A SPELL of four weeks without playing an event left me wondering how match-ready I would be for the Open de Espana in Madrid. I had put in plenty of work, but this was one of the longest periods I had gone without competing.
The weather for everyone’s preparation for the event at the new National Golf Centre was shocking, with rain and a chilly wind with a chill factor well in the minuses.
The draw for tee times can be incredibly important, and a late one on the first day looked to be on the favourable side as it had been so cold for the early starters.
But that idea was soon dispelled when it started to rain at 5pm, which, combined with a frigid wind, made for miserable conditions that also saw a deterioration in my game.
I was a couple under for half the round, then through the rain I let a few weak shots cost me bogeys and, in the end, carded a one-over-par 73. That left me with plenty of work to do as we figured the cut would fall at around two or three under come Friday evening.
Through 10 holes of round two I was two over for the tournament and way out of touch, but I dug in and battled hard, birdieing 2, 5, 6 and 7 to give myself a chance.
After a good par save on the 8th then a great shot into the 9th, which was my last hole, I trickled a smelly putt down to a few inches to finish on two under, which I really thought might have a chance of getting me through to the weekend.
Many of you did too judging by the number of messages I received after my back nine battle, but in the end, I missed easily with minus four being the number.
In retrospect I should have expected needing around that total to get through, as there was no rough on the golf course and just a bit of juicy semi.
You could also blast it way off line past the semi and find your ball on hard pan or another fairway.
So, in the end it turned out to be a bomber’s delight, and paradise if you hit the odd really wide one as there was never a chance of losing a ball.
Definitely not my cup of tea, as a tough driving exam from the tee is normally rewarded, but that wasn’t the case here. On the upside a weekend off gave me and the family the chance to explore the city of Madrid, which was great, with the national science museum proving to be a favourite with the kids.
After a day working on the range with Steve back down home in Southern Spain we headed for Morocco where a new challenge awaited. Around a month ago I received an email from the European Tour detailing changes to the greens on the Royal Dar Es Salam course in Rabat and I wondered how they could make what is already a great course even better.
Small greens and narrow fairways were the hallmarks of the course, but we soon found out they had re-laid all of the greens leaving just four with the same shape and contours as before. As for the remaining 14, well I have to say that it looked like they had buried elephants under all of them.
It seemed pretty much like everyone’s instant impression was that they hadn’t made it better.
Some greens now looked crazy and possibly unplayable in parts. If you got a chance to watch it on TV I hope they showed the 4th, 9th, 10th and 17th where the available pin positions are now so limited.
Anyway, I still love the place! It’s a fact that if you now play bad around here you really don’t have a chance, and if you play well you’re in the mix, which was very similar to what we saw in India a few weeks ago.
After a good morning session on the range on Tuesday followed by 18 holes I headed back to the hotel gym for a session with the Tour’s strength and conditioning coach.
Wednesday saw the arrival of coach Pearson so I knew it was going to be a productive day, and a great laugh.
#TeamHanson’s spirit is through the roof and when we are all together it’s always a day of total mickey taking, normally at the expense of my caddie Steve. But he takes it great and gives it back in equal amounts.
In this team no one hides from criticism and everyone is super keen to learn and do whatever it takes to push us closer to our goals. The environment we work in is first-class and I’m sure very business is trying to create a similar feeling.
It’s very much a team effort – even if Steve does think he hits the shots (that’s a caddie joke, promise).
Round one went okay. It didn’t feel great, but Steve and Mark both felt we managed it well. In the end I shot level after holing a nice birdie putt on 18, and to see my ‘strokes gained’ stats, relative to the field, as all positive was pleasing.
In round two I knew we were in for a battle and a flushed tee shot on the 10th, which was my opening hole, gave me a good feeling. I missed a great chance on 11 and on 15 finally made a birdie before following up with a bogey.
I still felt good and a great up and down on 18 to turn in one under par left me in good spirits. But this place is just so tough and doesn’t offer up many chances, and my game started to get a little scrappy with a poor tee shot on the 6th leading to a bogey.
I thought the cut would probably go to plus three and, I’m not going to lie, this number was now in the back of my mind.
Down the 7th I found my drive stuck behind a lone tree. I tried to chip a 5 wood as I had no follow through and tried to use the spring in the face to get it up near the green.
But that plan didn’t work, and another bogey put me at two over, with a birdie chance coming up on a par -5 before having to negotiate a tricky par-3 with an island green.
It was far from a straightforward finish. I pulled my tee shot and again was stuck behind a tree. I had to play a sand wedge left-handed out of a rough lie. I made contact and it flew across the fairway into the rough and trees at the other side.
I was now knee deep in rubbish and hacked it 70 yards forward then thankfully kept my cool to hit a 7 iron to 15ft and rolled it in. I missed a great chance on 9, but was happy to hang onto the right side of the cut line as it was a while since I had played on the weekend.
I set off nicely in round three, with birdies on 2 and 5, and kind of felt in cruise control, but I guess the minute it normally feels like that the game then comes to bite you, and soon enough I was back to one over.
I played some great stuff from 11 through to 15, with a birdie on 12, but didn’t capitalise on lots of good chances. If you miss the fairway on 16 it’s tough, and a bogey there was followed by my worst bogey of the day on 17.
I decided that a birdie on 18 would make the day feel a lot better, and after a perfect drive I left myself a number where I could find the green. I’m not one to hit many high draws on demand, so to hit a high draw with a five wood from 270 and see it pitch on the green was satisfying. Unfortunately, it bounced through the back and I failed to get up and down. Argh!
I hit a few putts that afternoon, smashed a strong gym session, then got back to the hotel, packed up and chilled out ready for one last round before heading to China.
The last round was consistent with the previous rounds. I played really well to get under par at halfway before stumbling over the finish line at either level par or over par.
I had a good chance to go to three under on the 13th, but missed that and from there it went the other way with bogeys at 14 and 16. And they were soft bogeys too.
The last is a birdie hole if you can hit a good long tee shot 18, but I smashed it into the trees. I tried to get a free drop for animal scrapings, but the referee was having none of it and after a penalty drop and a crap lay-up I managed to hole from 18ft, which left me in a tie for 41st.
Was it a good week? I would rate it only as okay, but what was very satisfying was the progress I have made on a couple of aspects of my game by applying some new processes to them over the last five weeks, and it was good to see them transferring on to the course.
Tour update on Volvo China Open
n Chris Hanson finished in a tie for 27th place with rounds of 71,71,67 and 70 at the Volvo China Open in Beijing, which lifted him to 85th in the 2018 European Tour Race to Dubai with earnings of 128,383 euros from 11 tournaments.
Read about his exploits in China in next month’s blog in Yorkshire Golfer.