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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We All Need Caddies

Inequality, as I am learning, is growing in our society, sometimes coincidentally, sometimes systematically. This blog is about the caddies on the European Tour. I do not believe they are necessarily victims of a calculated effort on anyone’s part, but it exists, and I would like to raise awareness on the matter as I feel their voices are not always heard.

Two weeks ago at the Czech Masters, our players lounge was under the same roof as the caddies lounge. That’s about where the similarities end unfortunately. While we tucked into some organic chicken with vegetables and pasta, free of charge, the caddies were dishing out their own money for sausages and cheese! This pissed me off on so many levels. At what point do the Tour, or the promoters of the event think it is fair for caddies to be paying for their food (and water) when the players, who let’s be honest, are by contrast considerably wealthier, get theirs for free. Admittedly this doesn’t happen at every tournament, although the same has here at the KLM. I was told that at the Made in Denmark event, the caddies were treated extremely well and given the same food as the players. This should be the case at all events.

This isn’t the only problem the caddies face on tour. It’s worth mentioning that caddies and players don’t generally sign written contracts with one another. I have been told of a few examples where a player and a caddie have agreed a contract, but that’s quite a rarity. Imagine going to work in a precarious and volatile environment, without having the basic security of a contract that at least guarantees you work for the near future? For those unfortunate people who are on zero-hour contracts, they will know how it feels. In some cases a player hires a caddie and sacks him the next week. I think it should be mandatary that every player signs a contract with his caddie, for a minimum of 3 months, therefore allowing the caddie to make travel arrangements without the fear of being stung. A trial term could be put in place, enabling the player to have at least one tournament to see whether it could work.

These are basic rights. The problem is that caddies aren’t legally a part of the European Tour. And because of the opaque nature of the relationship currently held between player and caddie, they are in a way, like dark matter; essential yet suppressed. Essential because they are required to be present at all times with any player competing, as well as being forced to wear bibs that fundamentally act as free advertisement for the sponsors.

I know some of the caddies have voiced displeasure at the way they are being treated and I’ve said to Jamie that I think he should become part of the caddies committee, as he like me, thinks change is required. I personally think the European Tour should bear the weight of the changes that will hopefully come, by either subsidising food for the caddies, or demanding that the promotor provides adequate sustenance from Monday to Sunday. Either that, or the players pay for it. By adding €20 to our entry fees each week, that, I imagine, would go a long way towards helping to pay for the caddies meals. That would equate to roughly €3,000 extra each week.

The caddies are aware that for these changes to be made, enough of them will need to come together and form some sort of union or agreement whereby they all buy into it. I would support them and I know other players would too.

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A Few Observations

Ken Brown is a nice man. His calm persona and soft tones make him truly interesting in a world where media commentators are often bellowing tripe in an effort to be heard. Ken doesn’t want to be heard. I get the impression he just likes to talk and pass on his knowledge free of any ambitions outside of personal contentment. To confirm this he offered to send me his book in the post, free of charge. I didn’t know he had released one when we spoke in the airport on my way back from Prague. I enjoyed listening to him talk about his views on putting. It was refreshing to hear someone talk about the intuitive, instinctive nature of putting, as opposed to the scientific approach we see so much of these days. I’m not saying one is right over the other, it’s just nice to have a balance of ideas floating around.


An interesting thing happened to me at The USPGA. I was on the putting green before the tournament started, on the Tuesday I think, and Marcel Siem was there with his putting coach, Phil Kenyon. I was putting to a hole and they inadvertently stood in the way of where I was putting to. Marcel hadn’t realised, but Phil had. We exchanged a few words jokingly as both Phil and my caddie Jamie, suffer from ‘Heightitus B’. Anyway, Marcel by this time stopped what he was doing, looked up and said, of me, “What’s his problem now, are we playing for too much money?” I didn’t say anything although I did think it was a strange thing to say. Now my intention isn’t to make Marcel look like a bad guy. We all say things and make irrational comments, myself included. But I thought about the comment afterwards for a while and attempted to break it down.

