Play To Pay

What does the future hold for a sport so reliant on its top players? That’s where golf finds itself in my opinion. And the European Tour is in the firing line. I feel strongly about this and am concerned. It may well be me just being silly me, and hopefully it is. But I think there is a  precarious quandary in which golf at the highest level in Europe finds itself. It touches on a point I made in my last blog but I don’t think I expressed myself vigorously enough. It’s to do with appearance fees.

I am guessing now, but with hearsay in mind, I reckon if all appearance fees given to top players from the 2014 Desert Swing were poured back into the tournament prize funds, we would be playing for roughly $5-6million each week instead of $2.5million. That’s about the normal size of a PGA Tour prize fund. From what I understand, the PGA Tour doesn’t allow appearance fees. So effectively, the sponsors of these events in the Desert are pumping half the money into five or six peoples pockets. I wonder if the tour done away with appearance fees, how many top players would still come and play for $6million. My guess is quite a few.

Obviously the main reason for this situation as it stands currently is no top players would come and play without being paid hefty sums. And without them, the sponsors are understandably reluctant to pledge the same amounts as they do. Before even talking about ways this could potentially be resolved, I want to express my concerns with what is happening. Some players are being, dare I say it, a bit greedy. It’s easy for me to say that I know as I’m not in their fortunate situations, but the truth remains. To put it another way, some players are only returning to play on the tour that has paid (some of) them (well) over £15million in their careers, if they can be paid another large sum for just turning up. It epitomises greed and signals symptoms of amnesia.

Another scenario I can see panning out, and I’m hoping this will lead to the demise of appearance fees and not the rise, is the fact that there are a growing number of players becoming very good and very marketable. Inevitably, they (or their agents I should say) will push for an appearance fee. It could happen then that in the near future, 25 guys are being paid to show up and the other 125 are playing for £500,000. That surely sounds too ridiculous to even give thought but the way it’s going…

So how can it be resolved? The European Tour must be tougher on its players and the PGA Tour must remain humble and not seek a ‘world domination’ that isn’t worth existing. World ranking points could be spread differently. Rather than ranking points being dependant on the pool of players playing, they could select specific events which carry more points regardless of the fields. And there should be no bias towards the PGA Tour. Each tour must be respected as being equally significant. World ranking points must represent the crux of the change. They are the key to playing bigger events with bigger purses.

To finish, I again want to reiterate the players involvement in all of this. The future of the European Tour is largely dependant on its top players. I bet it’s lovely sitting by the pool in Florida driving a Ferrari but if one day in the future it was me looking back once retired seeing an environment that gave me all of what I’ve got struggling, because of the need to add another zero onto my bank account, I’d feel a bit empty. (I understand why players move to the US with the climate, facilities etc to foster improvement and that I respect) It’s slightly sad that giving back to the European Tour is going to be of the same necessity as creating opportunities for children. But the divide is growing and there’s a reason the United Kingdom is so special, because it taxes the rich and gives to the poor. Not the other way round.

From That Wise Old Owl, cheers.

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Ecosystems

The world is full of ecosystems. None are greater than the ecosystem that is life itself based on evolution. It is obvious for any educated person to see how felling trees or poaching rhinos is bad not only for the animals directly affected, but also ourselves. Peoples short sighted selfishness will ultimately be to the detriment of their children and their children’s children. But this exists everywhere. 

I was dining with Mr Tom Lewis recently, and that pleasure is always mine as his enigmatic mind always sparks great debate between the two of us, and I put forth a point he couldn’t comprehend, which isn’t that unusual. I said that we should try to give back as much as we possibly could because the more we gave, the better we would be for it. Now, the great thing about giving back is not only does it feel good, but people assume you are being altruistic and generous, but we all contain selfish genes. It’s an ecosystem that I would pour energy into, to get more back and improve with. 

I played out a scenario. I said lets imagine we go back to Woodhall Spa and England Golf. We spend the weekend with a group of players and give them as much of our wisdom and advice as we can. They can then use that as motivation to improve and in doing so, eventually turn professional. They then receive another dose of ‘Lewis-Love’ or ‘Pepperell-Pain’ and again use that to improve until one day, a day less futurebound, they beat us on the European Tour. I argued that this would be beneficial to us because we would have been challenged, forcing us to reflect and introspect and ultimately get better ourselves. This is golfs ecosystem. It’s no good being a top player and avoiding its significance, it would be prejudicial.  

