“It’s Just a Man and His Dog Watching”

At some point in the last year, I made a new photo album on my phone. Probably not one of my better decisions and I’m still not sure why I haven’t deleted it, but it was to put all the screenshots of social media backlash I’ve had or seen in response to gender equality statements I (or my friends) have made.

It’s not a particularly pleasant place.

I keep it there in part for an unnecessary motivation; to prove one day to people who will have an argument against women’s sport forever that they are wrong. To prove that it is not and has never been “simple economics”, because “literally nobody watches women’s golf and nobody cares” (see also: “nobody wants to watch it and it’s shite love”), because women are “not marketable” (even though “some of these golfing ladies are fit”) or because I want to “play the entitlement card”, or believe women have “an absolute right to equal prize money”.

I keep it there to remind myself how far there still is to go; for however much progress women’s sport, and golf, is making, a wealth of informed journalists and a healthier tournament schedule are from enough to change perceptions of comparable athletes across the gender divide. Golf is a strange sport because it tries to keep up with the modern world while both reinforcing and refusing to accept its existence in its own self. Golf is not a game for the masses, and I think it is a mistake if it tries to make itself so. It is too demanding, too time-consuming, too frustrating, too technical. As a professional, too emotionally draining.

But trying to change any of those things lessens its beauty. In an age where golf is questioning its identity, wondering how and who should protect it while money tries to come in from dangerous places, its beauty remains prevalent if you keep from drowning in social media dissent. And its beauty can be utilised to address some of its deficiencies. Its beauty can be utilised to make people fall in love with it, both more deeply and for the first time. Its beauty can be utilised to educate the casually sexist commenters on a world beyond their misinformed notions of athleticism and talent and skill, without saying a word.

Its beauty can be utilised in showcases like the Vic Open.

At 13th Beach in Barwon Heads, Australia, stand behind the 7th green – or perhaps in the middle of it – and watch as men and women alike, capable of 350 yard drives and 10 shot margins of victory, of Solheim Cup brilliance and major wins, stand on the tee 105 yards away and wonder how the hell they are going to find the green.

Watch and admire players piece together seven 65s and a 63 in the first round alone – five from men, three from women – in entirely different ways. Watch a brother and sister, separated by just one tee time, go into a final round of a tournament, both with genuine chances of winning. Enjoy not having to be confronted by conditions that saw the final group in round 3 for each the men’s draw and the women’s draw collectively play in 22 over par.

On a course like this, every possible skill is being tested to the extreme. It will not be the player that hits it the furthest who wins, although it may play a part. Power is an essential skill in golf, and it is becoming more so with each year that passes. But it remains far from the only skill required to be successful. Watching players hit drives 350 yards plus is not the only element of enjoyment in watching golf. If it was, there would only be money in long drive contests.
Jack Nicklaus and Ben Hogan drew crowds and sponsors and fans to the game for a multitude of reasons, not least being they were two of the greatest golfers to ever play the game. As did, and as were, Annika Sorenstam and Karrie Webb. Not because any of them hit the ball 350 yards.

People come to watch golf. People pay to watch golf. To watch skill and theatre, athleticism and passion, imagination and patience, weaving through the unpredictable predictability of the rise and fall of each character; each actor; each golfer. Each woman, each man.

My ‘argument’ for so long has not been that women simply deserve equal pay as golfers, the end. My argument is simply that in a supply and demand marketplace, if the supplies were given equal treatment, the demand would be much closer together than some people are willing to accept. Equal treatment is where all the questions lie, where all those with stakes in this game must look at themselves and ask if they can do better. Ask themselves what they would say when their daughter asks why playing golf may not be a viable career path when her brother didn’t have to wonder. Ask why it is ok to report on a male losing in the final of a tournament but not a woman winning in the final of the corresponding tournament on the same course at the same time. Ask why it is ok to have 190 pictures of golfers in a magazine and not one of them be of a woman. Ask if you’re really ok with why the winner of a men’s tournament receives a cheque 57 times the amount of the female winner of the corresponding tournament (yes, 57).

Or don’t ask. Don’t ask yourself if you really think that is what we are worth.
Just watch.
Watch a tournament that has already figured out how the world could really work. Should really work.

Find a way to watch the final round of the Vic Open, and pay attention to where the crowds of people are.
That’s why it’s offering equal prize money. Not because the sponsors or organisers feel some moral pressure to have it so.
It’s because the demand says it should be so.

The man and his dog will be there watching. But it won’t just be them.

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“The Space that Separates”: Between the In-Between

Being a professional golfer at this time of year is weird.
I’ve been trying for a month to try and put it into words but it just won’t work. The symbolism of that is almost exactly my point, but I still don’t really know what I’m trying to say. That’s the whole problem with this time of year.

It’s the time of year you crave at regular intervals from February to November.

