Winning, Defending, and the Difference a Year Can Make

“Knowing when to question, when to adapt, when to trust”.

Before I wrote this, I reread the blog I wrote after I won last year. Then, I was trying to make sense of how a win – and a win where I felt so completely in control of myself and my game – could come about so soon after feeling completely lost. So soon after missed cuts, after doubts about whether or not I had what it takes, so soon after wondering if I’d maxed out on my potential. Don’t get me wrong, during that week at Coffs Harbour I knew exactly what I was capable of. I knew I had what it took to win that tournament. But it took a lot of questioning to get there.

This year was different.

I went through those cycles again while I was out in Australia – the questioning, the doubts, the confirmation, the trust. But it was different. Maybe it was quicker; maybe everything I’ve learnt over the last year kicked in and I knew which answer I was being led to, day by day, week by week. Maybe I asked better questions. Maybe I asked less questions. My results followed a slightly more understandable pattern – MC, 22nd, 16th, 6th, 1st. It looks gradual on paper, but I was getting a little antsy… maybe in a similar way that Rory would have been before the Players. (I know how different the environment and situations are, but the nature of golf is still the same, no matter who you are or how much money you’re playing for). Even though I’d only been properly in contention once in the weeks before I won, I knew my game was all there to win from the moment I stepped onto a course in Australia at the end of January. And even though I knew that would show itself if I just kept doing the right things, just kept making those little tweaks – perhaps like Rory – you can’t help but get edgy that you should be taking advantage of where your game is… before it inevitably dips somewhere.

From the offset in Australia, I felt different. Different in myself, different in my game. I knew things were better… knew my game had gone up a notch. And that was one of things that got in my way at the beginning. I missed the cut at the Vic Open partly because it got windy, and partly because I wasn’t sure how to handle my own expectations with better golf than I’d seen in myself before. In contrast, I missed the cut at the Vic Open the year before because I hit a few bad shots in the second round and thought that all the things I’d been working on were a step too far; that my weaknesses were destined to outweigh my strengths. Luckily, or because I’ve learned a lot in a year, or because I listened to some people better, the rationality came quicker. Day by day, week by week, I figured out how to handle those expectations. That’s the beauty of playing regularly – it gives you a chance to figure things out as you go, without overthinking them (even though I still try)… and if you’re playing well, it’s just a case of finding the right piece to fit at the right time. My camera roll from Australia tells its own story – mixed in with the pictures of beaches and kangaroos and coffee are videos of swings, of using technical aids in the back garden of Air BnBs in the dark, of putting along a rail on a carpet with an alignment stick wedged in between two chairs to keep your hands where they’re supposed to be. All little glimpses of the process. Of the questions, and the steps in the right direction that you’re not quite sure are the right direction at the time.

The difficulty with golf is figuring out which piece is the right piece. And not moving the right piece before you realise it’s where it’s supposed to be. My blogs are really just a succession of me trying out different pieces in different places at different times – they’re a little fragment of the mess of my brain that slides its way into the right place in the jigsaw. The difference for me this year so far, I think, is that I’m recognising when to leave certain pieces alone; when something just needs to be turned slightly rather than thrown back into the box or forced somewhere it doesn’t belong. Winning last year happened when I didn’t think I had any of the pieces in the right place, but I trusted enough to let them be. Winning this year happened because I knew I had a lot of the pieces in the right place, and I turned the right one at the right time.

None of us know what our finished picture looks like, but I think we all try too hard to create what we think it’s ‘supposed’ to be. We’re better off trying, and failing, and trying again with the process – doing the right things; analysing, monitoring, working, grinding, questioning, adapting, worrying, ignoring, improving, trusting. Sometimes you get the results and sometimes you don’t. But the sooner we all realise it’s ok to do things our own way, the sooner we will all end up right where we are meant to.

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Emotional Rationality

Word: Oxymoron

Definition: Something (such as a concept) that is made up of contradictory or incongruous elements.

EG.: Missed cut, win.
Double, par, eagle.
Year 1: Order of Merit win. Year 2: How do I break par?
Shank, chip-in.
Rd 1: +3 putts gained. Rd 2: -4 putts gained.
80s followed by 63s.
Starting with a 9 then having your first hole in one a day later.
-4 through 7, +8 through 36.

See further: Golf

In the last few weeks I’ve had some people ask me why I write my blogs, and each time I’ve struggled to put it into words (ironic I know). In some ways though, maybe that’s the part that does make sense. My blogs are usually me trying to make sense of golf… to make sense of a game that more often than not, doesn’t make any. To try and find the words to explain this path we all stumble down with varying degrees of blindness.