Let’s look at some facts, bearing in mind I’ve never said we play for too much money, god forbid; The average wage in the UK, after tax, is around £26,500. Last year I earned nearly ten times that. People roughly my age who will leave university in the next five years will likely leave with debts of between £30,000 to £40,000. I just paid off my mortgage. The comment Marcel made represents the sheer blindness to the inequality that exists today. We play for staggering amounts of money, let alone the amounts some players receive in sponsorship. Again, I don’t think Marcel is a bad person in saying what he said, he just simply reflects the attitudes many sportsmen and elite people carry; that money rules. The narrative that’s been laid in front of us in recent decades is that money does rule, and unfortunately to a large extent it does. But to suggest somebody is in the wrong for suggesting we should maybe care for sharing some of the wealth, is indicative of the rampant individualistic approach too many wealthy people share.


The European Tour announced last week that discussions are ongoing with The Asian Tour, with the possibility of merging in the future. The merging appears necessary. What wasn’t inevitable however was who The Asian Tour would initially merge with, whether it be The PGA Tour or The European Tour. I was told they had a choice and chose The European Tour. This is good news I think on the whole for the game of golf. Firstly at the top, because it lessens the chance of a “World Tour” developing, which wouldn’t diversify the money involved in golf the way it currently does and will continue to in the future. It’s also good news because I think more players representing different nationalities will progress to the higher tiers golf, adding to the already extensive list of countries represented on the European Tour. At a grass roots level, in a time where golf participation is falling, particularly in the UK, this shift eastwards, to booming economies (or so it seemed) will open the game up to more people.

There may however be another side to the coin. While the PGA Tour may (or may not) feel aggrieved by this decision, they could prosper heavily in the form of players. The fact remains that top golfers do not enjoy travelling east like they do west, unless the money is huge, often or always guaranteed, or the tournament forces them, like the HSBC Champions event, which by the way, also ensures hefty income. The chances are that we will end up seeing at least another five to ten events added to the schedule that are played in the far-east. These events, while they may end up being strong events with good purses, almost certainly won’t match what The PGA Tour can offer.

This is where a potential problem lies. In an attempt to do good business, and ensure players play for better prize money, The European Tour may eventually achieve both, but not without casualties. The business will improve, but all of the big current players, and future ones who are British and European, will move to the US full time. The only way the big players will turn up is if they receive huge sums to do so. But with so many more events likely to be held in Asia, I don’t foresee all of the sponsors paying out millions of dollars to get them top players to turn up. If this is the case then obviously The PGA Tour will be an even more desirable destination for golfers who reach the top.

Sportsmen are entertainers, we want to perform to people and show what we can do. Nothing is more exhilarating. The money is superficial. You could’ve put me on the 17th tee at St Andrews with nothing but a fiver on the line, yet with the crowds, the experience still would’ve been incredible. It’s unfortunate that the only way to ensure survival these days it seems, is to seek to gain financially.

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Settling Down Again

St Andrews was a memorable week in more ways than one. I won’t forget the feeling that ran through my normally apathetic bones when I saw that putt drop on the 16th green on Sunday. And the feeling I had as I saw my tee shot on 17 sail into a sea of yellow bricks was reminiscent of the lonely, dark, lost sensation I had at Wentworth two years ago when I pulled my 3-wood out of bounds. “Golf can be a cruel mistress” is what a friend of my girlfriend text her.

