I wanted to touch on a different subject at some point in one of my blogs, and the UBS Hong Kong Open felt the right time as it the demands placed on the top players were very apparent that week.
HONG KONG GOLF CLUB
I pride myself on my preparation, and I’m pretty sure Justin Rose does too; for me he’s the ultimate golfing professional I’m certain his days are extremely different to mine and he has to be even more careful with his time.
Let me start with my Wednesday preparation:
• 7am alarm, up for breakfast at the hotel
• 8am, bus to the course
• 8.30am, physio treatment to get rid of my aches and pains from run/gym night before
• 9.30am, range session working through my bag, testing new clubs, Trackman games
• 12 noon, relaxed lunch
• 12.45pm, putting drills, tech session and competitive games
• 3pm, short game, bunker work
• 4.30pm, a few drivers to finish off in a different wind direction
• 5pm, early dinner at the course
• 6pm, bus back to hotel
• 7pm, gym session/run and cool down
• 8pm, write up the day in my diary then chill out, watch TV, speak to family
Sounds pretty easy and fun, right? Well I got to do exactly what I wanted to do, my preparation was great, I ticked off my ‘to-do-list’ and everything I wanted to achieve, and was ready for my first round!
So, from what I see, read and hear from other players, let’s now try and piece together what Justin’s Wednesday might look like:
• 7am alarm, up for breakfast at the hotel
• 8am, private courtesy car to the course from sponsor’s hotel (perks of being top 5 in the world)
• Arrive at the course 8.45am, get stopped by every man and his dog for a photo, autograph and chat!
• 9am, get sorted in locker room and head to the range (repeat above en route)
• 9.15am, spend an hour hitting balls, having every shot watched and I’m sure admired and sometimes even criticised by the public and press.
• 10.15am, press conference, more autographs/photos
• 11am, early ‘quick’ lunch
• 11.30am, meet pro-am team
• 12pm, play pro-am which is also your practice round, so studying course whilst entertaining the team (importance of a good caddie here)
• 5.30pm, after 5 1/2-hour round, spend 45 mins with team
• 6.15pm, now too dark to go to the range, so courtesy car back to hotel
• 7pm, arrive at hotel
• 7.30pm gym session
• 8.30pm dinner and bed with no real time to chill out
• 5am alarm for round 1 to start
What I’m trying to say is, the better you get as a player, the more commitments you have, the less time you have, and at times the more selfish you must become as you still need to do YOUR job.
That’s why I sometimes have sympathy for players who spend hours doing autographs and then receive abuse for not signing another kid’s hat.
There has to be a point where they stop – don’t get me wrong, I appreciate it’s part of the job and the success that comes with playing and I’ve seen first-hand how happy it makes a young boy/girl to get an autograph, but I also understand that at times it’s tough.
I saw it first-hand with Rory, who seems to be a great guy, at The Scottish Open; he stood and signed autographs for people for 25 minutes, and the second he walked away some guy sarcastically shouted “Thanks” for not signing his…that’s unfair, surely!
So, to the golf. Last year I really struggled at this event. I was like a cat in the headlights with very grainy greens which were extremely firm. I don’t think saying ‘I wasn’t ready’ are the right words, but I didn’t embrace it.
The layout of the course is fantastic, it has such variety, and you maybe hit only 6 drivers, but they need to be good ones!
The course is over 100 years old and shaped wonderfully through the trees., and the whole atmosphere around the event is cool too.
With a sneaky wind in round one I posted a 1 over (71), which felt ok as it’s not an easy layout, and left me in 50th position. I played solid golf on day 2, controlling it nicely for a bogey free round of 66 (-4).
Rounds without a bogey are really pleasing and now tied for 15th I wanted to push on. On day three I got it to -5 but a poor bogey on 15 and a closing bogey on the tough 18th left a slightly sour taste in the mouth for my 67.
That moved me to 8th and you just never know what a Sunday has to offer so to shoot 76 was really disappointing and in retrospect left me thinking that maybe I wanted it too much, if that’s possible?
Australia is a bloody long way away!!!
Another few hours of time difference to contend with along with what felt like a crazy humidity, more grainy greens and plenty of Aussie players in fine form who had just come off the back of their two biggest concluding with their final event – the Australian PGA Championship!
I played this event two years ago in my first European Tour year, when the greens had just been re-laid and redesigned and with the seriously strong winds it was too crazy.
I shot something like 81-71 to miss the cut by one shot, but the greens have had two years to settle, and are now a lot softer and much more playable.
But if you watched any of the coverage on TV then you would know what I mean when I say they look like a jigsaw puzzle.
Apparently, the greens were laid at different times, hence the grain is all over the place and you could have a putt from 50ft and the grain would change direction 10 times which can be extremely frustrating to deal with.
