I RECEIVED a real warm Geordie welcome at Close House for my very first British Masters, and you could feel the pride they had in hosting the event.
I have to say that first impressions of the course were very favourable as I drove to the impressive clubhouse. With well-defined fairways lined with wispy long US Open type grass, it looked great on the eye.
The location, just two hours from Huddersfield, meant friends, family and Woodsome and Crosland Heath members – and some from further afield I have met in my golfing journey – could easily travel to support me and I felt confident I could give them a good show. It started well with six birdies on the front en route to a 64, which I followed with a 67 thanks to solid play and good game management.
That put me in a tie for second and a third-day pairing with Ian Poulter. You hear mixed rumours from caddies, players and people in the golf world about Ian, but I’ve always had full admiration for what he’s achieved in the game.
The guy is a serial winner and a Ryder Cup legend – who cares if he tweets about his Ferrari collection? He has earned it and it certainly hasn’t just been handed to him.
In typical Hanson fashion I questioned him throughout and gleaned a lot. I also saw a first-hand example of ‘player power’ when he called the ref for a ruling on the back of the eighth, where he had a wet, boggy lie on the fringe, but no casual water.
Ian addressed the ref in a stern voice along the lines of: “Hi ref, this is GUR isn’t it?” and the official obliged by allowing a free drop. I had a similar incident in Switzerland this year where I was within a faded white line bordering a shocking area of grass, which we felt should have been GUR. On politely asking the ref what he thought, I got a firm, “No, just play it how it lies”.
Maybe a harsher presentation from me would have got the desired drop…who knows?!
So in round three I shot 69 (-1) to stay in the mix and got a three-ball pairing with Matt Fitzpatrick and Shane Lowry for Sunday. Two great guys and very enjoyable company.
I started the round hot with back-to-back birdies, but unfortunately dropped a few shots down the stretch, finally finishing 11th.
Huge thanks and congratulations must go to Lee Westwood for hosting the event. I can’t imagine what commitments he must have had throughout the week, and then to play as well as he did just shows what a true professional he is.
I was really looking forward to the Dunhill and hooking up again with my amateur partner and good friend from last year, Art Moossmann, and his wife Jacqueline. I was disappointed we didn’t get paired at the ‘draw’ party. As part of my prep we walked St Andrews and Kingsbarns with just a wedge and putter to save energy and on the Tuesday played Carnoustie, or ‘Carnasty’ as some people call it.
I got drawn to play St Andrews Thursday; it’s a very special venue, but certainly a course I haven’t got to grips with yet. I got on great with my new partner for the week, Nikesh Arora. Despite battling hard, links golf was the winner as we struggled to cope with firm turf, massive slow greens, huge amounts of run, cold winds and deadly pot bunkers.
The wind for the week wasn’t the norm and we played the front nine at St Andrews into a very tough wind, into and out of the left. I didn’t drive it well, struggled to commit to my lines and got myself out of position too many times. My 74 followed by a 73 at Carnoustie left me out of touch, but the highlight of the week was to meet and play with former world heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko on day three.
What a legend he is, one of the most recognisable sporting champions in the world and possibly one of the nicest guys I’ve met, just extremely down to earth and so modest.
The Rolex Series Italian Open at Golf Club Milano was make-or-break week for many players, and a very clutch time for me too, with tenth place paying around 100,000 euros. And if I quickly flash ahead to Sunday, plenty of guys did it. Gregory Havret, on the brink of losing his card for the first time in probably 20 years, secured it with a 65k cheque. Matt Wallace needed a huge week and banked 297k, while Marcus Fraser, who had struggled all season, banked 251k and wrapped up his top-100 spot. Impressive stuff. My week ended up being pretty frustrating. Rounds of 68, 70 (-4) saw me scrape through to the weekend on the mark, and a mediocre weekend saw me bank 23k, but slip down to 93rd on the Race to Dubai.
So back to my new ‘home’ of Southern Spain and the last official event of the season, the Andalusian Masters.
The fact I was only 40 minutes from where we are now living made the week more relaxing, and going into the event I reckoned my job for 2018 was 95% safe on the main list (top 100) and 100% safe on the access list. If you don’t know how the access list works it’s not something I’m going to try to explain now, but earning most of my points/money in non-Rolex events, meant I was safe as houses.
I just love Valderrama! The condition is world-class, the definition superb and the greens and fairways are pure. Add the warm welcome, the set-up and the hospitality and you have something very special. It has to rank as one of my favourite golfing venues.
Valderrama is such a great test and so tough, but when I played it on my own on the Tuesday it was as easy as it gets…no wind, plus you get to kick your ball out of the trees and move it to the other side of the fairway when overhanging trees are in the way…ha ha!
But when you’re out playing it in tournament mode it’s brutal, and tests every aspect of your game and, more than anything, your patience. You have to get the ball in play off the tee, and that’s not just on the fairway, you have to be on the correct side of the fairway. The Valderrama cork trees overhang so many holes, and I actually worked it out that you could hit the fairway on the 1st, 2nd, 7th, 8th, 9th, 13th, 14th, 16th, and 18th and not have a shot to the green.
Some people hate that, but that’s part of it and you have to be patient and accept you’re going to get unlucky at times. By Thursday I felt ready to get playing, I love the processes and the preparation, but competing is what I really enjoy about the game and for me it’s the fun part.
The lead-up work to events is very important, but there’s nothing like game day. In round one I started on the 10th, the wind was up and my first tee shot changed from the three iron in practice to a knockdown driver sliding it off the trap. I started birdie, birdie and was off and running, another birdie on my fifth (14th) and I was three under and on the leaderboard. I dropped one on the next not doing much wrong, but then fatted my 80-yard approach into the 17th green, 40 yards short. Splash!!
Level par out, and one over coming home to shoot an okay 72 (+1) to finish the day around 40th, which was disappointing after the start, but Valderrama did exactly what I said it could do…beat you up. On day two I let a few slip and made a shocking bogey on 18 to finish plus three for the day, which made the cut on the mark at +4.
Saturday was down to two-balls and I played with Spaniard Jorge Campillo, a decent player and again someone who goes under the radar making well over half a million euros each year. From tee to green I was world-class, picking up strokes on the field with my approach play, but super-fast sloping greens made even an 8ft putt tough. In the end I shot three under, which was a happy moving day.
I then followed it up Sunday with a 70 (-1) playing in a pretty special marque group, with Andrew ‘Beef’ Johnston, and Pablo Larrazabal, a Spanish fave. We had good fun out there.
I played solid golf again while ‘Beef’ had a frustrating day, but battled till the end, birdieing 17 and 18.
Pablo was as flamboyant as ever, pleasing the crowd with his special short game and some nice birdies near the end. If you know Valderrama you will recall how the water sits short on 17 with the amphitheatre backdrop creating an amazing setting. I smashed my drive and found the green in two with a 5 iron for my second shot. ‘Beef’ hit a lay-up short, wedged on, holed out from 12ft. Pablo…’Fore!’ left, down the bank, lay-up short, wedged on to 14ft and holed the putt for birdie to the most electric reception I’ve ever been involved in.
#goosebumps Me? I three putted from 50ft for par. And that sums up just how golf can be sometimes. But it was another under-par round at Valderrama to contribute to a solid weekend that saw me move up to 18th and land another top-20 finish for 2017.
And, more importantly, I wrapped up my playing rights for 2018 by finishing 89th on the Race To Dubai, and it was great to have so many members of ‘Team Hanson’ there to help me close out the season. I’m very happy with how the year has panned out and look forward to sharing my life on tour with you again in 2018.