Some LIV Golf Thoughts ..

I haven’t spent a great deal of time thinking about LIV Golf generally. While off the golf course, my mind tends to wander in a single direction and that’s very much away from the game and instead at financial markets and the economy. How or why exactly I came to be interested in such things is something I’ve never fully understood. What I do find fascinating about the world of finance is its interaction with human behaviour, how that drives cycles, and how the inevitability of laws are bent over time via narratives and perceptions, manipulated by our good selves of course. We surely are at unusual times in both golf, and the economy. While golf is witnessing a major power struggle between the two main tours and a disruptive so called start-up, markets have largely forgotten about the crazed IPO’s of 2020/21 and instead are confronting a much larger foe, namely inflation.

It’s a good job LIV Golf isn’t being offered up publicly in 2022. The cravings for overpriced promises have sunk. When the Super League was touted a year or so ago in football, at least the teams involved were at the top of the game. The current golfing equivalent is tantamount to Chelsea, Everton and Newcastle seeking participation. I don’t want that to come across as overly rude to the names involved, I have been and continue to be an admirer of their achievements, it’s just at some point you have to recognise the current picture for what it is. This was my point in my tweet about ROI. I know the Saudi’s have an almost unlimited pool of cash. But I also believe they will not continue to fund an endeavour to the tune of hundreds of millions, unless bigger stars show up. It would surely be felt as such an embarrassment, and given the primordial nature of the source, reputation will matter.

In the interest of fairness, I am duty bound to see it from the eyes of those who have signed up. Particularly those who are of a similar age to me. Of course, I have a good friend who has chosen to play LIV Golf and we have had discussions about it. My biggest concern right now if I was someone breaking through over here in Europe would be; how do I get across onto the PGA Tour? The avenue has narrowed, and with the OWGR changes coming in, it will narrow further. One of Keith Pelley’s aims has to be securing a route to the PGA Tour as no CEO of any business should want to deal with ambitious individuals who feel curtailed in their future opportunities and overall career progression. This is something that so far hasn’t been communicated very well to the membership, and although I believe there are plans in the pipeline, it would be in the best interest of all parties involved to inform us sooner rather than later. But beyond this uncertainty, I don’t see a solid reason for heading across to play LIV Golf. Other than the money of course. But I’m more of the Bob MacIntyre mould.

One thing we can be sure of is that this is now about power. And during such times, relatively extraordinary things can happen, as we have all seen in recent times both politically and geopolitically. As an onlooker, it is clear to me that at the moment the major corporate partners of both the PGA Tour and the DP World Tour are committed to one another. Additionally, major companies have decided to cut ties with individuals who have moved across. This is another example of what we have seen happen in Russia. Big corporations wield enormous influence and are being upheld to the highest standards across society. Which brings me to ESG (Environmental, Social, Governance). Companies now have a duty to commit to ESG targets, and in some circumstances even if they wish to receive funding from certain quarters. It might come as no surprise to many of you that I’m no fan of ESG as a concept, but it is a reality we now have to live with. Over time therefore, I would say it is less likely major corporates will side with any endeavour that doesn’t have within it certain ESG targets. (let alone ones that pay out circa $30million a week to 50 guys, if wider economic upheaval persists) What this effectively ensures then is that LIV Golf will remain solely funded by the Saudi’s. And although the funding likely wont be a problem, it leaves the whole project reliant on the whims of a subsidiary of an authoritarian regime in the Middle East. Not making a moral judgement when I say that, just adding that volatility is something that probably accompanies such a regime.

One final point I would make, and this isn’t something I’ve not said before, but ultimately this is fundamentally something to be avoided as if it takes off, then over time it will have the effect of accruing almost all of the wealth in the hands of the very few. I am all for wealth creation, there aren’t many better feelings than earning a lot of money and I’ve been fortunate to do so at times (long ago!). But one thing I do believe is that money trickles down about as effectively as something else does down a sock… (remains maybe my only Twitter regret) Even Paul Krugman now acknowledges this. (The money part..) One major challenge all ecosystems face is to ensure inequality doesn’t run amok. A black hole will over time swallow everything that gets in its way, and though it might feel good about it, it won’t have much to show for it. One of golfs most enduring and endearing aspects is the breadth of wealth it has created at the top of the game, this has allowed players from all around the world to earn a good living, and to do good things with when they get back home. It is quite unique to golf, we should fight to keep it that way in my opinion.

Admittedly there are many other points and counter points that could be made and I know this is a fairly divisive topic at the moment in golf. Ultimately, I wish everyone well in their commitments.

I still haven’t got my luggage.

