A Mans Search For Form

One Hundred and Fourteen metres, there is a gentle breeze from the left, the rain has cleared and it’s warm. We’re a few thousand feet above sea level, it’s a perfect gap wedge. It can’t be a sand wedge because that’s stranded up a tree 350 yards behind me. I got angry. So I take the club, aim straight at the pin and swing like I couldn’t give a monkeys. I’m 3 over par through the first 7 holes, over par for the tournament and missing the cut. An all too familiar feeling. I strike the ball well, perfectly in fact for this particular shot coming from the rough. Me and Jamie watch the ball closely as it’s heading towards the pin. Bang. Straight in. I’ve holed out for an eagle on my 27th hole. I throw the club in the air, laugh and smile at Jamie. We gaze at one another and I can tell he’s thinking how much of a twat I am. We walk 5 yards and he tells me because I’m now smiling that his grandmother died last night. I can see he’s holding back tears as he tells me and I curse at him for not telling me ten minutes earlier as the chances are we’d still have a 56 degree sand wedge in the bag. I try my best to console him. We get to the green, I repair the hole, my playing partners weren’t even aware I’d holed out. They can’t believe I didn’t make more of a fuss. We exchange a few high fives as I’m now back in 107th place and they ask what excites me? Not this game I reply.

Not this game at the moment is what I meant.

I stayed about 30 minutes from the course last week in Johannesburg. Each day it seemed we took a different route due to traffic. I love South Africa. I love it’s natural beauty and the red meat. We drove through some pretty tough neighbourhoods last week, one of which was a place called Hillbrow. As a European Tour golfer, I would estimate I experience a dozen courtesy car drives a year that remind me of how lucky I am. Driving through Agadir or Rabat in Morocco usually provides a moment of reflection and perspective, just like Hillbrow did. Wasting shots on a golf course is still better than wasting away on the street. Even though sometimes the pain of this game feels enormous, at least it’s a game. Except it’s not really, it’s my life, it always has been. And when you hole out with a gap wedge and not really care, it grinds away at you. To not care about something you care so deeply for is paradoxical enough to make you question certain realities and doubt yourself.

The life of a struggling golfer.

I’m not sure I’ll ever be happy. Which doesn’t bother me because all that matters is that you aren’t unhappy. And I’m not unhappy. The truth is I feel like I know how this will play out. I have got my focus back, I understand the role of time, I know every career has its ups and downs. I’m still standing far enough away from my own existence not to get bogged down in it. Hence the reason I’m not bogged down. After all, Hillbrow reminds me it could be far worse.

I know finding form will be easier than meaning.

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A Different 2017

My New Years Eve celebrations came to an end at 8.03 pm last night when I fell asleep. I managed only two glasses of Chateau Haut Marbuzet, which I bought after some recommendations – it was OK. But it was the jet lag that killed me. 8pm was 4am in Bali, which is where I had just travelled back from. I woke up this morning at 7am, checked Twitter straight away, as you do, to see what I had missed; very little it seemed. I then loaded up my BBC News app, putting it to one side whilst I spoke to my girlfriend in bed for a while. Fifteen minutes or so later I went back to the BBC app, and at the very top of the page was an article about another terrorist attack, this time in Istanbul, which killed 40 people. And so, 2017 started very much the same way 2016 ended.

I laugh a little when I see people write on Twitter how bad 2016 has been. How it’s been the ‘worst year possible’. Lol. Wind back 100 years and we were in the middle of World War 1. The Battle of the Somme happened during 1916 where over 400,000 British soldiers alone died. Perspective is something we millennials don’t seem to have in abundance.

But in 1916 they didn’t have Twitter. No Facebook. No online media sites constantly updating and making us aware of almost any news story we wish to hear about. Not even Tinder. Think of how many suicides there would’ve been if these young men were aware of what was ahead of them? We are fortunate to know the present so well  that we can make a good guess of the future. But when the present seems perpetually frightening and disappointing, it’s easy to see the future holding the very same prospects. This is what 2016 looked like for me.