It is only greed that stops this phenomena happening. Markets crash, governments tumble, businesses fail and sportsmen suffer, all because in an attempt to crush the opposition, they instead eradicate it. We need competition. And it must always be fed. As long as Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy recognise this and continue to give back, golf will be in good shape. It would defy our planetary laws if it did not. It sounds like a massive responsibility but like I said, if viewed rightly, the selfish chimp containing the selfish gene will feel happy because he knows at the end of it he will benefit. 

Money is the virus. And agents are, quite literally the agents. With appearance fees growing and more and more people relying on the percentages they are due to pay their mortgages and feed their families, golf might not be so serendipitous. The sheer beauty of life and it’s undeniably ruthless habits is something I can’t help but adore. The success of something invariably always leads to its demise. It seems so engrained in human nature. Yet it is so simple to avoid, it just requires less greed.  

I don’t wish to sound like some enhanced mystic meg and I am aware of my tender age and lack of experience in life compared with people dealing with these potential problems. However I do feel strongly about it and the older I am getting, the more of my Dad I can see in me. And it’s his generosity. I want to be part of something great, and I want to be someone great, don’t we all, but I’m fairly confident that to do so, you must be able to sometimes put greed to one side and help your own ecosystem. 

From That Wise Old Owl (who turns 23 in 2 days so don’t forget my presents!), Cheers.

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MCs, Hippos and Goodbyes…

As 2013 nears to an end, so do my blogging aspirations. To be honest, for a little ‘side dabble’ I’m amazed it’s lasted a year. But only because I see it as a ‘side dabble’ am I amazed. I’ve enjoyed it immensely.  If I wasn’t a golfer I would love to be a writer. I’m not entirely sure what it is I enjoy so much about writing, whether it is the reflective and objective point of view on something or the freedom of more than 140 characters to express and opinion on a subject. WordPress has been my notebook for a year, but I’ve missed the moleskin form. 

The fortunate thing about my life is I’m around enough good people to realise soon enough what’s important and what’s not. As I tapped in for a double-bogey seven on my 36th hole last week to miss the cut by one, all I could think about was how I was going to obliterate my golf bag in the locker room. The fury and rage was as much as I have ever felt. I did give it a few heavy whacks, the kind that would maybe floor a featherweight boxer, but still the bitter disappointment remained. For the first time ever I even cancelled my dinner plans, which just so happened to be with Jamie, my caddie, who had also arranged for me and Jen to have dinner with Justin Walters, his girlfriend, his caddie and his Dad, Jeremy. I sulked for a little while and then decided we best go and eat. So we strolled across the road, in the dark, fraught with snakes, creepy-crawlies and the odd big cat and walked into Hamiltons, the best restaurant around. Jamie was sat with Justin and the rest of the gang just inside and they offered us two chairs to join them, after Justin saying how he understood my disappointment and the reason behind me not joining them sooner. Then it hit me, this guy just has lost his mum. And as I lower myself to sit next to a man who just lost his wife I realise how abundantly insignificant my finish really was. 

I remember how, when I was an amateur, the schedule was such that come September I wanted to take 2 months off and come January I was raring to go again. But with the European Tour being a year round circuit (or circus as some call it) taking time off and scheduling is far more tricky. I know time off and rest is absolutely critical for my state of mind above anything else, and with there being a lot of pressure out here, a fresh mind goes a long way. I have forgotten what it feels like to feel mentally alert and physically fresh, which tells me time off is required. The festive season will be used wisely! It is because of this I have decided to take a month off until Abu Dhabi comes along and almost definitely not play more than 22 events during the 2014 calendar year.  

Like I said above I’ve thoroughly enjoyed blogging and It’s been nice to receive feedback, corrections and the occasional bit of praise. Thanks for your support, have a lovely christmas and here’s to a successful 2014 to all. 

‘Look at that big fat Hippo’, this blog was written on Sunday 1st December whilst sat by the Crocodile River…every missed cut has a silver lining. 

From That Wise Old Owl, cheers. 

 

 

 

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A Little Ramble..

‘We travelled around the world, not for the money but because we loved the game, loved the people, and wanted to spread the game’- Gary Player.

Fast forward a few decades and it appears this vision has dwindled. As a member of the European Tour, I can’t help but feel slightly worried about what the future looks like. Mainly because you can reverse the quote above. Nowadays, players only travel for the money.

It’s the size of the problem that concerns me. This scenario should have been foreseen years ago, before players were millionaires 10 times over. Rules that are now being implemented to combat this problem, are dare I say it, a bit late. Player power, like in a lot of other sports, has grown rapidly. And some have it would appear, outgrown the European Tour. The vicious cycle of sponsors only pledging funds if big players play, and big players playing only if the fund is big enough has created an unusual divide between the players and the tour. The once benevolent, philanthropic player, has become driven by money. Who can blame them? I’m not accusing big players of ‘not giving back’ as I know some do a lot for charities and grass roots in golf. But money is easy to give when you’ve got plenty, time is a different matter. Time is money, and that is becoming more and more obvious.