It’s the time of year that looks like a golden stretch of hallowed ground, a shining light that your outstretched fingertips can almost touch when you wake up trying to make the cut in your last tournament of the year, the fumes of exhaustion an unpleasant cocktail of anti-malaria tablets, 48 hours of nutritional intake consisting of a solitary chocolate ice cream, a lingering bug that could be from a day ago or could be from multiple trips to countries across the globe that your stomach just doesn’t seem to want on the schedule. Blended with the emotional baggage of another year of playing golf for a living, that I could spend the rest of my life trying to find the words to do justice to without ever coming close. (Disclaimer: I wouldn’t change a second of it.)
It’s the time of year that looks and smells like a bar to an in-denial alcoholic, the anticipation of the glass being raised to your lips while you’re walking back to the tee to try not to hit your third tee shot in a row out of bounds, point blank refusing to look up from the ground or to acknowledge the desperately kind “good shot” that trails your ball finally finding the fairway. For five.
It’s the time of year that looks like an endlessly soft bed with an endless supply of coffee with endless football to watch when you’re a little bit drunk in a pub in Woburn, trying to let alcohol provide the reason and rationality to fight down the firing squad of questions your brain is providing as answers for a derailing few weeks that needed to matter most.

There, in those moments, when you’re still doing the thing you love for a living but the only thing dragging you through is professional pride, the thought of this time of year is oxygen.

And then you get here, to this time of year, and you feel like you can’t breathe properly.

Because all those moments during the year when you crave some time, some peace, a chance to step back and see the big picture… you get here and you don’t know what the big picture is. You don’t know how it connects, and you thought this was the time when it was supposed to connect. In reality, it’s the in-between moments when it connects. When it makes sense… even if the moments themselves don’t.
The moments when you’re waiting in an immigration queue wondering whether to reflect on the tournament just gone or anticipate the one coming, the moments when you’re lying in a dark hotel room watching a Premier League game from six time zones away howling at a VAR call as you await an afternoon tee time, the moments when you walk past the slightly red-faced, slightly overweight, slightly upper class British tourists in Marbella to find a quiet rock overlooking a beautiful blue sea for an hour or so. The moments when you’re sitting in an airport in the middle of the night with around 100 occupants, 95 of which are other professional golfers and 4 of which are monkeys, casually juxtaposing with an unfinished roof and a shop selling Pringles and Dairy Milk.

Those in-between moments are the ones where you join up some of the dots. They’re the moments that create most of my blogs. The reason I’ve been struggling to write this one is because it’s a moment that’s in between the in-between moments, and I don’t know how to make sense of that. I don’t know how it connects.

But as someone much wiser than me told me recently, that’s when you keep going, one piece at a time. Connecting one more dot to another. Connecting the space that separates. Even if it’s only to get from one in-between to another in-between. Finding the precipice where you can breathe. Finding the precipice where you can succeed.

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Check….

Do you ever scroll through Twitter and wonder why the hell you waste your time on it? In a world where time seems to run away from us, we actively choose to use up some of that time reading inflammatory news bites and ignorant vitriol disguised as opinion; words and views united only by their intention to anger.

(I blame Brexit more than I blame Twitter.)

We’re lucky in our precious golf bubble that even our most divisive issues are relatively unimportant when it comes to the bigger picture (and I say that as someone whose world is golf). But it does intrigue and slightly depress me that the issues that truly seem to ignite people’s passions, even in our golf bubble, are those that also unearth the most conservative contempt.

Denis Pugh seems to have a knack for finding those issues. Slow play always does it. Equality does too, but only really when it can be condensed by the ones who like to condense it into ‘economics 101’. And I think we can now add calling out other players/knowing the rules to that list. Maybe that’s the problem; none of these issues are clearly defined, and a space that calls for short-form quick-fire commentary doesn’t lend itself to prolonged or reasoned debate. (It is Trump’s preferred communication method, after all…) But it can be difficult to understand or comprehend the personal nature of some responses. I think when you’re used to sharing enough of yourself on your social media to give what you think is a general sense of your character, the backlash can feel like an attack on that (and sometimes it very much is), which can be shocking, and upsetting – even when you know the ignorance is unjustified and meaningless. None of us are immune.

The ability or substance required for any one issue to ignite and engage is beside the point. The point can get so lost it makes you wonder why it’s worth igniting in the first place. But that brings me here. Maybe it was the entire (naive) purpose of social media from the very beginning… its ability to connect.

I might be way too long winded about it sometimes (exhibit A) but I like sharing some of what the ebb and flow of being a professional golfer looks like, because it’s undoubtedly one of the loneliest sports on the planet. But we’re somehow together in that loneliness too.

It’s the shared experience that connects us all, that makes us all care. It isn’t rules justifications, it isn’t slow play, it isn’t the distance debate, it isn’t the gender pay gap.

It’s the complexities and intricacies of each of us versus the sport. It’s why we, as a golf world, cared about Brendon Todd winning the Bermuda Championship. It’s why we cared that Haley Moore got her LPGA card. It’s why we cared when Steven Brown did more than just secure his European Tour card in Portugal. It’s why I write, and why I put it out there for people to see.