Last year, (2016!) I learnt so much. Away from golf, I am quite a fervent news reader and  I am one of those people who likes to be in the know. Not because I want to impress anyone, just because I don’t like not knowing what’s happening. In 2015 I began looking at moving to London. So I started browsing Rightmove every day, hoping to see a flat that I both liked the look of, and one that was under 1 million pounds. The day never came. And so me being me, I had to know why everything was so expensive. It seemed not to make any sense. From September 2015, to now, nearly all of my interest has been in learning about the economy. I have followed many people on Twitter, YouTube, and have watched endless hours of Bloomberg and CNBC, all in the attempt to know more. And boy do I know a lot more than I did 18 months ago, but heck am I depressed about it.

So frightened I got, that at one point I invested in gold. This isn’t historically a bad investment I know, but I only did it out of fear for our immediate economic future. Bearish and cynical I became about all things  economical and political. And so it is I have become trapped in this cycle of simply having to learn more so I can ‘protect’ myself against the future, and subsequently have myself become more cynical and generally low. I’ve been aware of this pattern developing for some time, but haven’t been too concerned about it. Mostly because I knew I’d reach a tipping point down the line where I would simply be able to switch to something else, like how a chameleon changes its colours. I think I’ve reached this point. Plus, in everything I’ve ever done regarding the direct use of my brain, I’ve always wanted to push myself beyond the point of discontentment, purely to see how I react to that. The idea of being depressed doesn’t scare me because I know during that process so much will be learnt. And I’m always confident in myself that I can come through anything that requires some thinking.

But I now need to stop thinking. My mind has become a pinball machine, unable to turn off from the world. I’ve become so attached to my news sources, to the point where I’m becoming biased and certain of the future, even when there are valid arguments otherwise. This is extremism.

So January 1st 2017 will be the day where I turn off. I’m seeing this as an experiment to see how my mood changes over the coming months, simply by knowing less of what’s happening in our wonderful world. Being alive in 2017 has to become about more than living inside other peoples realities via snapchat, Instagram or Twitter. We are as a collective so lucky to be living in these times, and the fact that social media, and other media types, can make me feel otherwise suggests I need to look the other way. My dad is happier than me even though he has bad knees and hips, and far fewer material things.

I will continue to blog however.

I’ve always refuted the idea that ignorance is bliss, I hope I can prove myself right over time, but for now I need some quiet time.

Happy New Year and let’s hope 2017 is better than 1917 was….

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Thoughts From 38,000 Feet

I’m yet to be persuaded that a ‘World Tour’ in golf would be beneficial for the game as a whole. Gary Player obviously believes it’s the right path to go down, like that of the ATP Tour in tennis. I can see the argument- Let’s put on bigger and better events, take the world’s best golfers to all corners of the globe and lay on a show like nobody has seen in golf before. 

What would be the benefits of this? And also, who would be the beneficiaries? Commercially, I imagine it makes considerable sense to condense the golfing world into a smaller, more attractive sphere of talent, where every time golf is shown on television, it has a bigger impact due to the golfers on show. It is also more likely that large corporations would want to be involved in this style of coverage. 

The broader question though, I think, is who benefits the most from this? Is it the game as a whole? How would the demographic outlook change within the game? Would a World Tour have a larger impact or a further reach around the world? 

Whenever I’ve discussed this topic in the past with either Laurie or my manager at IMG- David, (who are advocates of a ‘World Tour’ by the way) the point I’ve always raised is earning potential. The wonderful thing about golf as it is currently, is that you can have a player ranked 200 in the world, and still earn a very good living. If you contrast this with tennis and the ATP Tour, it’s incomparable. A player ranked 200 in the world of tennis is unlikely to earn anywhere near the amount of money a golfer would. I see this as a huge plus for golf. Consider the consequences of this. If you have a deeper wealth distribution, then you will also have a broader monetary contribution. Whether that be in the way of taxation, which leads governments to support society in a better way and potentially grant sporting organisations more money. Or whether that be in ways more charitable. 

Take me for example. I decided to give my Frilford Heath sponsorship money away in 2016 and again next year in 2017. In 2016, that money helped fund 52 new junior golfers have coaching. And in 2017, that money will be put into local primary schools, with the help of the Golf Foundation, so that more young kids who didn’t have access to golf, now will. This isn’t about me being generous, this is about me being able to be generous. This is a tremendous offshoot in golf. 