What is evident to me is that somewhere along the line there has been a breakdown in communication and respect between the players and the tour. The European Tour for lots of these top players has been the foundation, the facilitator for them to bolster their reputations so that they could eventually travel across to America’s PGA Tour and compete for bigger prize funds on top courses whilst affording themselves a nice retirement pension package when they hang up the FJ’s. Is it any wonder they want to play on the PGA Tour? I turned professional for a few reasons, but one of which was because I was fed up of the amateur scene. That doesn’t mean however I won’t remember what the EGU done for me. People move on, that’s accepted by all and expected, but forgetting where you grew up, and who and what enabled you to be where you are is entirely unacceptable. That leads me nicely onto what’s been making the headlines recently…

This debacle with the season ending Final Series, I can’t help but agree with many of the comments posted on the BBC Sport website under Iain Carters most recent column. Much of the feeling towards the top players is not a sympathetic one. ‘4 weeks golf earning more than what some earn in a lifetime and still they’re whinging’ read one, how true. Colin Montgomerie said that modern players act like royalty. I couldn’t agree more, and I don’t exclude myself from that. We are completely spoilt and whatever happens in the coming months happens, but I for one hope the European Tour stamp authority on the whole situation because no player can be bigger than a tour, period.

From That Owl, cheers.

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Riding The Rookie Rapids

eddy: “A miniature whirlpool or whirlwind

It has been the weeks off, the hours of practice interrupted by kind and genuine people, that has made me realise the extent of my successful rookie year on the European Tour. To me it feels normal, I still hit the bad shots and feel the frustrations. Smash the clubs and growl at the referees. The bits few people see. But yet as time has passed by this year, I have received perpetual praise and endless compliments. I’m of course flattered and thankful, but there is a growing part of me that is becoming more and more uncomfortable. 

Recently I was in Oxford with my girlfriend and we were talking about a few random things. After five minutes she became irate and asked me to stop twisting the conversations into something related to me. I was shocked. I didn’t even know I had. Since when did I go from being single minded to self absorbed, I thought! (the line is fine but must be adhered to) I have changed slightly, and although I’ve felt aware of it occasionally it’s been pretty automatic and difficult to rebuff. It’s been challenging not to let all of the kind words infect the mind at least a little bit. It just seems that it’s always about me. The people I feel most sorry for are my family. My dad, brother and sister who all work in golf environments suffer constant enquiries about me. They have to explain the inexplicable poor finishes and numbers that scorecards read, many times over. They take the hit 30 weeks a year, I take it the other 22! I don’t want to sound ungrateful and we as a family do appreciate the incredible support I receive. (To have over 50 people travel to Portugal to watch me play shows just how popular my dad is!) 

 It was only when I read up on aspects of the human mind a few years ago that I came to understand how excessive praise can lead to complacency and other unwanted outcomes, therefore I am thankful to my subconscious for pushing the ‘be extra hard on yourself’ button. It’s the only way I know of stopping myself looking too far ahead. But that doesn’t come without problems. It’s a mix I’m finding to be tricky, but probably the most important thing I can learn. Success ultimately depends more on your perception of what the world throws your way than the hours spent on the driving range. 

 Maybe it’s not just me who has lost a slender touch on reality. After finishing double-bogey, bogey on the Sunday of the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, the headline in the local paper, which a few friends have amusingly renamed the ‘Pepperell Herald’, read ‘POOR FINISH COSTS PEPPERELL’. It did cost me some places, points and money but £29,000 is a lot of money. If my finish had of cost me my tour card I would have understood the potential rapacious implications behind the headline. But rather, in reality it has added to what they themselves have already labelled a fantastic rookie year. £29,000 is an amount that if offered 18 months ago I would have snatched with both arms. I’m sure the Editor would too. 

 I know rookie years in demanding environments teach you many lessons and I’m in no doubt that many of my counterparts and friends have had similar feelings. I feel fortunate to have another shot lined up at the ‘big time’ next year on top of what I’ve learnt. I am determined to remain the same Eddie despite the eddy going on around me. 

 From That Wise Old Owl, cheers. 