Whatever level of golf you play or understand or coach or watch, you get it. You get how one day you can have a confidence that can make you fly, and the next day you can be in a black hole of anguish that makes you question everything.

It’s why I can nearly win a tournament one week despite feeling more comfortable with a 5 iron than a wedge, and then average under 10ft with my wedges the next week and still make more 6s than 4s on par 5s. Why I can be astounded at playing with a girl with a swing speed of over 100mph and still hit rescues in tight while she flies greens with short irons. Why that same girl can hit her first tee shot straight into the water the next day and still end up shooting 64.

It’s why I can get the putting yips in a 144 hole tournament that determines an entire year, and yet still believe in winning a European Order of Merit mere weeks later. Without looking for sympathy or back-slapping or advice or criticism. Just to share, and just to connect. To be together in our loneliness. Because let’s be honest, when we strip back all the controversies and ignorance and things that need to change and things that drive us to despair… we’re damn lucky to love this game.

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Blink and You’ll Miss It

And on we go.

Just off your second 9 hour flight in 3 days.
One of those immigration queues that feels like it gets longer the more time you spend in it.
The mixture of long-haul flight sweat and irritable why-aren’t-we-at-Disney yet child and parent stress washing over everyone as the metallic tannoy voice announces the BA flight luggage belt is awaiting technical support… as if anyone’s got that far yet anyway.
There’s a coffee stain on the sleeve of your jumper that’s starting to smell like it’s been there since you left India.

But that’s not the only thing lingering. It must be something to do with airports. It’s like the anchor of transition, if there can be such a thing; you’re either leaving one place or arriving at another, and yet you’re in neither one place or the other. Not sure whether to look backwards or look forwards. Trying to bottle a feeling that might have already passed, or anticipate a feeling that hasn’t yet arrived. Still processing what you’ve left behind, but the pace of that processing might affect what’s ahead.

You stood in this same immigration queue at this same airport exactly two years ago.
In the exact same place.
And yet, in an entirely different place.

Then, the confidence was mixed with the unknown. A quiet assuredness that your plan had worked, because the only goal was to not have to go to first stage of Q School ever again. The only definitive that came out of an amateur/professional transition that created a thousand identity questions you didn’t know how to form, never mind answer. And yet, a definitive that created a plan, that led to quiet rungs of progress that looked like they were planned all along. A confidence created from the reaffirmation that figuring out things your own way, on your own terms, was enough to take you anywhere. But the unknown of ‘anywhere’… that was the next question waiting to be formed.

A question that led you down dead ends and into brick walls, that you occasionally smashed through, when careful steps turned into steady jogs turned into blind sprints that sent you flying but also sent you spiralling. On the never-ending merry-go-round of professional golf and elite sport and life itself, never quite sure if you want to step off and take a break to catch your breath and look around, but wondering if doing so will make it too hard to get back on again.

Two years later, the same immigration queue and the same reaffirmation. Of knowing that figuring things out will make things figure themselves out. This time brought about differently, in fits and starts and discomfort and periods of pure calm that remind you where ‘home’ is. Standing in that same immigration queue with a brain still threading the needle of a tournament that started a week ago but only ended two (give or take) full sleeps ago in a country 8000 miles away. The reaffirmation; the pride, the fulfilment of knowing you’re right where you’re meant to be… tinged with slight disappointment, all floating in a cloud of something else that could be a slight bitterness and could be acceptance: that the world keeps turning no matter where the pieces of your jigsaw are.

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Solheim: The Brutality of Battle

I decided to write this with about an hour left of play on Saturday evening. I wanted to put the emphasis back on the golf; to try and unravel some of the intricacies that cause the nature of golf and the nature of humans to intertwine so tightly, with such complexity, in a manner that I think is worth understanding. A manner that makes this particular Solheim Cup so deeply fascinating; on the 26 individual pages of every player and captain; and one collective page of women’s golf.

I wanted to draw the emphasis towards that, and away from the one factor undercutting all of that quiet brilliance… before I realised, in that ensuing hour, that that factor is doing more than undercutting; it’s dominating.

Slow play.

Six hour rounds that are stirring social media disgust, fan apathy and journalistic impasse. I was going to address it, but dismissively, because as Thomas Bjorn tweeted, the Solheim Cup is not the place to fix it. The course, circumstances and conditions have all magnified an issue that very much exists over the last two days, but those that truly understand golf should know that this Solheim Cup is worth more than that.

I believe as strongly as anyone, and more so after that last 48 hours, that it is an issue that golf desperately needs to do something forceful about, an issue that governing bodies and rules officials need to have one clearly defined solution on, an enforceable solution that does not lend itself to bowing down to player stature and broadcasting necessities. That needs to happen. And fast. While social media sways more in the direction of worthless, unfounded opinions, the consensus of validity here is undeniable.
But it does not, and should not, define this Solheim Cup. This Solheim Cup is offering us too much to let the laziest story smear it.