I’ve also wondered actually how big the impact would be in parts of the world where golf isn’t currently a major sport, should we develop a World Tour. Is golf in India, or parts of Africa, or parts of Asia not yet popular because they simply haven’t watched Rory McIlroy hit a golf ball? Or is it down to other factors? 

A good example of this is what’s happening in Rio, post Olympics. I read an article recently that said the golf course where they held the event in Rio, is to be closed. Or turned into something else. I can’t remember exactly what it said, but it wasn’t positive for golf. This alludes to the paragraph above. There simply isn’t the infrastructure nor the social and economic conditions present in these parts of the world to warrant a World Tour spending lots of money, making a radical change to their sport, which is potentially destructive in some way, hoping that they can inspire a generation of people to pick up a golf club. 

Therefore a new World Tour would probably be most impactful in parts of the world where it is already pretty well known and already frequently participated in. Say North America, Europe, Japan, and maybe China. Of course, there is potential here for golf to become increasingly popular due to more economic prosperity and better infrastructure. However, when you consider that the main attraction of a World Tour would be the guaranteed presence of the best players, you’d then have to ask what would the impact be from that. Does China need to see more of Rory? Does Japan need to see more of Stenson? Does America need to see more of Danny Willett? Honestly, I think the answer to that is no. It could well be that in fact that’s exactly what’s needed for the sport. Nobody knows the answer to this of course, I just have my doubts about its potency as a model. 

So who benefits from a new World Tour? The answer; the top players, and that’s probably about it. 

If all current Tours merged to create a World Tour, we would have job losses. We would have less wealth distribution throughout the game. We would have less trickle down effect of wealth into local communities due to there being less money earned across the board. We may create bigger and better spectacles for golf to showcase its attractiveness for sure. And we would have huge purses for players to compete for. But would that offset all of the negatives? 

Again, I’m not convinced. 

Golf has so far managed to defy the merger and acquisition frenzy that has run riot among businesses since 2008. While the European Tour may not be able to yet produce a credible alternative to the PGA Tour in terms of prize money, it has helped contribute to a wider spread of wealth throughout the world. I see this as the sole reason we need to resist a World Tour for as long as we can. 

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Ho Ho Ho

I remember when I was younger and I would watch Tiger Woods produce memorable moments, or watch a top sportsman pick up SPOTY award, I even remember a time when the X Factor would’ve given me a buzz. Back then it was more Pop Idol I guess and the excitement of having either Will Young or Gareth Gates be crowned our national hero. I’m not sure what’s happened. As we age do we just naturally become more tired and cynical? Why do I not care about who wins SPOTY this evening? How come I don’t feel anything more than pleased for someone when they have their career defining moment? Where’s the thrill gone?

Three weeks ago I met up with the Sunday Times journalist David Walsh. He wanted to meet me and have a chat, and I believe he wants to write a piece on me at some point. We had some interesting conversations and spoke for a good few hours. To my embarrasment, I wasn’t truly aware of just how prominent he’s been and continues to be in the world of investigative journalism. So for him to want to meet me, after losing my card and appearing to most of the outside world as just another golfer, surprised me. Until he mentioned my blog. His article will, I think, revolve largely around my blog, the things I write about and how this makes me different. This doesn’t bother me by the way, I’m pleased people are interested in what I write. But it’s clear to me that it’s difference people are now interested in.

David hasn’t been the only writer in touch. I’ve spoken with Alistair Tait at GolfWeek, Mark Townsend at National Club Golfer, and have even spoken with a Golf Club Wanker. My blog has been the common theme in all of these interviews. This isn’t meant to sound arrogant, but I can see how some people would be more interested in reading about my struggles on the course and my introspective blog, than hearing from Rory McIlroy talk about how he hits it so far. Few can relate to Rory in that way, whereas many can relate to me at the moment. But we as a society, are searching to find new, more interesting stories. The monotony of even great golf, or great football, will not fill our desires to be inspired or remain interested. It has to be something more. I think this is why I’m not interested in SPOTY, or Hideki Matsuyama at the moment, or Strictly Come Dancing. I’ve seen it all before. It’s grey and old now, impressive yes, but exciting no.