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A Nice Reprieve From The Doom and Gloom

I’ve been following the markets recently with a sense of awe, wondering for the life of me how on Earth they’ve gone up through April. I don’t invest my money personally and I don’t proclaim to know a great deal about markets generally, but I hold the opinion that I suspect (hope) many people also hold, and that’s WTF! It’s fairly evident to me that central banks are the only reason markets haven’t plummeted to a level that would mirror even closely the economy, but there was something I picked up on which got me thinking about golf. It always comes back to golf with me. The markets have really only rallied off the back of a few, very large stocks. It’s not like every stock is trading up, far from it. It’s therefore becoming ever clearer that after this crisis, there will be a further concentration of wealth, both in terms of companies, and individuals. Amazon will come out of this stronger, while dozens of other retailers go bankrupt. The Pareto Principle is once again coming fully into effect.

When I think about what golf might look like after this Covid-19 crisis, and specifically how the European Tour might look, I’m left with the unshakable sense that time might be up. Golf at the professional level (I’m aware that doesn’t make up all of golf), has done a fairly brilliant job over the last decade or so of maintaining astonishing breadth relative to many other industries. It’s maybe frustrating to some who believe golf should become more like the ATP Tour in Tennis and look to concentrate the best much more often than it currently does. But I did think it was interesting to see Federer, Djokovic and Nadal apparently have discussions about helping lower ranked players financially through this time… this is what comes of an industry that concentrates wealth less liberally than others, or rather, leaves the competition to the forces of the market entirely, and thus therefore allowing the Pareto Principle to do its thing. I would generally be an advocate of this, when it’s say, Spotify, but it’s becoming clear in a crisis that actually checking these things occasionally can lead to less dislocation in dire times.

The reason I say time might be up then is because I think these remarkably strong forces are now upon us, and there isn’t much we can do that wouldn’t be politically sour. Sponsorship over the last decade or so has followed what I opined above, in that we’ve got fewer sponsors supporting the Tour, yet they give more than what sponsors on average gave 10/15 years ago or so. It therefore just takes one or two of these sponsors to withdraw, and the Tour goes from experiencing nice gains, to worrying losses. This lack of diversification probably isn’t anyone’s fault, but we cannot hide the fact that this is a precarious place to be. Also, and maybe this is more pertinent to the professional game as a whole, is that I think the veil will finally be lifted on what we perceive as ‘value’. There’s no way I provide the kind of value that warrants what I’ve been paid over the last few years, and I think that could be argued across the board. But because liquidity in some areas has been so readily available, it’s gone largely unnoticed. My inclination is that this is going to change though, not so much the liquidity part, more the actual solvency part, and so naturally I think big companies, especially in Europe, are going to have to rethink their investments. The PGA Tour might be a different story for awhile. For one thing, America tends to value individuals above all else, but more directly, while the PGA Tour has it’s NPO (Non Profit Organisation) status, it will never have to compete in the much harder, and realistic terrain that the European Tour has to. Forget Tiger for a moment, The PGA Tour continues to have politics as it’s number one asset.

I can see a scenario then whereby we have tremendous hardship, relative to our recent past, in Europe, and that we retrench back to resemble a time in the 90’s. Speaking objectively, I don’t think that’s all that terrible neccesarily. It will however create an ever larger gap between the two Tours and that’s what leads me to think the European Tour really would have no choice but to join forces with the PGA Tour. There is another possibility I suppose in that enough stimulus is provided by mum and dad, (Lagarde and Bailey), and that we can continue along the road we’ve been on. I just can’t help feeling though that like Frodo and the gang, if we stay on this road for too long, we will eventually get found out.


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A Common Enemy

Many interesting stories have occurred in golf in recent months. Unsurprisingly we have been drawn into the ones where there is a villain and Patrick Reed has fit the bill quite beautifully on that front. He’s doing golf both a disservice and a service at the same time. We might not want to be thankful for it, but objectively speaking we maybe should be, for some areas of the wider world now have another reason to cover golf. Another fascinating story has been that of the Premier Golf League (PGL). Since Geoff Shackleford wrote about it, it’s garnered much interest from the golf(ing?) community. I enjoyed the No Laying Up podcast where they covered it and came to the conclusion I liked where they stated it might be nothing more than a thought exercise. The more I’ve thought about it, the more I think they are right. However it may have planted a seed that hasn’t been planted before, at least in my mind.

That seed is the common enemy seed. Golf, like sport in general, currently suffers from not having enough rivalries, or indeed any. In fact, if you look at the wider world in general, but in particular politics, which seems to be the world right now, we are desperately attempting to insert enemies where in reality there aren’t any. Probably not my best example but one nonetheless, fairly recently I commented on Twatter agreeing with Piers Morgan where he said there hasn’t been a better time to be alive and that the young should remind themselves of this. 140 characters didn’t give me enough opportunity to state it was that part of his video I agreed with as opposed to the medals for coming last in school part, something I have no clue about. The responses I got however were symptomatic of current debate. Agree with 20% of what someone I hate says, and you are now my enemy. It’s irrational, yet commonplace. It’s also natural, and we seemingly can’t get enough of it. What we need, is a War.

