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.