But to play golf on the biggest of all stages at St Andrews in an Open Championship is truly what dreams are made of. To step on the 1st and last tee, everyday, knowing that barring some sort of bodily malfunction a fairway will be found, and a birdie putt probable, is comforting. The week started well for me making a nice birdie at the 1st. Giving the “Pepper-Army” something to cheer for early, made the trip already rewarding. In terms of my game, I felt frustrated most of the week. I felt like I was pushing to make things happen but couldn’t quite get them too, until Sunday of course. Friday and Saturday were probably more frustrating for the spectators than the players. We get fussed over and asked about how tough it must be, but in all honesty, my lack of reasoning when attempting to answer that question during the week suggests to me it’s not that tough at all. After all, I hopped over the wall, walked across the 17th fairway and got back into bed. Not before meeting Gordon Strachan on the way! (legend)

The competition couldn’t have asked for a better finish in my opinion. There were the usual suspects up there and when Spieth holed that putt on 16 it looked for the world that he would sail to another amazing victory. But 17 is a tough cookie, I can attest to that. I read that Jason Day lost two shots during the re-start saturday morning and that that may have cost him winning. I’m not convinced. Golf tournaments are won too often by such small margins. To me this suggests that the web of cause and effect is nearly always at work. Jason Day is a good enough player to have won a major by now, and comfortably. The fact he hasn’t arguably has something to do with this phenomenon.  And it was fitting I suppose that Zach Johnson lifted the trophy on a course almost as old as the God he believes in. I’m beginning to think there may be something in this God malarky…

Looking ahead I feel that the experience of shooting a low round in a major will stand me in good stead. And the nice messages and compliments I received after that round gave me great confidence. It’s sometimes hard to see yourself objectively and so reading and hearing those words must mean that I have some good things going for me. I’m under no illusions however that my swing needs to get tighter and more controlled moving forward, and that’s something I’m excited about.

There is one more thing worth mentioning… I’m not lonely! Obviously the BBC article which came out the weekend of the Scottish Open got a fair bit of publicity in the golfing world, and I have been asked about it endlessly since. I thought it was a great article and Ben Dirs’ writing added something really nice to the piece. However there were quotes in it that were from my blog over two years ago. I’m keen to point out that those were my feelings at that particular time and many hours have elapsed since then. One thing that has been great is how many players have taken time out to say how they were impressed with the article and one has even asked to sit down and chat with me! This means a lot as it’s my peers I respect the most. To be called “the REAL most interesting golfer in the world” however is wayward. I’m not entirely comfortable with that sort of attention. It’s only a matter of time before people will be disappointed to find out all I really like doing is eating Twiglets and watching Game of Thrones.

Up next for me it is the USPGA, my third major. Only one away from the Grand Slam!

Until then,


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Will Anyone Play In The Future?

I can’t believe it, another article has been posted about declining participants in golf. Ironically, if yet unsurprisingly, this one was posted on the BBC Sport website. I enjoyed reading the comments from the public below the article, because they revealed the vastly differing opinions we all have. Some claim its to do with time and money. Some claim its because the coverage is interminable. Some even say golf isn’t a sport. And some comments are removed. (I dread to think how worn that persons keyboard must be)

There’s no question that a mixture of these reasons, and more, are culpable for the declining figures. But I think it’s important not to take too much notice of what people say. The reason I say this is because of the word people, meaning; human beings.

I don’t think it’s even worth venturing into the abyss that is the human mind, not that I know a great deal about it. Rather, I would put it like this; What do Football, Tennis, Cricket, Formula One, Boxing and Golf all have in common? A declining interest. Whether it be because of the money footballers earn, the elitism still referred to in tennis and golf. The tedious nature of cricket. The monotony of formula one, whether it be the predictability of the winner(s) or the cost to be involved. The actions of Floyd Mayweather. These are all reasons, again, among many more, that are turning people off these respected sports.

I’m not going to argue this as fact, but in my opinion, it’s as realistic to argue this as it is to argue time, cost, elitism etc as reasons. People get bored and look for new things. People get put off by overpaid, immoral sportsman. Even though there are far fewer than in other walks of life. As Russell Brand would argue, that’s probably why very few care for politics when it’s brimming with corruption and deceit.

The people in charge of golf at the highest levels have decisions to make going forward like every other industry, corporation and alike. How do you move the game forward financially (because that’s what everything is about) without affecting participance?