This leaves us in quite a perilous position because the purity of something now has to be sprinkled or covered with glamour or controversy. Uncreative this may sound, but I can’t see where we go from here with our stories. We must either ask so much more of subjects in terms of digging into their own personal reserves and expressing and exposing their innermost fears and desires, or we simply lie and embellish to make the story.

Alistair Tait brought up an interesting question when he asked me why I don’t love the game the way I used to. I said to him there’s two ways you can fall out of love with this game. You can either do what I’ve done and experience some technical issues which become mental anxieties, and under high intensity stress and pressure you collapse. Or you become a superstar and experience the pitfalls and pressures that coincide with that. I wouldn’t want to be Rory McIlroy, but I also wouldn’t want to be Eddie Pepperell again. Or Jin Jeong. Or Alvaro Quiros.

None of us started playing golf with even a shred of an idea of how it may turn out and what our futures might look like. If we did, we only envisaged us holing the putt to win The Open at St Andrews. We never pictured us double bogeying the last to miss a cut. We never imagined how it would make us feel to have to sign autographs for hours after a bad day. And none of us could appreciate what we felt back then; that the urge to want to play 36 holes a day because we were addicted, would gradually lift like a thick fog. On the flip side, I bet Rory never imagined he’d become so wealthy. Beef never supposed he’d be the face of a burger franchise in America. Adam Scott probably did know he’d become the face of Burberry. But somewhere in all of this madness lies the unsavoury truth that what we remember of our childhoods and the role golf played in it, has changed way beyond recognition into something so crazy, and so unimaginable.

I sort of want to vote for Danny Willett tonight. Not because I really like the guy, but because of how hard it’s looked for him to have to deal with becoming a Masters champion. People the other day were saying how average he had been since winning it… I was thinking, well, he did finish second on the Race to Dubai, have a baby, have to deal with being from Yorkshire… Not easy that stuff. But the chances are I won’t vote. I probably won’t even watch. There was more young people watching Planet Earth than the X Factor. I have one to catch up on. And maybe, just maybe, this is a sign that people are tuning back into more earthly, unprocessed things rather than the exhausted, consumeristic coverage that has numbed so many minds.

And I’ve just missed the bloody Sunday Supplement.

Have a merry christmas everyone.

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Back To School

I’ve never really like the word ‘school’. It reminds me of a time in my life when authoritative figures reigned over me. To be honest, I’ve hated authority all my life and have done all I can to avoid being dictated to. It’s not that I want to be a dictator to others of course, I just prefer the joys of individual freedom. Two weeks ago at PGA Catalunya, I was back at school. A different kind of school admittedly, but a school nonetheless.

I acted my usual way in some respects. For instance I disposed of two clubs during the week, borne out of anger because the teacher (the golf course and golf itself in this instance) didn’t give me what I wanted. I opted out of attending the mandatory players meeting on the Friday afterwards. It is true I did have commitments at home on that Friday, but still, the rebellious chimp inside quite enjoyed displaying the figurative middle finger to the powers above. After all, what can I be taught that I don’t already know? That approach got me seven GCSE’s. Comfortable enough to qualify for a job stacking shelves at Asda. Although with my looks, I’m sure it would’ve only been a matter of time before Tesco’s came looking.

I did however manage to achieve one thing I never could at school: success. In spite of all my unappealing tendencies I outlined above, I came through a very difficult task this time due to my attitude. It’s far better than what it used to be. Still not perfect on the golf course sometimes, but off it considerably improved. And after Portugal, the only thing that could’ve derailed me further, was a bad attitude.

When I saw the draw for the first two rounds, I was so excited to be playing with Laurie and Ross Kellett. I’m good friends with Laurie. We talked about the stock market, wine, life, downforce, even what it would be like to be a golfer without a galloping mind. Me and Ross just talked about rabbits. I saw Gary King again. A cool chap who has grown up since the days of being involved in prank phone calls and throwing sweets at passengers trying to sleep on aeroplanes. Matt Nixon, Scott Henry…it was even nice to see Tom Lewis at Q School. I never thought I’d see the day Tom Lewis smiled while being at Q School.

