At home in the desert
AFTER a great few days back in England over Christmas and quality time with the family in Spain it was time to hit the road again for a three-tournament stint, which is the maximum amount of time I want to be away from them.
It’s crazy how quickly my children are growing up; they’re both great fun, don’t listen to daddy at all, and I’m amazed how switched on and clever they both seem to be. Jessica just wants to learn all the time, while Olivia just wants to cause as much chaos as she can – it’s brilliant, and incredible how different they are.
We still don’t know if Jessica understands the timescales of daddy’s travels, but she certainly understands I’m away for a good few bedtimes this time. And the night before I left was the first time we’ve had tears from her and asking for me not to go away. That’s a tough pill to swallow for Laura and me, seeing Jess sad, and something that at times, I’m sure, will make 2018 harder.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m under no illusion that it’s only me going through this. As in all walks of life and like many other jobs, we all make sacrifices and that just happens to be mine. I’m very lucky to do what I do, it’s just a selfish profession whether you want it to be or not.
After a full day of travel that included a train from Malaga to Madrid, I landed in Dubai around midnight and grabbed a taxi straight to the hotel near Jumeirah Golf Estates, which was to be my base for a few days of tuning up. It’s a quality set-up and the base for the European Tour Performance Institute.
This year I’m going to be working much more closely with the Tour’s fitness and physio team, which is something I’m very excited about. Having the physios, strength and conditioning coaches, and nutritionists at every event for the first time should lead to a better chance of progression, improvement and maintaining the good habits. What an opportunity.
I also headed to The Emirates course that would be hosting the Dubai Desert Classic in a couple of weeks to test the new Callaway Rogue driver. I’m using their Epic version as my contract with Taylor Made finished in January, and I’m a free agent for 2018 in terms of clubs. My only commitment is to use a Titleist ball and Footjoy shoes and glove.
In the HSBC in Abu Dhabi I anticipated being a bit rusty and knew the scoring would be good due to the quality of the field, which, reputedly, was backed by appearance fees totalling $6m. In round one I played okay, and a few poor errors were offset by birdies, but a bad stretch on day two – where I dropped five shots in three holes – saw me propping up the field after being lucky to break 80.
But my coach Mark Pearson has always said that great things can come from failure; how else are you supposed to learn? Over the weekend we sure talked a lot about managing my game on the course, landing spots, finish spots and the ‘actual yardage’, which is never normally the yardage you start with.
I will leave that topic for another blog one day, but I promise it’s a lot simpler than it sounds.
One last thing I must mention from Abu Dhabi is the F1 track at Yas Island where our hotel was. Every Tuesday night they open it to runners and cyclists and it was a heck of an experience and atmosphere running the 3.4 miles under the floodlights.
Last year I missed the cut in the Omega Dubai Desert Classic by one and was keen to make amends on a course I like. The rough was pretty juicy, the greens firm, and with quite a few doglegs it was a tricky test where experience plays a huge factor, as trusting some lines off the tees can make some holes much easier.
Tee shots on 13, 14, 17 and 18 all need some serious trust, and I’m sure next year I will take much stronger lines on 13 and 18 in pursuit of birdies. In the opening round I recovered from a three-putt bogey on the first with birdies from inside 10ft on two and three and made a few more for a 67, but even at five under I was already on the projected cut mark due to scoring that was as hot as the weather.
On day two I started poorly and at two over after three holes my game felt off and my head was spinning. Steve kept me going, but it was probably a good thing to get called off for darkness after 10 holes due to the morning fog delay.
A fresh start was just what I needed, and I came back early the next day and finished the last eight holes with pars and a birdie and went into the weekend in 30th position on seven under.
I spent most of Saturday hitting my second shot first, as my partners Nicolas Colsaerts and Andres Romero don’t hold back and were giving me 20 yards at times. But I played my own game, continued to hole some nice putts, and in the end just made the one bogey, on my last hole, three-putting from the fringe to shoot 70. I played the front nine nicely, making birdie on the third, and asked myself if I could make a back-nine charge.
I birdied 10 for the first time all week, then holed from 15ft on 11 and birdied 13 after a power play on a bold line with my drive….and it was on. Mentally I was in a good place and had momentum, but got a flyer from the rough on 16 and went through the green.
My mind coach Iain Highfield is big on self-talk and how you see the shot, and my caddie Steve asked me: “What do you see here, Chris?”. I replied: “It’s perched up pretty high on the rough, so I don’t want to go under it, so I’m going to open the loft, keep my speed up and clip it off the top, and if I land it next to Jamie’s (Donaldson) marker it’s got a chance.”
Where did I land it? Next to his marker and from there we watched it trickle down the hill and fall in the hole.
I drove the next green and made another birdie, and then finally hit the 18th fairway over the dog leg. With 250 yards to fly the water to the flag I hit a three-wood back left and made a great up and down from next to the grandstand, holing from seven feet to resounding cheers from #Team Hanson.
To eventually finish sixth after starting the day where I did, was a great result and hopefully something I can build on.
When I set out on this journey 12 years ago I didn’t see myself shooting 16 under around the Majlis Golf course to finish tied sixth in the Desert Classic. I’ve sure come a long way.