 

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Hogan The Hawk…And The Dog

It’s taken me all of twenty-two years and a couple of hundred days to realise the impact Mr Ben Hogan had on the game of golf. Bizarrely (I now think) a month ago I wouldn’t have been able to picture Hogan’s signature moves in his swing nor tell you he won 9 Majors. (10 Really!) Now however, few minutes go by without me visualising his wonderful tempo, and his ‘Anton-Du-Beke-like-hips’! Forget Mark Ramprakash, Hogan would’ve nailed it. But what gives me hope as a golfer who is always trying to improve his technique is that when you study Hogan’s swing in the early days, although it was still aesthetically pleasing, it was not as complete as it would become. Ben Hogan deserves to be idolised due to the nature of his success.

Image He didn’t arrive the best, he became the best.

Thinking about it if I had have been more aware of my sport’s history then I would’ve come across Ben Hogan years ago. Probably 11 years ago in fact as that’s when my Dad came home with a young chocolate Labrador called Hogan! It is fair to say ‘Hogie Bear’ doesn’t glide around with the same mystique.

IMG-20130909-WA0020-1

All would probably agree Mr Hogan’s mystical and reclusive way of doing things helped create the aura of a tenacious and workman-like champion. In today’s world I think it can be profitable to be this way inclined. Adam Scott appears to be similar to Hogan in this sense as he plays very occasionally and remains quiet in the media. An equally good way to sell tickets rather than talking a lot on social media and alike.

As a player I have never truly decided upon technical preferences I like to see in my own golf swing, mainly because I have never understood the golf swing! With the help of Mike and now Ben Hogan’s Five Fundamentals however, I feel I have become far more aware this year of what ‘proper technique’ entails and what I am after in my golf swing. I think this is important. My prediction would be that every great player in history became increasingly aware over time of how they wanted to swing and only experiences under pressure would persuade them to make necessary changes. I could not agree more with Hogan when he said a great swing is only a great swing if it performs better under pressure than it did under regular conditions. Great players don’t just earn a lot of money, they win a lot of tournaments. The difference lies in the understanding and robustness of their techniques, and the view that only winning matters, because if it didn’t, they wouldn’t strive to improve faulty mechanics.

To finish I would like to congratulate Tommy Fleetwood on his maiden European Tour victory. I, like many others am quite sure he will become one of the best players in the world. Thankfully however, he doesn’t take my kind words as gospel truth. Rock on Tommy and I’m sure Ben Hogan’s swing, mystique and legacy will continue to mesmerise many future golfers as it has done mine.

ImageFrom That Wise Old Owl, cheers.

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What Professional Life Is Teaching Me

It’s a good job I enjoy having time off! Since nervily holing out on the 72nd hole in Scotland over a month ago, I have enjoyed a nice break away from competition. I visited Rome and Venice with my girlfriend which was very nice and quite unusual as although I travel to many cities with golf I never explore. Since very little has happened in my golfing life of late I’ve decided it’ll be more entertaining to begin somewhere and let my mind meander off into the abyss…!

The English Amateur came to Frilford Heath recently and while it was nice to see some old faces I saw an environment which I do not miss. Witnessing the pressures of selectors, coaches and parents reminded me of some of the reasons I wanted to turn professional. But whilst it was a scary proposition at the time, becoming a professional golfer has been a liberating experience. The responsibility and accountability I’ve had to take as a pro is fundamental to long term success I feel. And while it was comforting to have felt a stable organisation supporting and providing for me, it has been far more rewarding to have faced up to certain fears and other pressures of professional sport.

This is what I believe dictates the differing lengths of time it takes for amateurs to succeed as professionals. It is the culture shock. The realisation of the wider world and the bottomless pit of potential anguish. The burning question in my mind is why do some people succeed quickly, others slowly and some not at all? 

While my professional career is rather embryonic I can already identify periods of learning, periods of competing and periods of working. In other words, my relatively quick success is all down to the fact I haven’t reacted passively to my experiences. I am yet to have found a smarter, faster and more efficient way to improve. From Anthony Robbins to Jonny Wilkinson, each and every book I read I saw this underlying theme. It’s a learning culture you have to create in your mind. The fact I did have 9 months at the start of my professional career struggling helped me. When your bank account is low you can only afford to take one week at a time. Paradoxically I found it easier to cultivate a ‘learning mindset’ when my surroundings were most precarious. 

It’s amazing how quickly you can improve. It’s also frightening to see how some players lose their form rapidly. Nobody is immune to either. That’s what I’m learning to love about success; certain principles remain; constant awareness, a vulnerable environment, quality advice and coaching and a level-head. 

To answer the unanswerable above then, this is all I have done and maybe talent is the reason I have taken to it faster than others but I prefer to be less nonchalant and more anthropological and say if I can do it, so can others and it is only by actively learning it is worth achieving. 

From That Wise Old Owl, Cheers. 

 

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