And as I thought about it, I realised the slow play factor only adds to the picture I wanted to paint. The picture of Gleneagles and the Solheim Cup, the picture of gale force winds and chilling temperatures, the picture of the quiet determination of Catriona Matthew and the extroverted competitiveness of Juli Inkster, the picture of experience and respect trying to prove that they don’t have a point to prove and young, fearless talent standing, folding and trying to stand again as those blind-to fears stare them down.

Golf is hard. What seems predictable is inevitably unpredictable and what is unpredictable eventually seems predictable. We try to create narratives that create themselves. And really, we should all know better. In the end, it is golf that decides what happens. It is only about who can refuse to let their story end with the most insistence.

The intense competitor that rouses the crowd and pulls a team onto its feet, pulls so hard that she knocks herself over. The flawless golf swing that paves superstardom flails under the microseconds of technical imperfections invisible to everyone except a new moment in time. The solidity of experience crumbles ever so slightly in the magnifying glass of the end. And yet, the tired, over-battled duo who have finally run out of steam breathe in again. Breathe life again. Breathe a win again. And the sisters seemingly a step above everyone else, sat out and watched everyone else. The Americans who verbally bit off more than they could chew without backing it up, suddenly swallowed it and found their voices again. Climbed up the ladder of their words. The Americans who were just too cold, who wanted a warm bath and hot food and no referees and to be anywhere else in the world, lit a fire in the fading light that’ll burn until tomorrow.

In the end, one team will win. But every player will have beaten, and lost to, golf and its own complexity… a million times along the way. Definitely slowly at times, but stick with it. Because golf is beautiful in its brutality. And that’s worth watching.

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Sport Waits for No-one… except Stokes

I’m about to do something that feels a little wrong. Like my putting over the past week, it’s as though someone else has control of my hands.
I’m going to write about cricket.

But – and maybe it’s only a justification to myself – this is about more than cricket. It’s about sport. Every sport fan lives the ebb and flow of victory and defeat, of adulation and apathy. The weekends of passive interest and erratic phone-checking, the weekends where it means nothing and the weekends where it means everything, the weekends of searing hope and crushing defeat.

It’s about all of that and none of that. It’s about trying to put into words the feelings and emotions that bind together an incredibly divided world in fleeting moments of time. Moments in time like yesterday, when Ben Stokes crashed his final boundary up and away to draw England level in an Ashes that was, without human doubt, lost.

It’s the the same reason why watching McIlroy spar past the best in the world last night, in what was, despite the PGA Tour gimmicks, a thrilling display of brilliance, sprinkled with mistakes that were brushed off with guts and grittiness, to take home a sum of money more than 99.7% of golfers to have ever played the LPGA have earned in their entire careers, was good, and entertaining, and worth watching… but not a ‘moment’. Not like what unfolded in the Bank Holiday sunshine in Leeds, and across thousands of living rooms and phone screens and car radios. The collectiveness of disbelief, of hope, of astonishment.

Even as I write about it, I’m not sure if I’m over-dramatising it. Sporting events in particular can get swept away by the tide of public opinion, by fans and players and media wanting to believe in a little piece of magic. It’s why every result in every sport is over-analysed, when most of them should be filed away, Brooks Koepka like, in the box of irrelevance to which they belong; stepping stones to the moments that actually mean something. To the moments that are magic. To the moments that we might luck into being present for without being quite certain of what we’re witnessing. The moments where we have to check our social media and turn to our friends and make that “noise you make to alert someone to come into the living room and watch the sport that’s happening”. Because it did happen. They do happen.

Yesterday happened. Yesterday happened, as the Miracle of Medinah happened seven years ago, as we all watched and listened for hours. Hours that transitioned both seamlessly and violently from compliant viewing of the inevitable, to a seed of hope that burst into belief; a safe grounding from the illusion of momentum that the inevitable defeat was now an inevitable victory; and yet in that same moment that the belief turned concrete, it suddenly wasn’t. For every athlete, every fan with any fractional degree of experience, knew something.

Sport loves stories. But it doesn’t wait for them.

Our superstars are human, and our teams play in an unprotected arena of reality.

Every time Stokes launched another ball upwards and the desperate Australian cry of “catch!” followed it, I, and thousands of others, condemned myself for daring to believe, waiting for the camera to pan to the Australian fielder poised underneath.
Every time Nathan Lyon’s arm arced around his shoulder or Josh Hazlewood crashed towards the wicket, I, and thousands of others, condemned myself for daring to believe.
Every time Jack Leach removed his glasses with the delicacy of caring more about their safety than the fate of the Ashes, I, and thousands of others, condemned myself for daring to believe.