I’m not convinced it’s possible. I wasn’t a huge boxing fan a week ago, everywhere kept saying Mayweather vs Pacquiao could change boxing. After listening to Mayweather and reading more about his past, he deserves nothing of what he’ll get. I won’t even use me as an example for football. I’ll use my dad. He used to adore football, and although he still loves the game, he admits his love has dwindled. Why? Because of the way some footballers behave and the astronomical figures they earn.

I don’t think golf has reached this point yet. Both in terms of money or the way professional golfers behave. To me, golf as a sport still has a lot going for it. And yes, whilst it’s worrying to see participance in the sport declining, it would be more worrying to see players being booed when they walked onto a tee. More worrying to see the best golfer flaunt his money and taunt the second best for having less.

Golf will be a sport forever. As will football and the rest. New ones will come along, like cycling, and ‘steal’ other sports fans. But as long as the population continues to deepen, capitalism keeps ruling and inequality keeps growing, I’m not sure there’s a lot we can do.

From a European Tour perspective, the best thing they have done for their immediate future is move East. Despite it being uncomfortable for a lot of people, financially it’s made sense. And in the grander scheme of things, participation across the world will probably increase over time. But like other issues, moving east for financial reasons may seem a good idea initially, but eventually it will create friction.

So maybe the best thing the European Tour can do is join up with Asia. But then watch the British public bash more keyboards and play less golf. Come back West and the game will inevitably grow more at home, where it began. But money will be severely affected at the highest level.

If it’s about money, I know where I’d put mine. But the world is destroying itself because of money, so maybe it’s best to think twice.

Answering the question above; Probably not. Not even Donald Trump.

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My Black Swan

It’s interesting the difference two years can make. Roughly around this time in 2013, I wrote a blog about life on tour. As I pointed out back then, it was most definitely induced because of some boredom I was experiencing at the time. Fast forward two years and I’m sat alone, in my hotel room, awaiting my penne bolognese I’ve ordered from room service. The situation is the same, yet I don’t feel in any way the same. This tells me that actually loneliness wasn’t the reason I wrote that blog.

Before I even attempt to understand why I feel so differently, I think it’s worth noting how this is another wonderful example of what we believe we feel, and know, can be imprecise. I love these moments. This is why I love reading Malcolm Gladwell’s books, because they offer up perspectives that are both angular and abstract.

So why do I feel different? There is the most obvious reason; the fact that only yesterday I came close to winning and picked up a nice cheque. But one week ago, before I came 4th in Qatar, I still would’ve felt as content as I do now. There is the possibility it could be down to money and finances. After all I am financially far more secure than I was in 2013. But I’ve noticed that the money doesn’t make me happy. It’s made me less fearful about certain things yes, but not happier.

In truth, it’s likely a combination of the two above, along with the sensation that I’m confident about my golf at the moment, settled in a relationship, have my own space back in England to live in, and still have a caddie that makes me look like a basketball player on TV. But that’s not really the point I’m hoping to make. The point is back in 2013, before I’d had any top 10’s, any money and really, in hindsight, any true confidence in my game, I credited an open, honest and insightful blog to loneliness, even though, it had nothing to do with that.

I think looking back, that blog came from fear. When I read it back now, I am actually impressed! I don’t mean that arrogantly because I can look back at myself objectively since it was two years ago. It was genuine and I can understand how it resonated with people who travel and live a similar life to me. I think I was fearful (understandably) of a new environment, a different challenge, and also of the size and potential perils of the European Tour. But this opens up another question; why have I come through that period relatively unscathed (I say that with trepidation) when others haven’t?