The humidity was another challenge and it is a pretty horrible feeling trying to peel your shirt off your arms before hitting shots or having to wipe dripping sweat off your brow whilst you’re over a putt.
I played in the pro-am with Sergio’s manager and heard some fascinating stories from the golf world. He was in charge of Adidas marketing for a long time and signed Garcia, Rose, Poulter, and Kaymer to the brand before leaving five years ago and setting up his own management group, taking Sergio with him.
The first two days I continued some good play from Hong Kong and my stats into the greens for two days were fantastic. My new Callaway irons have certainly warranted their place in the bag so far.
I ended up shooting 71, 71 for a -2 total and made the cut by a shot. The scoring was pretty good, and I watched a short game master class for two days from Adam Bland, who was leading the tournament on 10 under!
Again, though, the weekend wasn’t to be. I played poorly on Saturday for a 75 and even though I was much better on the last day I only managed to beat that score by one and finished tied 62nd.
Then I faced 24 hours of flying, 12 hours of waiting in airports and an hour’s drive home. As I said, Australia is a bloody long way away.
CHRIS TAKES A LOOK BACK
As always, I try to recap on the previous year and there is no better time to write it than on a long night flight.
Overall, it’s been an incredible season. I didn’t achieve all my goals, but I sure gave them a damn good go. But I guess most importantly I have a job for 2018 again on the European Tour having managed to make it into the top 100.
Stats 2016 vs 2017 (from europeantour.com)
Stroke average = 71.69 vs 71.06
Driver accuracy = 58.8% vs 65.9%
Distance = 292 vs 294
GIR = 68% vs 72.2%
Putts = 29.9 vs 30.3
R2D = 108th vs 89th
Highest OWGR = 295th
29 events = 11 miss cuts (4 by 1 shot)
• T6th Trophée Hassan II
• T11th Dunhill Links
• T11th British Masters
• T14th Czech Masters
Most areas measured by the tour have improved, but I also keep my own personal stats which are much more in depth and ’m happy with my progress and all my stats are trending in the right direction.
I’ve played with some good/notable players this year; some really impressed and others not so much. But, as ever, I learnt from all of them on how they managed their games, the crowd and their emotions.
They included Poulter, Fitzpatrick, Lowry, Kaymer, Donaldson, Larazabal, Johnston (Beef), Dubuisson, and Oleson to name a few, but Richard Sterne stood out tee to green as one of the best ball strikers I played with.
And, of course, there’s Anthony Wall who never leaves a shot out there; he really was world class around the greens and I learnt bucket loads from him.
One of the most stand out feelings and moments this year was on the iconic 17th green at Valderrama in the last round. I was playing with ‘Beef’ and local favourite Pablo Larazabal.
Pablo holed a fast putt down the hill for birdie from 15ft and the roar and atmosphere was out of this world.
It’s fair to say he’s a bit of a showman, and he held the Spanish flag above his head and after waving it around the noise levels went through the roof! #goosebumps
Low points included missing six cuts in a row which wasn’t nice, along with some of the ‘words of wisdom’ you get sent through or hear from other people which didn’t exactly help.
What hurt even more was missing the first two in that run of six by one shot, and both times bogeying my last hole in very poor fashion.
Prague was also a lousy feeling. After 36 holes I was leading by 3 shots thanks to some nice playing and some good weather breaks, and after 39 holes I was leading by 4, so to fritter away my chance of winning or a high finish and end the week 14th, was miserable.
But I didn’t dwell on it in the slightest and never hide away from failure or setbacks. Immediately we got together as a team, addressed the week and put a plan in place to improve certain areas of my game and mental approach – and at Close House I reaped the rewards.
Nobody has a more honest and hardworking team in place than me. We all sing off the same hymn sheet, we all strive for the same successes, and not one of us is fragile to criticism. We all think outside the box, and give 100% to the cause.
Golf may not be seen as a team sport, but you couldn’t be more wrong, so my thanks to my manager Duncan Maxim from MB (Mark Blundell) Partners, Molly Thorne, Hannah Lee, coach Mark Pearson, caddie Steve Tooby, Iain Highfield (mind), Rachael Tibbs (fitness) and finally Laura Hanson – the boss (haha)
Without sponsor’s and partners, it also couldn’t happen. There are too many to list who have contributed and in, so many ways and I wouldn’t want to miss anyone out, but you know exactly who you are – a massive, massive thank you.
There is a seriously big unofficial ‘team’ and it’s ever growing worldwide. It starts close to home with my family and friends who have been with me from the start but continues to grow with the amazing friendships I’ve made with many people from local golf clubs such as Woodsome Hall, Crosland Heath, Bradley Hall, Outlane, but also all around the UK.
To friends and families who have accommodated me from Ireland to Australia to South Africa I’m truly grateful for all the support.
I really hope all of you continue to enjoy this journey, wherever it takes us.