I think it’s the speed at which you can go through those degrees that make golf so utterly frustrating, demoralising, compelling and exciting in equal measure. Here’s a little timeline for you…

2018 – Up and down. Won. Missed cuts. Learnt a lot

Jan 2019 – Went to Abu Dhabi to practice. Everything felt amazing. Thought I was going to win every tournament

Jan 2019 – Played Abu Dhabi LET tournament. Shot 75 78. Only made the cut because there was no cut. Cried a bit at how it could be so good one week and so not good as soon as a tournament started. Thought good practice was never going to translate into a good tournament for the rest of my life. Felt lost

Feb 2019 – Went to Australia. Had an incredible 10 days of practice. Fell in love with 13th Beach, home of the Vic Open. Hit it longer off the tee than I ever thought I could. Hit some 3 irons that made me feel like Tiger. So excited I got a 2 iron. Tried not to get ahead of myself, but had a feeling something amazing was on its way

7th Feb 2019 – Started first round of Vic Open with 4 birdies in 7 holes. Thought I’d cracked this ‘golf’ shit. Couldn’t see how it could ever be anything other than simple

7th Feb 2019 – Made a few bogies, was a bit unlucky, ended up with an averagely decent first round. Still felt like I had the world figured out

8th Feb 2019 – Felt off from the word go in the 2nd round. Made bogies, lots of them. Made a triple. Wondered how I could ever feel good at golf. Shot 80

8th Feb 2019 – Cried. Quite a lot, for me

9th Feb 2019 – Tried to be rational. But still fragile. Thought through lots of things. Decided it was ok to be emotional, because it meant I cared, which meant I’d keep looking for the solutions, for the ways to go forward. To uncomplicate the complications. Realised I was still the same player when I felt amazing as when I was making triples. (Rocket science stuff).

14th-17th Feb 2019 – Played Australian Open at the Grange. Played great, felt great.. felt at ease. Then had a 9 to start the 3rd round. Remembered I was still the same player. Had seven birdies after my 9. Shot +1 and felt like I’d run 6 marathons in one day with the world’s nuclear codes in my possession. Had no bogies and a hole-in-one in round 4. Laughed at how I ended up in this sport.

…And that’s just a snapshot. The emotions don’t always run so extreme, but golf is an endless cycle of questions and answers. Of thinking you’ve figured something out, having it thrown back in your face, and then having the strength of mind to know when to look deeper and when to keep trusting.

Not everyone will take it emotionally (pretty sure DJ doesn’t so maybe I’m looking at things the wrong way), not everyone will be attached to the outcome or the process; nor will the same things affect you in year 1 as they do in year 3 or year 15. But that doesn’t mean you’re doing the wrong thing in each moment. Let yourself feel, if you need to. But know when to put rationality above emotion. Know when your 80 wasn’t because you’re destined to never be good enough, but because of two or three moments that could have been a different bounce, or a lip-in, or a gust of wind… that produce a 63 on a different day. But also know when your 80 was because you short sided yourself too often on greens where Mickelson couldn’t make it work. Know when your 7 shot difference in putting wasn’t because you’re destined to always be inconsistent, but because you didn’t chip as well so all your 8 footers were for birdie rather than par. But also know when your 7 shot difference in putting was because on day one your issues in pace were masked by the fact you kept hitting the hole. Know that things aren’t black and white.

Looking for solutions doesn’t always provide the answers. But knowing you’ve looked, and feeling confident that you’ve looked rationally, might make all the difference. Even if you don’t know when.

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While You Can

Ever found yourself in one of those situations where you need to find an adult who is more of an adult than you are?
I think I’m just starting to figure out that we’re all looking.

It’s probably not limited to being in your twenties, but I find it’s a strange place to be – some people your age still live at home, with no bills, no worries and no immediate prospects, and others seem to have a house with a mortgage, an honours degree, two years of experience in the Peace Corps and one foot in social justice reform and another on the ladder to CEO stardom. No wonder it’s tempting sometimes to delete all social media and put another episode of Suits on. Figuring out your place isn’t easy.

But that place, I’m starting to realise, doesn’t stay the same anyway.

Situations and circumstances and people and a million other things influence the things that you think about, the things that you care about, the things that you’re passionate about. The books that you read, the places that you travel and the people you choose to have conversations with… they can nudge and question and spark what’s important to you. What you think should change in the world; what you think you could change in the world.