Yet reality never happened. Even when it did. Stokes might have known before we did, but he still didn’t know. He didn’t know, when batter after batter left him deserted at the crease. He didn’t know, when Harris dropped him with only 17 to go. He didn’t know, when it wasn’t his pad that was nicked but Leach’s, and Australia made the fatal error of using their last lifeline. He didn’t know, when Lyon somehow left the ball behind as he turned to the stumps with Leach stranded, lifeless, with only one run to go. And he, like all of us, condemned himself and sport and the universe for believing. Just as in 2012 at Medinah, when Kaymer hit his first putt on 18 six foot past, and we all condemned ourselves for forgetting our superstars are human.

Sport loves stories, but it doesn’t wait for them.
Except when it does.

And it’s f***ing beautiful.

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The Line Between Progress and Paralysis (By Analysis)

The process of getting better is really really hard.
Because the things that make you great can often be your downfall.

Golf gives you little cuts almost every day; every round; every tournament. They vary in size and severity, but they come often. The tap in you missed after doing all the hard work to get back in play. The drive you hit into the hazard right because you were trying too hard to avoid the OB left. The lag putt you left 10ft short because you forgot to factor in the sudden downfall of rain on the speed of the greens. All the little moments that individually, don’t mean much; don’t highlight anything. Like most cuts, if you leave them alone, they’ll heal. They might hurt for a while, might sting a bit, might add up to a missed cut or two and cause you a few sleepless nights or extra beers, but they’ll heal. You’ll get on with it. Until you want to get better.

When you want to get better, you’ll not know whether to leave the cuts alone or whether to pick at them until they bleed. Are they hiding something you’re missing?

The 3 wood you hit a couple of yards off line into thick rough that you didn’t know was there which cost you shots you never had enough time to recover from – that’ll still be in your mind as you’re grinding on the range on Saturday at the course you desperately wanted to be climbing the leaderboard on. But it’ll fade; you’ll be rational. You’ll know it was just one shot, a shot that wasn’t even that bad; just a case of horrible timing; a split-second of poor course strategy, a split-second of a clubface being a split-degree more closed that you wanted it to be. It’ll hurt, but it won’t make you question everything. Keep trusting. You’re good at course strategy. It’s just golf.

But what about that little cut the week before that? When you hit your first tee shot six inches from a fairway bunker which gave you a shot you could never get close enough to the green to have a good chance of par, meaning you were fighting from minute one of three hundred in the amphitheatre of a major, where there was no fairway bunker to cause you any damage on the opposite side of the fairway? You tried to keep trusting. But was that poor course strategy too? Are you missing something? Are you kidding yourself?

And what about that little cut the week before that? When you put yourself in a great position after round one with some of the best golf you’ve played all year in the biggest event of it so far, but then failed to adjust your shot visualisation to the fractionally lower standard of golf you were playing in round two, leading to just a few too many short-sided misses? You tried to keep trusting. But was that poor course strategy too? Are you missing something? Are you kidding yourself?

Because remember that little cut today? In the round that effectively puts you out of the tournament before it’s even begun? When you hit that drive a yard through the fairway into the cut between the semi and the rough, where the saturated, heavy grass twisted the clubface of your 9 iron and sent the ball arrowing towards a spot that you were only ever going to make double from? Both your playing partners hit 3 wood. You tried to keep trusting. But was that poor course strategy too? Are you missing something? Are you kidding yourself?

Because remember that tournament you should have won earlier this year? When you were cruising, until you made double from the middle of the fairway on a hole where the wind was off the right and the ball was above your feet and there was water on the left and your shot pattern is a draw? After you let that one heal, you knew it wasn’t anything other than golf exposing a bad shot with the worst possible outcome. It happens; it didn’t have to mean anything more than that. You tried to keep trusting. But was that poor course strategy too? Are you missing something? Are you kidding yourself?

Finding a pattern without creating the illusion of one is possibly the most difficult thing to do in golf. Commentators will fall into that trap, media will fall into that trap, coaches will fall into that trap. But so will players themselves. When you want to get better, you want reasons; you want answers. You have to pick at the cut and sometimes you’ll make it bleed for no reason. But what if it’s something real? Self diagnosis as a golfer is really hard, but more often that not you’re the only one that knows enough about your game – and your thoughts and your actions – to truly do it. You might hurt yourself as you make yourself better. Knowing which cuts to leave alone to heal and which ones to pick at is almost impossibly hard. But it’s the process of getting better.
Knowing what’s bleeding and what’s healing.

And then trusting.

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McIlroy: The Shackles of Maturity

White trousers and a white shirt with a pink stripe down the back. White shoes, pink belt, and a pink hat that could barely sit atop the bouncing, possibly highlighted curls beneath it. If any kid rocked up at a prestigious amateur (or professional) event like that now they’d be side-eyed off the course. The cliques of established, well-rounded elite amateurs would be scoffing their disapproval to each other with raised eyebrows and sneering smiles that say it all.

“Who does he think he is?”

Rory McIlroy.

That’s who.