Or a pandemic to bring us together. Or, if you’re the PGA Tour and the European Tour, we need the serious prospect of the Premier Golf League. A few years ago I wrote that it would be a bad idea if the PGA Tour and European Tour merged, to create a World Tour. But, if I now have to choose between that or the PGL, then I’d choose the World Tour every time. Thinking conspiratorially for a second, I wonder if someone has plotted this to have the effect of creating a common enemy, as to make the chances of a World Tour more likely? Thinking slightly more realistically, I doubt that’s the case and instead we just have an assortment of individuals, trying to see a gap in a market and exploit it with (currently) porous Saudi money and investment from a Japanese bank with a recent history of very poor investments. Either way, it’s worked in terms of changing the way I see something I previously disliked; a World Tour.

For what it’s worth, I think the PGL is a pretty terrible idea. Not only do I think it would rupture many of the traditions of golf, which are mostly good, but I don’t think it would even work in terms of garnering the kind of attention some people think it would. In my opinion, what we have in the West isn’t a problem with the structure of our sports, it’s a problem of over consumption. We are 25 years or so into a boom in television consumption, how many other things do you think would bore you after 25 years? I don’t think the PGL would give us enough of a shock to overcome the stagnation many of us are feeling. I don’t know what that shock is, but I think it’s something more severe. At 29, I’m more convinced than ever however that familiarity breeds contempt. This phenomena isn’t the issue though, as it’s naturally occurring, where things start to go wrong is in how we perceive the truth and then react. And by buying into the notion that the PGL would bring about sufficient change as to breathe life back into a game that is hardly dying alone, would in all likelihood just be breathing more vigour into the wallets of a small few at the very top.

Cue accusations of me being a communist, or worse, a Jeremy Corbyn supporter… (I can’t support someone who has to declare his gender pronouns when they look like Jeremy Corbyn) I’m not anti people earning big money, I’m for it, providing it correlates in some way approximating the value they provide to wider society. Of course, in 2020, most of us can probably agree that rarely happens. (evident in my own earnings over the last couple of years) Whether it’s footballers getting paid ludicrous sums, or Phil vs Tiger for $9 Million, when we all know, that the market for that doesn’t exist, it’s merely a perceived value that’s journeyed well into fairyland, much like the S&P 500. I’m sure the tide will turn…

In terms of me, and my golf, I’m currently in the air en route to Qatar. As I said in a tweet earlier, I withdrew from Oman over fears of getting stuck abroad due to this Coronavirus. I’ll be honest, I’ve swallowed myself up in information surrounding this outbreak and while it might be true I’ve swallowed too much fear, I do think it poses much more of a threat than many people are willing to realise. Although, being 29 and naive when it comes to pandemics, I’m possibly overreacting. I’m here to give myself a shot at qualifying for the WGC Matchplay which will be my only route into The Masters. It’s a risk I felt worth taking. In preparation for a potential lockdown I did book myself into the Four Seasons mind, so if I do get locked down, don’t feel too sorry for me…

One final thing, there might be a podcast on the horizon… There just aren’t enough of them floating around at the moment.

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TPC Sawgrass

I hadn’t snapped a club all year until the Tuesday of Sawgrass during a practice round. I was hitting a 5 iron into the 7th hole and after hitting what was ironically one of my better shots that day, though still not good, I smashed the club into my bag, bending it severely, and then proceeded to throw it Rory McIlroy style into the lake for the alligators to feast on. It was an act of petulance, borne out of frustration. I walked in after my third shot into the par five 9th, waving goodbye to Alex Noren from a distance who I was playing with. I went straight back to my hotel room for a nap.

My first ever shot into the famous 17th hole was on Wednesday during my practice round. It was into a slight breeze and I landed it straight in the water short of the green. It was definitely the most nervous I’ve ever felt in a practice round. Mick, my caddie, managed to better me and hit it to 27 feet. Not quite good enough to win the caddie challenge, but better than his glorified boss. I did joke that thankfully, things could really only get better from that point onwards and I promised Mick, with little confidence, that I would make a two come Thursday… I must be more confident in the future.

Waking up Sunday, turning on the Golf Channel to watch the interminably repetitive yet addictive coverage of the Players Championship, I saw Martin Kaymer dropping on the 1st hole after hitting it into the water hazard off the tee. A hazard that wasn’t in play Thursday and Friday due to the wind direction, now very much was. That first tee shot was probably the most fearsome of the day for me, not only because it was the first shot of the round, but because I know I can hit the necky flare with consummate ease. Thankfully, my necky flare ended up in the bunker.

I would have a hard time remembering a round in my career where my short game was as good as it was yesterday at Sawgrass. What made it quite bizarre was that my short game of late, along with pretty much every other aspect, has been really pretty shit. I thinned a simple 5 yard bunker shot in Mexico 30 yards through the green. These shots unfortunately stay with me longer than I would prefer, so it means during the period of transition from bad to good, I need to ensure I trust my technique beyond what would usually be sufficient. It would appear, that certain aspects of my game can seemingly be pretty awful one week, and surprisingly decent the next. I’ve clearly improved however at competing and trusting my intuition and skill when things do take an upward turn.