It’s impossible to know for sure, and I most certainly don’t want to sound like I’m celebrating my development over others. (That’s not the goal) I’m simply curious when it comes to things like this. Some people will say it’s because of my talent, or my swing, or something entirely fallacious like my caddie. We can never be certain. But I would prefer to argue that I have managed to advance, albeit slowly at times, because of my appreciation of what each moment means. And that’s why I’m exemplifying my first blog about life on tour, because I believe it is an illustration of me doing exactly that. I’ve said it before, and I’m not a genius at it, but I try to be very good at it; nothing is more important than perspective. Jordan Spieth is great, not because he is inherently a better golfer than us other young players, but because he is sensationally smart and has found a way, very early in his career, to reach a consistent level of excellence through observation and analysis.

So the only true advice I could give to any young person is that nobody is worth knowing unless you know yourself. And that fear and (perceived) loneliness are entirely natural and you shouldn’t run away from them.

From That (and I honestly hate this bit) “Wise Old Owl”, cheers.

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I Have a Feeling

With 2014 nearing an end and the golfing calendar winding down in Europe, across the pond excitement still rages as Tiger Woods prepares for another ‘comeback’. Lots of articles are being written; predictions, swing assessments, much of what you’d expect. I’m sure Woods has heard much of it before. I’m interested to see how it pans out, as is everyone, but for me because of who he’s chosen to work with; A bio-mechanic coach called Chris Como. In a world becoming more and more technological and technical especially, Woods’ decision shouldn’t come as a surprise, and early videos of his ‘new swing’ look surprisingly void of technical thoughts and inhibition. It’s obviously too early to say but looking in from the outside, if they can achieve that natural ‘feeling’ Woods has talked about whilst combining some of Como’s expertise in bio-mechanics, I think we’ll see some great stuff.

I read in one article Woods talking about how he wants to go back to swinging it like he did at the beginning of his career. In the same article the author cleverly, (and I’m sure conveniently) pointed out to a paragraph written by Woods in his 2001 book saying how after he won the 1997 US Masters he sat down afterwards and saw 10 things he hated about his swing! He acknowledged it had performed amazingly well but still ridiculed it enough to make changes. I think it shows off not only his genius to do this but also it shows another, more complicated side of professional golfers.

It comes back to one word; feelings. They are as precious as oxygen. And, like oxygen, after a few breaths you begin a journey where only every so often are you reminded of what it feels like to appreciate a breath or rekindle a feeling. Feelings get lost and often forgotten. What I wonder is whether Woods and every other golfer experience the journey of a ‘feeling’ the way I do.

It begins on day 1, on the range most likely, and It’s fresh and unambiguous. That feeling you can’t believe has only just reared its head. Fair to say you flush it for a while. You turn up the next day and it’s still there, like your local corner shop waiting for you to come and take advantage of. But as we enter day 3 and day 4 all of a sudden that ‘feeling’ has meandered off into the darkness, into aisle 47 in Tesco’s shelved alongside the cumin spice in the “World Foods” aisle ready to be confused with and misused.

I’m convinced I’ve discovered the DNA of a feeling. Only, I’m also convinced It’s been discovered many times before. I think what I’ve detailed above happens very often with all golfers at every level. However, the top players must be able to recognise which ‘feeling’ provides the most success over a period of time no shorter than 2 years and never, ever forget it. Some of the most consistent careers in golf have surely been built around 2 or 3 feelings that are sacred to the individual. What happens is when the feeling disappears you naturally resort back to your faults. Let it happen, and be faithful in the knowledge that when the time comes, that ‘feeling’ that is right for you, will reappear and be ready to be utilised once again.

This is why I can see Tiger Woods getting back to some of his best because he will be experiencing old feelings that helped win him 14 majors. He will see old shot patterns redevelop and he’ll soon remember how to figure them out the way he used to. This guy is arguably  the smartest and most hard working player to ever play it. The only thing in this game that changes is you. We change with age, experience, fear, all sorts of things but if the DNA of a ‘feeling’ exists, and if it exists like I think it does, then 2015 onwards could be fruity for Mr Woods!

From That Wise Old Owl, cheers.

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