It takes a carefree recklessness to act like the man before people recognise you as actually being the man. But I think Rory knew. And that carefree recklessness – alongside supreme ability and a probably underrated work ethic – would have been one of the main contributors into propelling that boy into “the man”, and Portrush folklore at the same time. But 14 years on from that record breaking 61, the carefree recklessness is the thing I think Rory has lost some of. It doesn’t have to be arrogance, or cockiness; even if those with less ability and self-belief call it that. I don’t think Rory has ever not had self-belief, and the number of tournaments he’s won since that day are hardly going to knock that. It’s, as he described himself in the latest Nike ad, an “obliviousness”. And it’s the thing that he so desperately needs.

That ad shows video footage of his 16 year old obliviousness being unknowingly channeled into greatness. It shows his signature bounce down the fairways that reflected the concrete optimism of his belief that he could do anything. Alongside those grainy shots are clips of him now. The same powerful rotation through the ball, the same effortlessly balanced poise in his finish, the same eyeing up and down of the ball as it rockets towards its target. But this Rory is leaner, stronger, wiser. And yet, this Rory stares out over the Antrim coast, wondering how to be that 16 year old again.
He’s undoubtedly a better golfer now. This Rory has four majors in his locker with eight margin victories in two of them, and countless scoring records in the intervening years. This Rory has proven time and time again that he is the man, as the 16 year old was that day at Portrush. But it comes with a burden now.

The margins in golf are so incredibly fine, particularly at the highest end of the game. That’s why picking a winner on any given week is so difficult. So to consistently put yourself in contention in major championships, to constantly be one of the best players in the world, you have to understand those margins. You have to understand yourself. (Or you have to have people around you that do). We all know, as Rory does, that he has the ability and the skill to be one of the best players to have ever played the game. But that isn’t enough. To capitalise on that, he’s had to learn more. And I think it’s in his nature to want to do that; to travel down the irresistibly relentless path of golfing excellence. He, as others, has had to understand every corner of his game and his tendencies. So that they don’t breakdown when the pressure is at its peak. When he’s in the pack on a Sunday of a major and he knows he’s got the game to win but he’s not operating at his destructive best, and there are half a dozen others with game and mental strength on the day to win too. There are a million and one factors that can stop a golfer from winning a tournament that they are good enough to win. I think people sometimes forget that. Figuring out as many of those things as you can is a pretty good strategy to learning to control them. Figuring them out can give you the edge when it matters the most – but they are the same things that can stop you from having the edge. Knowledge is only power when you know how to use it. Knowledge sometimes, can stop you from being oblivious.

Maturity, intelligence, depth… call it what you want: it is an asset and a burden. It can carry you. But you also have to carry it. When he was 16, Rory didn’t have to.

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Why We Matter – An Open Letter

Maybe this isn’t my place to say.
But I don’t yet have the cynicism of the players who have been around for longer than me, who have seen too much life sucked out of the LET to believe it’ll ever look like being anything more than on life support to the outside world. But because of circumstance, I also haven’t bypassed the LET like some of my peers. And I haven’t yet moved past the stage of caring. I hope I never do.

I like to think I’m a good representative for our tour. I won’t pretend I’ve always felt like this – if things had gone to plan when I came out of college, I would have progressed past first stage of LPGA Q School and had some kind of status on either the LPGA or Symetra Tour. I’d been playing college golf for 4 years; it made sense for me to transition nicely in America. That’s how a lot of girls see it. But like most things in life and golf, that beautifully straightforward plan didn’t work out. So I tried my plan B; I went to LET Q School. I came up a couple of shots short of getting my full card and was left to wonder whether I was cut out for professional life at all. Luckily – even though it felt like blindly at the time – I took the only option I had left and committed myself to the Access tour for 2017, hoping to take any chances I might have on the main tour.

It’s funny how things work out.

If none of that had happened, I might well have never found out what the LET was all about. I might have never had those opportunities, to fall back in love with the process and nothing more, to take my golfing vulnerability into an environment that taught me it was ok to have that. Into an environment that shaped that vulnerability into trust, into steeliness, into a relentless determination to be myself and prove what that could mean on a golfing platform. I like to believe we all end up where we are meant to be. But I don’t pretend for a second to believe I could be the person or the golfer I am today if I hadn’t fallen into this particular path. Events shape you, and people shape you. I think I’ve always craved people who understand me. We all want to feel like we belong. Like a lot of people, I’ve struggled with that more often in life than I probably should have. But falling into life on the Access Series and the LET taught me that it was ok to be myself. That being myself could mean something. That being myself meant I belonged.

That wouldn’t have happened to me anywhere else. Even now, two years later, I don’t carry that with me into every environment. That’s part of life; getting out of our comfort zones is the hardest and the best thing to do. But the LET has something special; provides something special, for everyone who truly gives themselves up to it. Maybe I can’t explain that, but I’ll try. It provides you with a comfort zone at the same time as forcing you out of another one. We’re all protected by each other even though we spend every day trying to be better than each other.

