve done up until this point in preparation is correct, and repeatable. The lay up with a 4 iron is dead simple and I nailed it. I was left with under 100 yards into the green with quite a strong wind behind me. This is where Bob Vokey’s brand new 60 degree lob wedge comes out… For the first time to hit a shot of this nature. All of a sudden I’m shitting it a little bit. Because I’m now aware of the extra degree of loft, the thinness of the grip, and the sharper leading edge. Time to trust. Which I did nicely and played quite a brave shot, landing it behind the pin and spinning it back to six feet. I get to the green and they are pure. I’ve got an easy, slightly uphill, but still very fast left to right six footer. Again, time to trust. All I’ve worked on are left to right putts in practice to help me release the putter head. I aim it left lip, stroke it, in she goes. The Pepper Army are screaming already and I’m off to a perfect start. 

The ninth hole at Erin Hills can only be described as disgustingly wonderful. It was never more than a nine iron all week, yet never less than a headache. The pin on Friday is back left. Fairly accessible if you’re good at landing golf balls from 150 yards onto a car roof. The wind is from the right as it has been all week. I’m aiming slightly right of the flag, hoping to hit it straight and let the wind move it onto the pin, and praying it’s good for distance. I aim a little too far right in hindsight and the ball lands a couple of yards short of ideal and trickles down a tier to the edge of the green. I’m now thinking I can three putt this and be ok for the weekend. But I’m not kidding you when I say a four putt is possible. I’ve got a forty footer up the ridge, but downwind, and the hole is cut on a slight downslope as I putt to it. Which means anything too heavy handed could end up close to the bunker the other side. But I’m also very aware that if I’m short with it, it’s back to my feet. I hit a good putt, it hits the left edge of the hole and spits the ball five foot from the hole. I’m left with a right edge, five foot putt, knowing I’ve made the cut if I miss, but desperate to hole it so I can shoot under par because I’ve fought so hard to be in this position. I release the putter and in it goes. The stress, fear and anxiety I saw in my dad’s face all day washes away like a pint of lager. Those hugs on Friday after making the cut were nice. 

Weekends are when I climb the leaderboard, I’m telling myself as I wash my body with my Coco Sandalwood flavoured Molton Brown body wash. I’m ready for the weekend. The stress of Friday has passed and I know I’m playing well enough to go out and shoot a good score. Not 63 though. What the hell was that. Nobody can match Jonny Miller’s record of 63. Nobody is worthy. I left the course four shots back, 15 minutes later I left the BBC Radio 5Live studio seven shots back. My hopes of winning are pretty much dashed. But getting drawn out with Sergio Garcia soon wipes away any despair I’m feeling. 

Sergio Garcia even has his own grips. I made myself laugh on the first tee because I looked at his bag and I saw what it must be like to be your own affectation, minus all the self-serving narcissistic tendencies, because Sergio really is a nice guy. Just has his own grips, that’s all. Mind you, the blue ran off the grips and onto his glove. By the end of the round it looked like he had strangled a Smurf.  

It was the two foot tap in on the 72nd hole that I actually found to be most nerve wracking. At this point I knew things could only get worse. I became very aware of my putter grip pressure and had to remind myself that this two foot putt really isn’t difficult if you focus on the things that preceded this moment. 

Being able to shake hands with Sergio Garcia, edging him by a shot, not because I played great or he played bad, or because of anything even golf related, but because I dug in deep, knowing that this round was potentially the most important of my year, was very satisfying. I knew I wasn’t going to win, or finish in the top ten, so I was slightly disappointed, but I also knew that I left nothing out on that course all week. 

Tied 16th, I hope will one day be nothing to tell my grand-puppies about. But right now it’s as close as I’ve got to telling anyone what it’s like to walk away from a tournament feeling proud. 

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