It’s hard to describe what standing on the 17th tee at Sawgrass feels like during a practice round, let alone while being in contention to win an event. I had a brief look around walking onto the tee at all the people surrounding the hole, though, I’m far more comfortable looking at the ground when people are cheering me on, so I didn’t take in too much. I generally feel too inadequate to lap up the adulation. At 140 yards to the pin, it’s a pretty nice number for a 9 iron, as the wind was into and from the right. It’s luckily one of those shots where you can’t bail out, which is the reason I could see a career on that hole which includes many birdies, because you’re choices are limited. There’s really not much room for fear. After hitting my 9 iron to 50 feet, I went back to the bag and said to Mick and Lordy (Justin’s caddie), “at least its fucking dry.”

Weirdly, I didn’t think the putt I had was too difficult. The two breaks in the putt were blindingly obvious. I also knew it wasn’t as fast as I remember seeing historically as I’d practiced a similar putt during the practice round. It was a case of reading the last half of the putt first, then picking the apex point, and then fully trusting your feel. Golf under pressure is often simply just trusting your feels. And breathing. Exhale fully. The crowds chanting “EDDIE, EDDIE, EDDIE” after I holed the putt reminded me of a time when I was at school, oh, no it didn’t. It felt strange being the centre of attention on such a massive stage.

The highlight of my unrecognisable fame came in 2015 when I went on Question of Sport. During the walk in entrance, we were told to take in the ovation from the crowd. This would’ve been fine if I’d have had some alcohol beforehand, or indeed, if I got the impression people in the crowd knew who the hell I was.

TPC Sawgrass is so good.

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Bryson and My Knights.

While walking Gus the other week, I was trying to analogise golf with chess. I figured, chess in principal has only two defining features; the board and the pieces. Obviously it’s played by two people, and winning and losing depends on how skilfully you move the pieces, within the boundaries. Therefore, it appears there’s a third part to chess which is easily relatable to golf, whereby skill is learnt over time and how you reflect on that feedback, will ultimately improve, or not improve, your efficacy when moving across the board against your opponent, or shooting lower scores.

Golf is identical to chess in the sense that the pieces never really change. We use the same size balls, similar arrangement of clubs (always 14), we stand roughly the same etc.. Golf also has the competitive element that chess has, as well as any sport or endeavour. Where it became blurry to me though was defining the boundaries. Chess has four sides built in, which determine many rules. Golf doesn’t have any sides, and therefore learning to be more effective in golf isn’t so clear. It dawned on me that the four sides in chess, aren’t just limitations, they’re structures which create more obvious pathways. I think, to improve in golf, you really need to build in your “four sides” if you like. Parameters, defined often by what you can’t achieve, don’t act as a limitation in golf, they act as a source of potential.

I think a quite simple example of this would be Martin Kaymer and how he got to world number one. He played a one dimensional game off the tee certainly. But within that one dimensional strategy, also lied a great strength. Being able to hit “all the golf shots” guarantees you nothing, because you take a large risk in giving up what you do automatically, and often without significant failure, all in the search for something more promising. Ones unknowable future therefore, is likely another’s past.

What’s quite interesting about Bryson DeChambeau is how he’s only mildly adapted one of the constant features of golf; his length of clubs. This is a small change when you consider the breadth of things golf incorporates. Yet, his potential for disruption, and transformation is stunning. I’m inclined to say his potential for domination is also stunning. It’s easy to say this about many things, but maybe we do have limits to how well we can do something, provided we continue to pursue those efforts in a similar manner. Bryson is ripping up just a few pages of the rule book on this front, and yet it wouldn’t be hard to envisage a time where he becomes a dominant force.

This isn’t something we should lambast. This is potentially revolutionary and we should absolutely be celebrating his form. It might be that Bryson is to golf what Sepak Takraw is to volleyball. It’s easy to lambast someone when they’re so different, but that’s often only because we see them as a threat to what we’ve become accustomed to like, or enjoy. However It’s always worth remembering that our grandchildren probably won’t care about our emotions as much as we would like them too.

(I do have some thoughts on the Saudi event, but as the tournament is still active, I don’t think it would be right to convey any thoughts just now. What I will say is that I was pleasantly surprised by a few things, but also disappointed and demotivated by others.)

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Arabian Adventure

I’ve been trying to figure out, without the help of books or an education, whether humour is as innate to human beings as suffering. This was prompted by a tweet I received from Lawrence Donegan who criticised my tweet last night where I joked about how I only allow women into my house if they’re wearing no clothes at all. I considered responding on Twitter but 240 characters obviously isn’t enough when it comes to the topic of suffering and humour.