Players are limited, or think they are limited, in what they can do to support the genuine growth of this tour. We think it is beyond us, above us, a waste of our time anyway. We’ve got golf to focus on. That might be right. The running, the operating, the guidance of the tour are not things we can control, nor do we have the expertise to do so. I would never tell anyone in another role how to do their job. But I don’t think anyone can really express what the LET is and what it means apart from the players. And that, to me is what the rest of the world just don’t seem to want to understand.

I know everyone in a role at the LET cares about the tour. Those people wouldn’t be there if they didn’t. I have every respect for every ounce of hard work they have put into their jobs, in what has been an incredibly difficult environment over the past few years. They deserve more credit than they get. Of course they could all do better, the tour could do more to help itself – but so can all of us, in whatever capacity that might be. But I’m tired of making a case for why we deserve more respect than we get when I have no idea if the people with the power to make that happen – within this organisation and well beyond it – really get it. Really understand it. People are talking about women’s sport, about women’s golf, far more than they ever have. What’s happening with women’s football right now is exhilarating, and inspiring… and also couldn’t have happened without individuals not scared of tearing down conventions and stereotypes and privilege.

People will disagree, but I know in my heart that women’s golf in Europe can light up the sporting landscape in a similar way. Maybe golf will never have the entertainment value or capture the casual fan in the way some other sports can, but we do have something; the LET has something. If it’s understood and bottled properly, our popularity can explode. I genuinely believe that. But right now I’m scared that the boat is going to be missed; the tidal wave of support and interest and investment into women’s sport will crash over us and we’ll carry on trying not to drown. Treading water isn’t any better; it just makes us all exhausted before the same thing happens in the end. Too dramatic maybe, but we deserve better.

That’s why I’m writing this. I’ve been exposed to enough of the world of sport, in a multitude of avenues, to know how important this is. And maybe I’m just a player who really can’t change very much – I spend half my time worrying that I’m sucking life out of my own golfing potential by concerning myself with the life of the LET. But like I said, I care too much. I don’t know what my own career holds, and I don’t know if that would have been greater or not had I made it onto the LPGA at the first ask. I still want to play against the best players in the world, because I want the best for myself.

But I believe the LET has shaped me in ways I’ll be forever grateful for. And I know I’m far from the only one. Every tournament throws up a story of someone who needs the LET. Every tournament provides an example of someone who at some point in time, hasn’t believed. In themselves, in their own ability, in their own potential. Someone who has questioned whether it’s all worth it. Every tournament gives someone a chance to believe again. Every tournament gives someone the heady glow of achievement, the all-encompassing warmth that comes with the realisation that your peers are genuinely happy for you. That they understand. Those moments, however fleeting, are electrifying. The applause when you walk onto the 18th green, spotting your friends hiding bottles of champagne and elated whispers of excitement… knowing that those moments are entirely yours. And yet they are shared with everyone who matters too. Those moments are everything.

As far as I can tell, you’ll struggle to find a group of athletes anywhere who have such genuine warmth to each other – and that’s despite the fact we’re competing against each other every single day. We are all our own opponents. But collectively, we are a team. The cliched family. Maybe it’s because we’ve gone through such rough times as a tour recently. Maybe it’s because we all know just how difficult it is to try and carve a career for yourself – both financially and developmentally – when we have such limited opportunities. For a million different reasons, I think we’ve all got a respect and empathy for each other that is rare to find elsewhere. We care.

I know competing in this market, as a tour, is beyond difficult. I know the commercial, political, geographical realities of who we are and where we exist means things can’t just happen because we all care and we all want them to. I know finding sponsors and partners and tournaments is quite often nothing to do with who we are as players or what our abilities are. I’m not naive. That side of growing our tour is something that I don’t envy for anyone. But I think there’s more to it, and that ‘more’ is being consistently missed. Everything that makes this tour special is completely and utterly irrelevant if nobody else gets to see it. There will always be limits to what organisations are capable of, whether financial or logistical or otherwise, and the outside world is not always aware of those. It is easy to criticise, to place blame. But everyone is capable of more.

Wanting what’s best for the LET – whoever you might be – should require one thing above all else: belief in what we stand for. Belief in what makes us special. Belief in the product. It isn’t as simple as taking our product and putting it on a plate for anyone we think will be interested; but we as players and as an organisation can instil it in our behaviours, our communications, our ideas. We, as players, are the Ladies European Tour. And maybe we’re not in a position to be overly demanding, but I’ll always believe that people will want to work with us, and take interest in us, if they see what we truly are. If that happens, we’ll have a chance of becoming – individually and collectively – what we are capable of becoming.

I never want to stop fighting for what I believe we are as a tour. We deserve to be respected for who we are and what we have achieved, as well as what we will go on to achieve. The top ten of our Order of Merit as it stands holds 18 LET wins and 106 LET top tens. We have Order of Merit winners who have contended in – and won – major championships. We have players in every event who have been stars of amateur and college golf, alongside players who have brought Solheim Cup magic to fans across the world.

