Accentuating the positive...
Justin Rose and his team along with the European Tour put on a fantastic British Masters at Walton Heath. They mixed the two courses together and changed three par 5s to par 4s for the tournament, but the condition was great, and the greens fantastic.
The food in the players’ lounge was exceptional too – warm hearty meals, salads, fresh smoothies, homemade flapjacks, and of course the odd cheeky pudding which went well with the special bar of Cadbury’s Justin left with a note in my locker.
Monday to Wednesday the weather was perfect, and as per usual changed for the tournament days with a strong and gusting wind.
In round one I controlled the ball well and gave myself plenty chances but took none and didn’t make one birdie and a mistake on 3 and 4 made the round look distinctly average, leaving me down in 100th spot.
I knew I had to play some special stuff in round two and a chip in from 20 yards gave me an ideal start backed up by another birdie on the second. On three I found the fairway bunker, and I will tell you they have never been my strong point. My caddie Cyril earned his wage right there and then and flipped the situation round making me feel extremely confident that it was the right shot and worth taking on.
I had 185 yards out of the sand over a steep lip into a strong wind – in my favour it was an uphill lie – but I didn’t have my normal stance. Where this shot came from I don’t know, and I clipped it off and found myself 30ft from the flag. I was buzzing!
Another birdie followed on 6, then the power play on 7 didn’t come off but I was still in good shape. I made a straightforward birdie on 11, then parred around to the 14th green before bad light called an end to the day.
Next morning, I played perfect stuff to record the second-best score of round two but Saturday proved a disappointment with a round of one over. Then a change in the wind direction made the last day tricky to say the least.
The 14th is a 469-yard downhill par 4 and had been running like a road, and on Saturday Lee Slattery found the greenside hollow with his drive.
Just 24 hours later I hit driver, 4 iron to just find the front edge of the green. A poor back nine which included taking an unplayable when my ball got lodged 15’ in a tree after bouncing vertically off a root eventually led to a finish just inside the top 50.
At St Andrews my game was about as good as the weather during the Dunhill which left me with one shot at keeping my card at my favourite course, Valderrama.
It was a long shot at that; I knew it, everyone knew it as I needed to win or finish second at a pinch, but anyway it was a week of stop and start golf due to horrific weather and for me it was another missed cut.
I didn’t feel too down, though. I’d had a fantastic chat with my mental coach Iain Highfield a few weeks prior and set my stall out for the rest of the year based on all outcomes and scenarios, and this was already one we had discussed.
Driving away from the Home of Golf got me thinking back to 2006 when I started my first year on the EuroPro Tour, when I really didn’t know what to expect from this crazy game.
Back then my dream was to play on the European Tour, maybe one event, maybe a handful. I wasn’t sure it would ever happen, so to be coming towards the end of my third season as a full member of the European Tour has been for me a pretty incredible achievement.
I had my dream printed on the back of my business cards which I used to hand out to attract sponsors, and when I achieved that I just don’t think I knew what the next dream was.
Over the last few weeks I’ve had some pretty deep conversations with Laura, my coach Mark, and Iain my mental/performance coach, but currently acting more like my counsellor or life coach. I 100% still have that dream to play on the European Tour, and whilst the year is not over yet I know my back is firmly against the wall.
After writing down and discussing all the different scenarios that could happen over the next few months I’m already looking forward to whatever path the next few months takes me down.
I firmly believe I have a good process in place with my full game, and it’s showing with the quality of many shots I’m hitting. I don’t however feel my process with my putting has been as strong.
With my eyes now firmly set on Q School I had a week at home where I took to the course to keep competitive, hitting real shots and holing putts, not just standing on the spot being repetitive. I knew my game was in good shape and I was swinging it well, so I kept fresh and focused on playing.
My caddy from the previous four events Cyril had ‘sacked’ me after Valderrama as his previous boss Ben Hebert had asked him back for the final three big money events, which I totally got and was extremely grateful for his work and professionalism.
So, did I want a caddy for Q-School 2? I had messages from a few guys but after some thought and having played some good stuff at home carrying my own bag we decided Laura would come with me and caddy.
Around 80 guys teed it up at El Encin in Madrid with 24 spots on offer at final qualifying. The weather for three days set perfect, although less so for the last round, and it was a straightforward exam with no rough and super soft greens at an average pace.
It wasn’t a course that rewarded good play, but I made it through in T21st position shooting 67, 71, 68, 72 for a -10 total. I didn’t drive the ball great, but I did manage my game well and stayed very patient.
For Laura it was back home to relieve the in-laws of their child-minding duties, pour them a large whisky and let them chill out and have some much needed rest, while I made the five-hour drive east to Lumine Golf for the final qualifying school...
*Chris failed to retain his European Tour card when he missed out by two shots at the final qualifying school. Full report in Q school report.