It seems to me that as we still have humour, it clearly has utility, else why would it exist? It might be a social construct, but I doubt that. I’m inclined to believe humour has evolved alongside us for millennia, in spite of enormous suffering and pain. In fact, there is less suffering and pain in the world now than ever before, and it would seem, if Lawrence is anything to go by, that humour is also on the decline. Maybe the supply of jokes correspond with the amount of suffering in our own worlds? The more we suffer, the more we joke. Empirically speaking, and of course relatively speaking, any suffering I’ve ever experienced has often been followed by humour. It relieves pain.

The problem with taking a moral approach to us golfers playing in Saudi Arabia this week is that it would lay bare many contradictions of the past. Like, for example, why do we play in China? Or Qatar? Or Turkey? Depending on your time scale, you could argue that every country on earth has at some point exemplified the worst that human beings have to offer, but back to 2019. It clearly is true that Saudi Arabia’s human rights record is questionable at best, and appalling to anyone in the West. But should that mean we boycott competing?

That probably depends who you are. I can really only speak for myself, and plus, remember I’m not being paid to be here, so I’m only slightly less immoral than the top guys who have showed up. For me, if I didn’t play, I sacrifice the opportunity to play against the best in the world, I miss a chance to improve my world ranking also, which objectively speaking, does hold some importance for me, since if I fall out of the Top 50 before April then I won’t be eligible for a PGA Tour event I have scheduled to play. And that means losing flights etc and having to pay for new ones, which you might say is no problem because I’ve earned a lot of money lately, though resentment isn’t good for anybody.

This week throws up a not new conundrum for us then; that competition supersedes morality. If I don’t show up, the field doesn’t reduce a spot, somebody takes it. With over 7 Billion people in the world, our futures might give us all an opportunity to choose between morality and survival. This isn’t to say morality isn’t important and should never be acted upon, but it is to say that there’s a reality to the world that while we might all dislike, still exists.

On top of all of this, maybe, just maybe, the Regime out here really do want to change. Maybe they’ve recognised the perilous state of their own affairs and in particular their reliance on a fossil fuel that won’t be here forever. It might be true that they want to Liberalise their Kingdom so that they can be competitive themselves in the future. Why should we Westerners not accept this, if it is true? After all, aren’t we the true purveyors of forgiveness?

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Back To The Future

Back early in 2018, when Justin Thomas holed out on the 72nd hole in Mexico to get into a playoff, I remember tweeting something along the lines of “If Tiger had of done that, we would all be getting the tissues out.” Of course, tissues referring to masturbation. 2018 has been a fascinating year for me, I’ve won two golf tournaments, I’ve experienced a number of different health events from ending up in hospital to doing my back in, and I’m now followed on Twitter by Ann Summers. One thought I’ve had this year though has kept on popping up; Sports stars of the early 2000’s, continue to wield enormous power.

There’s an emptiness in today’s generation of achievements, of which mine are meagre. Modern standards however are fighting for exposure and excitement in a world where consumers have embedded within them memories of a recent past. I think in golf this year, certain accomplishments have warranted more of a viral dance, but we’re not dancing. We’re stumbling up the hill of consumption while exhausted. And bored. Until Tiger comes along, then BANG, a shot of adrenaline, like Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson. Tiger being the doctor, Sherlock being the consumer. While the efficacy of modern medicine is gradually wearing thin, certain sports stars of the early 21st Century still contain within them the antidote to numbness.

Golf isn’t unique in this. Bizarrely, something I never imagined would happen, did happen in 2018, whereby I drew comparisons (in my own head) between golf and WWE Wrestling. WWE has a similar problem to golf in that its pull seems to lie in showcasing the stars of yesteryear. ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin, Triple H, The Undertaker, these legends, continue to perform to salivating crowds much in the same way Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson do. I say ‘problem’ not because this isn’t good, or exciting, but because fairly soon, golf and WWE are going to have to stand on its own two feet without these stars being part of it. And that’s going to be challenging, for a number of reasons.

PewDiePie (YouTuber) has 75 million subscribers. His audience is dominated by 16-24 year olds. More and more it seems, young adults are becoming addicted to sites such as YouTube, and this is a wildly different form of consumption to what we’ve been used to. Finding a way of converting these people from YouTube to sports coverage isn’t something I have the faintest clue in how to do, but I’m not under the impression it can, or will happen naturally. If the future therefore isn’t subscription services through television, golf among other sports, will have to find a way of exploring this, without losing the revenue it currently receives through television rights. Competing in a world where gaming and cosmetic tutorials rule the roost might be tough.

In 2019, the European Tour will have a Legends Category. Within this category are roughly 12 players who are, as defined by the tournament committee’s parameters, ‘Legends.’ Within this group are players such as Bernhard Langer, Colin Montgomerie and Ian Woosnam, just to name a few. It goes without saying, they are legendary, and I have as much respect for their careers as anyone. However, for these guys to be eligible to gain entry into events like the BMW PGA at Wentworth ahead of guys who finished 30th on the R2D in 2018 (without winning), seems to me to be somewhat odd. This type of category exposes the very nature of what I talked about above (eluding specifically to WWE), in that we will seemingly do anything and everything to make it so that stars of the past can continue to be paraded in an attempt to bring in viewers. This may prove to be valuable and indeed effective, but for how long, and at what cost? When we undercut skill in this way, I believe we risk validating the idea of entitlement above the virtue of competence.