We deserve respect.

I’ll say that in every interview I ever do, and defend myself as rationally as possible on social media despite being told by a mixture of nobodies, golf fans, and male tour professionals, in both casual ignorance and blind contempt, that I am wrong. That we are not worth it. I can make people care, but none of us can take the LET in the direction we want individually. I love what I do for a living; I wouldn’t swap it for anything. I am grateful every day for that. But I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t excel at what I do – neither would a single player on this tour

So here’s my final message.
Understand why the LET is special. Understand what makes these players different. Understand why we deserve to be treated with respect that is a given for our male counterparts. Understand it. And let that guide how you think about us, talk about us, and work for us.

With every respect and gratitude – for caring –

Meghan

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I Couldn’t Name You

I’ll start this by being a bit of a hypocrite. I don’t want the golf media to talk about Hank Haney. But I’m going to. I really hope the majority of golf media covers the conclusion of the US Women’s Open by talking about Jeongeun Lee6. Her brilliant assuredness in collecting her first major championship (and LPGA title), as the extraordinary difficulty of winning a US Open took slow but certain hold on victim after victim. Her tears, and her translator’s tears, as she accepted the trophy behind the 18th green; a mark of how powerful it is to be someone, or see someone, who achieves something extraordinary. The moving, sad and inspiring story of her family.
Hank Haney does not deserve publicity in this story. It is NOT his story.
But I am going to write about him. To try and show how much still needs to be done.

Hank Haney predicted a Korean, probably named Lee, would win the US Women’s Open. He was right, as he pointed out on Twitter on Sunday night. The carefully researched, informed look at who was in good form and who had previous at US Open’s proved accurate. Guess we all owe Hank an apology.

Or maybe Hank owes Jeongeun Lee6 an even bigger apology than before.

Because to let him, and a whole culture of golf ‘fans’, get away with thinking those comments were acceptable or justified would be monumentally disillusioned. They may well have sounded worse than he meant them to. But it’s the influence he exerts. It’s the normalisation of casual yet concrete discrimination. Comments that are representative of a line of thinking that is more disrespectful than I can begin to explain.

To decide it would be inevitable that a Korean woman would win this major is incredibly dismissive of what it takes to win a major. The fact this instance was from someone who actually does have some idea what it takes to win a major makes it even more damning. There are a great number of extraordinary female golfers who are Korean. Whether they are first, second or third generation Koreans, they have cultivated a discipline and skillset that has lifted a country’s profile to the upper echelons of female golf. But it is those individuals, those people, that are responsible for that. Not a name. Not a flag. If there’s a person who best represents that, it’s the incredible Se Ri Pak. A woman who inspired other women. An athlete who inspired other athletes. A champion who inspired other champions. A woman who showed that it is possible to smash ceilings that others with a certain mindset will put in your way. Se Ri Pak is responsible for far more major champions than Hank Haney ever will be.

If Haney wants to claim he knew enough about the LPGA to know that there are a lot of exceptional Korean golfers, fine. But his own comments tear that justification to shreds. He didn’t know it was the week of the US Women’s Open. He didn’t know where it was being played. He said he “couldn’t name you, like six players on the LPGA Tour”. (I would put all my LET earnings on the bet that he doesn’t know the LET exists at all). Because to him, women’s golf is irrelevant. It is not worth his research. Not worth his knowledge. Not worth his understanding, or his curiosity, or his intellect. As if the skills required to make it to the top, to win major championships, are not worthy. Not in comparison to the men’s game. And that is the mindset, the conception, that is too prevalent in this world where women are desperately and powerfully trying to prove that disparity goes deeper.

I don’t know if Hank Haney has any daughters, or granddaughters. But if he did, and they chose to pursue golf… imagine they made it to a major. I wonder if he’d be relying on his radio co-host to tell him the dates and the location of that major. Too many people only care when it’s personal.

This isn’t a piece slamming Hank Haney. The irony is that it should really be his name that is irrelevant to this entire story. The world just got another major winner, one with a story that’s worth knowing, one that has reached a height of professional sport that a tiny fraction of the population are capable of. She is worth celebrating. She is worth knowing. As are all the players at the top of the game, male and female.

There will always be a place for jokes, a place for entertaining your fans and your followers and your friends. This doesn’t have to turn into a fully PC world. But there is also a darkness that is worth igniting; that needs to be acknowledged. I’m tired of having to point out this issue, tired of the disparaging treatment, tired of the everyday instances that show how far apart these worlds are and tired of people that don’t care anyway. I’m tired of probably coming across as a whiny woman who will never be satisfied with what I get. But I’m simultaneously desperate to never stop pushing this issue until it’s no longer an issue. Things are changing, and I’m excited to be a part of this world that is making them change.
… Just don’t rest on it.

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