The irony for me was that Q School corresponded with The Race to Dubai finale. I’ve been part of that event the last two years. Last year in fact I upgraded to a suite at The Atlantis for 250 pounds a night. What a bargain! A year on and I’m hobbling around PGA Catalunya on a windy day trying to avoid disaster so my mum can keep as many cigarettes in her packet as possible. Of course I wasn’t thinking about disasters, but watching my mum and dad wander around, I’m not sure the same can be said for them. PGA Catalunya is a tree lined course and beneath the trees laid hundreds of giant pinecones. I only know this because every time I hit a slightly off shot, I would watch my dad scurry into the woods, hunt about, and exit with two or three more giant pinecones. It was his way of stripping away the nerves I think. Little did it do for my confidence.

But they were there. And all credit to them because as parents not only have they had to watch me suffer with the blocks and hooks this year, the pain of losing my Tour card live on TV, they’ve now also had to go through the exhausting, unrelenting event that is Q School. At least my dad has got his front tooth back though (that story can wait).

I suppose I should mention what it was actually like to play Q School. Exhilarating is the word. In a totally different way to what it’s like the be in contention at Wentworth, but still, totally encapsulating. I’ve never played an event where so much can rest on one shot. Witnessing Richard McEvoy scrape through on 5 under par was one of the bravest performances I’ve ever seen. He has two kids at home and a wife who works as a teacher. I hope they realise how hard he had to work to get his Tour card back. Personally, I was playing so well tee to green that I never really felt too much pressure. I did get a little edgy coming in on the final day. When I realised winning the tournament wasn’t possible, I was just relieved to walk off the last green at 10 under par and 5th place considering the shots I was beginning to hit.

All in all it was such an amazing and interesting experience. The kind I haven’t had for quite a while. Probably since the Grand Final on the Challenge Tour in 2012. Although I can’t say that even came close to the psychologically tormenting nature of Q School. Regaining my Tour card will come with many benefits, but for now, the best one is where I’m heading: Leopard Creek. My girlfriend will do her annual duty of carrying the bag, and her daily duty of keeping me happy. I came 8th last year, playing at times like a bit of a buffoon. The way I’m feeling now, I hope for much better…

But we all know how this game is…

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The Tapestry Of Life

I’m sure there’s a Chinese proverb out there somewhere that satisfies my thoughts, one that explains my downfalls, one that lays out my pathway to a brighter future, but nothing you read can ever replace the reality of something. I’ve always felt that even if the closest person in my life died, I could take it and move on, use it for motivation and inspiration. But the shock of reality is what gets you. Thankfully nobody has died, I only ‘lost’ my Tour card. The prospect of that happening never scared me, the future doesn’t scare me. But the shock of what happened in Portugal was something I wasn’t expecting.

Unfortunately 2016 has been the year I came to the realisation I don’t love this game the way I used to. It’s like being married to someone you have such a deep, inextricable connection to. It beats you up, yet you still come back for more. Don’t get me wrong I love the challenge of getting better, and I really enjoy being in the hunt on Sunday. That makes me feel alive. But golf has shown me it’s darker, more insidious side this year. Of course the irony is you only ever witness this part when you, the individual, start spiralling out of control. I’d say I started wandering the corridors of discontent with my game sometime last year, and I thought I knew which door I needed to take to get out, but yet I could never open it. That hasn’t happened to me for a while. I went from being a talented 18 year old, to a good professional because I used my brain and figured out what my weaknesses were and how I would go about fixing them.

For me, 2016 is full of lessons. I’ve worked tirelessly this year on the range, especially since June, and yet I hit it worse on the course. I’ve learnt that no matter how good you feel in practice, that sense of perfection gets thrown out of the window once you enter the realms of competition. Logically this game doesn’t make much sense. In competition it’s not about what you know, it’s purely down to what you do. I’ve learnt, not for the first time, that looking at your golf swing in slow motion on the camera, yearning to see better positions, guarantees you nothing. I’ve gone full circle in remembering that it’s the order in which things move in the golf swing that truly matters. I may be considered smart, but if I was as smart as some may think, I’d never have found myself in the position I am, because honestly, I knew much of what I needed to do. But sometimes learning is remembering, and that’s harder than I could ever have imagined.