It would therefore seem that golf currently sits in the void between young people who consume via the internet on sites such as YouTube, and the elderly population who continue to enjoy television, even in spite of the burgeoning costs, that seem to want to be reminded of the excitement they felt around the turn of the century when television took off, and sportsmen became stars.

I don’t even think this problem is exclusive to golf and WWE. Tennis is likely experiencing a similar problem. Tennis is a nice example for me to use because I myself cannot imagine a time in the future where I could stop drooling nostalgically over Roger Federer. Maybe, the elderly amongst us would say they feel the same way about Andre Agassi, but it’s not clear to me that we’ve at all transitioned over to the modern generation of sports stars yet. Some might say that’s because they are ‘boring’ or ‘advised,’ therefore not themselves. It might be that we are all bored of television and consumption in this format.

Finally, if sport can find a way of recapturing people’s interest and vigour, then maybe politics will return to the quieter niches of coverage, where some might say it belongs. The politicalisation of sports is maybe just an attempt to regain this share of the pie. The world would be a much better place however, if politics took on more of what sport is about.

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A Sting In The Tale

“He deals the cards, as a meditation.”

There really is nothing like the present. I hope Aaron Rai and his dad are enjoying his success. I’m sure they are. The present moment has an allure to it I find, the past barely relevant, and the future important. Aaron deserves more credit than many will realise, because he never succumbed to the present, he and his dad, as far as I can tell, had a vision for him that extended well beyond the horizon. His unwavering commitment to his own process is rare. 

When I was growing up, once I reached a certain standard I was invited to be part of national squads. Their understanding of “what it takes” was something I never questioned. I had little idea what I was doing, I was just a good golfer, breaking the occasional course record, and golf clubs. The only golfer who I can recall having such an idea of the future and what would be required to be a succesful Tour pro, was Tom Lewis (and his dad). Tom often did his own thing, not taking much notice of the coaches during training camps. He and his dad had a vision. A vision which proved to be fruitful, as Tom won one of his first events as a Pro on the European Tour. For Aaron, it’s fair to say that process has taken a bit longer, but that process was more extreme in his case, and it’s eventually yielded success. More extreme because he turned down the whole England Golf experience entirely.  

I came across Aaron when I was 12 or 13, during our Wee Wonders years! But then I didn’t hear of him again until about two years ago, when he was winning on the Challenge Tour. The two gloves, iron head covers, and every other idiosyncracy Aaron possesses is a highlight of his unusual approach and style. Aaron is quiet, but extremely polite. He and his dad asked to speak to me a couple months ago at the British Masters because he had some concerns regarding a couple of issues. He came to me because of the fact I’m on the Players Committee and I guess, because I’m of similar age. This made me happy as that was a central reason I put myself forward to be on the Committee, so that other younger players (like myself) would hopefully come forward and feel comfortable speaking to someone when they had concerns. I feel proud of Aaron, not because I know him particularly well, but because he represents the kind of success that is highly unusual. He has shown a lot of resolve in becoming a very good golfer, and better still, a level of individuality that poses risks.

There are obviously different kinds of successful people in life, across all industries. There are men and women who tread paths which we would consider “conventional” and when they reach the dizzy heights, nobody is surprised. Also, when a person meets an expectation of them, it can end up feeling like somewhat of an anti-climax. Something that is surely slightly depressing for everyone involved. This is why I love short-sellers (economics). If I was an investor, I would probably end up a short-seller. I’m skeptical of all things good, I admire people who swim against the current, and I think proving people wrong is wonderful. Ann Coulter provided a highlight of 2016 for me, when she predicted Donald Trump would win the US Election. Everyone laughed in her face, yet she was proved correct. Aaron doesn’t remind me necessarily of Ann Coulter, but he is the kind of guy who will raise his head above the parapet (less publicly than Ann Coulter), and not be too concerned with what people think. We should really celebrate these types people. 

Being young and ignorant and absolutely unaware of what is required to be great at something can feel like quite a terrifying thing. But once you get older, and things become clearer, and when success of sorts arrives, it comes with a reality that I sometimes find gut wrenching. A feeling of, “is that it?” “Is this feeling meant to be my reward for all the years of suffering and hard work?” Unfortunately, I think this represents adulthood for many. The journey of discovery is like nothing else. My first Thorntons chocolate was heavenly, now I just feel fat. The more that journey can be “your own”, the more it can be full of failure, shithousery, shame, intuition and decisions that you yourself make, the better the eventual success will feel. That’s why I find the present frustrating, because I find making sense of it difficult, and sometimes sad. Whereas the future is where the mind is liberated. 

“He deals the cards to find the answer.”  

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Form and Reflection

I’ve spent two weeks doing many things; eating, walking the dog, thinking, drafting blogs etc.. I really haven’t been sure what to write about, not because there aren’t things I want to say and messages I want to convey, but because those thoughts I’ve been having have been conflicting in a way. Dare I say it, my recent success has almost caused a sense of affliction, which in itself, is slightly depressing.

An example of this was the other day when after training, I fancied a coffee and some Thornton’s chocolates, as you do. I drove 10 minutes to the Orchard Centre in Didcot which has recently been renovated and now lies a Starbucks and an M&S food hall. I got my flat white and wandered up the hill towards Thornton’s, my mouth watering at the thought of demolishing a pack of Viennese truffles. Along the way though, I seemingly witnessed every man, woman and child, who while all appeared happy enough, clearly weren’t as privileged as me. Therein lies my first affliction; “but I’ve earned this privilege.” At this point I’m the recent beneficiary of being pretty good at something, though not sensational, but critically, now very wealthy. After all, only a few days ago over £500,000 was transferred into my bank account. Let’s go spend some money on coffee and fine chocolate. “At this point last year, I was probably writing a blog about Ryan Fox earning shit loads of cash and having the potential to buy a yacht, what is this system?” The irony. So I collect the chocolates, three packets for £9.50. Not cheap I know, but these aren’t your average chocolates. “There’s £10, keep the change, thanks.” The least I can do.

When it comes to money, I hope I have enough curiosity to stop it consuming me, and confusing me even more.

I remember back in February, sitting in my hotel room in Oman, talking to Jen on the phone and telling her how unhappy I was. I seriously did not want to be there. I wanted to be at home with her and the dog. I hadn’t played well at the start of the year and I was currently playing a golf tournament addressing the ball by the hosel, under the impression that I’d discovered something revolutionary that would change my form… Yeah, really. Fast forward a few months to the Monday of the French Open, and after another poor nights sleep due to a very un-British summer, the thought of travelling to France all of a sudden felt overwhelming. There wasn’t an ounce of me that felt ready to go and compete. I don’t like terms, but I was concerned I was depressed, or certainly experiencing an episode. So I withdrew right there and then without telling anyone. It took me an hour or so to tell Jen. I didn’t find telling her very easy. I lied to everyone else. I find lying generally despicable and soul destroying.

Here’s what’s crazy about being a golfer, and a human being I presume, is that days after feeling such emotions and having darker than ideal thoughts, you can go and achieve something really great. It’s totally fucking messed up. And that’s what leads me onto Form…

One thing Qatar and Scotland had in common, was that they both came after very recent emotional lows, if you like. But what makes them even more similar, is that in both cases I travelled to the event with something new to look forward to; working on form. (Technique) When I started with Simon Shanks (added his surname to bring some much needed comedy for a second here) in Qatar, we instantly worked on something new. As that week went on and as I obviously started to play better, which was almost entirely a byproduct of a new technical focus, my mental state changed. My alcohol consumption didn’t, but I’ll blame Dave at IMG for that. (… A theme is developing here…)

What I’d experienced in Qatar I then rediscovered in Scotland. I visited Mike Kanski (Phil Kenyon’s taller sidekick) at Formby Hall en route to the Scottish Open and we spent two hours together. It was an extremely productive session and we identified some significant technical flaws in my putting stroke. From there I continued on up to the Scottish Open with something technical to work on with my putting in the hope it would turn the ship around. It worked, and again, I was happier on the course, and in general. One thing I want to add about that journey to see Mike, was that Jen was instrumental in me going. We hit a traffic jam on the M40 and I was two hours late to the lesson. Mike kindly waited for me, but Jen forced me to go after I said a number of times how I should just not bother and get to Scotland at a reasonable time. Sometimes you need a reasonable person in your life, especially if you’re the golfer.

Success is so clearly down to the details you sometimes wouldn’t even consider.

So that privilege I felt at Didcot, was wrong. The money is what it is, but real privilege is having people like Jen, and Simon, and Mike. It affords me those Thornton’s. I suppose I’m still pretty sure It came about through decision making. After all, you need to plant the people in your life who give you oxygen when you’re most in need of it, like I was in Oman and the weeks before Scotland. So to them, the drinks are on me. 🍷

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READ THIS… If You Have The Time

As my Twitter feed would suggest, arguing that slow play isn’t what’s killing the game of golf right now is tantamount to arguing for Tommy Robinson to be treated ‘more fairly’ by the justice system. You’ll get shut down on both counts. One for a superior reason, I would agree. I think being considered a ‘slow golfer’ right now is as bad as being a migrant during an economic downturn*. The famous scene from The Big Short where the narrator sarcastically remarks that bankers were jailed after the Great Recession, but then proceeds to remove the wool from our eyes and remind us that poor people and migrants would take the blame for the ensuing pain ahead, kind of makes me think Bryson DeChambeau is playing the hospital nurse.