This is where it goes even deeper…

Possibly darker too. I never envisaged that struggling on the course with my golf would have the impact it did on my mood. My quality of life waned as my golf deteriorated gradually and became more frustrating. I considered myself rounded enough not to let anything golf related affect my personal life. But the truth is, I had to eliminate many aspects of life to enable me as a golfer to succeed in the first place. I had to become my own best friend because growing up I sacrificed relationships for my golf. But that’s also why I’ve always maintained that the most important thing in life is to be a nice person, because careers come and go, but if you sacrifice being a good person in order to become a great achiever, you’ll experience the unintended side effects once it’s all over. And loneliness will probably top that list.

On a brighter note, Donald Trump could be president this time next week…

Putting the doom and gloom above behind, the future looks pretty appetising for me. I’ve figured a good deal out regarding my swing recently. Since the Italian Open to be specific. Physically I’ve changed things up a little bit, incorporating the two trainers I’ve been working with so that we’re all singing from the same hymn sheet so to speak. I’m looking to carry on the good form I showed at the end of this season into 2017, and indeed Q School before that. I’m spending Christmas in Bali with friends. I own gold so if and when Donald Trump does become president, I can sell it and live like an Arabian Prince for a while. And above all, I live 250 yards away from Waitrose which sells the best cake on the planet. Mary Berry ain’t got shit on this one let me tell you.

I wasn’t even going to write this blog, until Richard Ashcroft started playing on my Spotify. Any Ashcroft fans may be able to spot his influence in this blog. Blinding lyricist that guy.

As a friend text me recently who works on the Tour; ‘Sorry things aren’t as straightforward as you’d like. Tapestry of life etc…’ We wouldn’t want life any other way would we?


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P-J Willett vs Miller vs Sanity

One day to go, and it’s really heating up out there. Not the temperature, it looks freezing. Danny Willett’s brother has really threw the cat amongst the pigeons. Or Danny under the bus, depending on how you want to look at it. We’ve got ‘the worst European team ever’ vs some ‘shiny teethed, lego-like, (once) resentful children with over medicated wives’. And I thought the rhetoric in the Trump-Hillary debate was bad…

Has Jonny Miller not learned anything about recent history when it comes to the Ryder Cup? Or indeed sport in general for that matter. Someone should tell him about Leicester City, a team worth the same amount as Sergio Aguero’s nail clippers, who won the Premier League last year. Or how about in the 2004 Ryder Cup, when Montgomerie and Harrington gave Woods and Mickelson a good beating. That team in 2004 had 9 GB&I players out of 12. And I think I’m right in saying no major champions at the time. Fast forward 12 years, and we have just as many major winners in our team as they do. It all goes to show how golf is almost entirely unpredictable, and so making a prediction is a pretty paltry thing to do.

As for P-J Willett… Well, you can’t argue with some of what he said. Although generalisations shouldn’t really be made, particularly at a time when political correctness governs what many of us refrain from saying. And of course any American has the right to point to the fact that we have some fat Brits who scrounge from the state, insult immigrants for doing the jobs they’d never do, visit Gregg’s every day and get free healthcare for smoking 40 a day… None of us are perfect.

Unfortunately for Danny, he now has to shoulder this at Hazletine. As if being a rookie wasn’t hard enough, especially in America. And feel for Danny some more, not only is he disliked by much of the Tour, he’s now disliked stateside. But to Danny’s credit, if anyone can play with a chip on their shoulder, I think he can.

This isn’t really much of a blog. As much as I enjoy reading and watching some of the hype in sport and politics these days, I can’t help but feel exasperated at how much over analysis there generally is. I wanted to get that across mainly. Jonny Miller and P-J  may think they’re doing golf and the Ryder Cup a favour when they speak with inflammatory intent, but it’ll all be undone when you get Montgomerie and Critchley in the commentary box together. We’ll go from deranged patriotism to comatoseness within seconds.

After all that, I’ll make a prediction; Over 25,000 burgers will be eaten by the American fans this week.

Good luck boys.

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