In all seriousness, we like difference only when that difference suits are ideals. Take Beef, or Renato Paratore, both great guys, very good golfers, and great for golf in a number of ways. Beef because of his image and popularity with the crowds due to his infectiousness and Renato because he hits a shot faster than it takes to warm up a bowl of Dolmio in the microwave**. At another time in our history, or maybe at a time in our future, Bryson DeChambeau would be popular for his incredible innovation and insight into our conventionally one dimensional game (technically speaking). But right now, poor old Bryson just gets lamented because he takes too long to hit a shot. While I agree, he does take longer than many of us would prefer, to look beyond his skill and success is at best unfair. For what it’s worth, I am willing personally to deal with twenty more seconds of airtime to watch this mad scientist win golf tournaments a completely different way.

Onto my central points about slow play not being the reason the game of golf is currently experiencing some participation issues. I should say here, that I don’t deny slow play is an issue for some. Frankly, I hate slow play. I hate waiting too. The main reason I prefer to fly Business Class***. (Provided I am seated in the correct cabin) Since 2007, golf participation rates have gradually declined, year over year in the UK. As they have in tennis also, it’s probably worth mentioning. I was only 16 years old back in 2007. I don’t remember exactly how long a round of golf took back then, I was too busy losing to Oscar Sharpe every week. I also don’t remember the economy ‘booming’ or my mum and dad spending more money than they should have. What I do know about 2007 now however is that things began to take a turn in the global economy, culminating in a significant recession in 2008 and 2009. The reason this is important in the golf discussion is because all charts will show a direct correlation between the general health of the economy, and participation in golf. Contrary to what some may believe, not even Tiger Woods’ victories had any impact on golf participation rates (in the US). This makes abundant sense to me, due to the costs of golf and the time constraints inherently built into the game. If people are generally poorer, they will spend less money on their recreational hobbies. If people are poorer, but their costs of living remain the same as before, they will work more to bridge that gap in earnings. So people either become poorer with the same amount of time available to them, or ‘time poor’ as they attempt to make up for a loss in earnings. Nothing new here.

Apportioning blame is something we have historically been pretty bad at too, due to a number of factors no doubt. Possibly the main one being the effects that the media, and general sentiment, have on us. As opposed to thinking rationally about things and identifying the many, real causes of something, we just take whatever the popular message is and go with that, hence my reference at the beginning to migrants. I think the golf industry right now, especially in the UK, is apportioning too much blame on slow play as to the reason why golf is struggling. Firstly, and above all, we should recognise how the golf industry took off (somewhat unrealistically) along with the wealth of the Baby Boomer generation, the stock markets, and real estate markets globally. It could be said that the current downtrend we’re seeing in golf is merely a return to the norm. In fact, I would probably argue that, as it’s not just golf as an industry which is experiencing problems right now. I feel like we need a more sophisticated debate around golf, as opposed to the current one we have, whereby someone is either too slow, or hits the ball too far.

If we look at golf on a global scale, there are other, more serious reasons as to why we should be concerned for it’s short to medium term future. We have fewer and fewer juniors playing the game. Again, there are plenty of reasons as to why this is the case, Fortnite being one of them. But this is obviously of worry as they represent the future. There is no doubt in my mind, that one of the main causes of this would be due to the nature of golf not being a rewarding game in the short term. Golf doesn’t provide the instant gratification young people receive these days doing other things. I even feel this myself having been young (relatively speaking) not that long ago. I could turn on Football Manager on Monday, sign up to coach Mansfield, and by Friday be winning the Champions League.**** The unrealistic nature of reality, compared to what kids experience growing up these days, will cripple their mental health for years to come. The other concern should be that the average retirement age in the US is 64, and the average age of the Baby Boomer generation now is also 64. You may think that this will be a good thing for golf. But when you consider the discrepancies in wealth distribution among that cohort of people, as well as the fact that many of their savings are heavily invested in the biggest Bull Market in history, I suspect things won’t be so rosy for this generation too long into the future.

There are of course potential reasons to be optimistic about the future, I just haven’t come across them yet.*****

I lit a fire two hours ago and said to myself I would stop writing when it goes out. It’s right at the end of it’s life cycle is this fire, and so is this entirely pointless piece of writing. That’s the problem with topics, I find them so unfulfilling to write about because they’re divisive and you can never get everyone to agree with you. The main reason I can never be a true writer.

Golf isn’t football and football isn’t rugby. Each sport is different, and for the life of me, I cannot understand why we would want to make it something it isn’t. Difference remember is what we find appealing, and while golf may not currently be the right kind of different, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t love it.******    Just like Dear Old Bryson.

*joke 1

**unsure of this

***not a joke

****was actually Tottenham

*****sips more wine

******prepares for ‘head in the sand comments on Twatter’

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