Those little ideas that bubble gently around your mind – or the ones that crash loudly begging to be heard – you can’t always just put them on hold, until “the time is right”. Life doesn’t work that way. The things you care deeply about when you’re 18 might not be a priority by the time you’re 24, or 30, or 50. But that doesn’t mean they are unimportant at the time. I think it’s the complete opposite. Because if we always wait until we have more time, or for someone else to tell us it’s ok, or for someone else to take the lead – nothing would ever change. And there are a hell of a lot of things worth trying to change out there. So if you think something’s worth it, stop waiting. Stop looking for someone more intelligent, or someone more respected. They’re all looking for someone else too. They might even be looking for you. So just do it. While you can.

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Give up the Goals

Maybe, it’s not about goals.

Maybe, you’re so caught up in what you want to achieve, that you forget the basics.

Maybe, that shining beacon of achievement, of status, stops you from seeing what made you the golfer you are.

When you were a kid, you might have had dreams of playing on tour, of playing in the Ryder Cup, the Solheim Cup, or holing the putt to win a major. But you probably didn’t sit there on New Year’s Day with a piece of paper, writing down how many wins you wanted to get that year or what you wanted your handicap to be in 12 months time. If you had a decent coach, you might have set those goals at some point in your development, but before your freedom as a golfer became moulded into something someone else decided was appropriate, you probably just did whatever the hell you wanted.

All you really did…. was try to get better.

That’s what I mean by forgetting the basics. When we’re first getting into a sport, any sport, we don’t have a vision of what being good at that sport looks like. Not in the sense of “I need to be x, y and z if I’m to have any chance”. The thing that takes us from casual interest in a sport to a genuine belief in the possibility of our potential is feedback: whether that’s from what we see in our own results or what other people tell us. It’s the knowledge that actually, we’re quite good as this thing that we started doing as a bit of fun. We’ve developed an identity in that sport, without trying to. And that identity – however it gets shaped by time and environment and experience and motivation – is absolutely core to how we play golf (or anything else), for as long as we choose to play it.

Goals are a huge motivator, don’t get me wrong. If there weren’t things that we wanted to achieve in our chosen field, we might struggle to get out of bed in the mornings, or to respond positively when things don’t go well, or to do anything more than just be comfortable. But I think there’s a fine line between having those goals, and getting so consumed by them that you forget your sporting identity. What made you good in the first place? What made you WANT to push yourself?

The way I see it, you can strip almost every single outcome goal to the simple intent of “I want to get better”. Which then becomes specific: if you want to achieve x, what needs to get better? What needs to be different than it currently is? Whether it’s through stats, coach discussions, physical capabilities, mental processing… you can usually figure out what’s preventing you from being at the level you want to be, if you’re reflective and honest about it. Which includes recognising what makes you good – what gives you your identity as a golfer – and figuring out if you’re putting yourself in positions to take advantage of that or not. Don’t sacrifice your strengths to make your weaknesses less weak. Because if you’re not careful, you’ll just end up average… and at a complete loss as to how to get anywhere.

If you know what the best version of you could look like, and where that could take you, it’s about putting the pieces in place to make that happen. If you can end every day trusting that you’ve done something to help  improve your performance, then that’s what counts. Because holing a putt to win a major isn’t going to happen because you’ve won a tournament that year, or because your stroke average is a shot less than it was a year before. It’s going to happen because you’ve done what you need to do to get yourself into that position.

Outcomes are an acknowledgment of what you’ve done, not an endpoint. No ‘goals’… no limits.

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Divided, United

The world has a funny way of showing us the best and the worst of each other in almost precisely the same moments.

Sport is a sphere that demands differences, divisions, discord. Allegiance to one side necessitates animosity to the other. Even when there is no defined opposition, there are competing schools of thought, competing theories, competing beliefs. It is impossible to write or say anything, whether fact or opinion, without it being torpedoed back to you with some kind of grenade attached. Perhaps everyone just has an underlying need to feel right about things, perhaps social media gives a platform to people who just shouldn’t have it. We’re in the age where instant access to information is our best and our worst friend. Quite simply it seems, people don’t like to agree. Which is fine; debate can be engaging and productive. Going on Twitter to watch incomprehensible arguments ignite appears to be a primary source of entertainment in 2018. There are many times I want to continue a ‘conversation’ with somebody online, only in the effort to enlighten them (or, grudgingly, be enlightened myself), and yet the responsible mini-me sitting on my shoulder desperately jumps on the lock button to force me into a better use of my time. Some people don’t want their minds changed, no matter what you present them with.

Push that mindset to its horrendous extremes, and we see some of the tragedies that have devastated this world lately. This past weekend has been horrific, for the sports world and the world at large, for both inhumane acts by humans, and natural, but no less devastating, events. A beloved football figure suffered a heart attack, while the British sports world and beyond collectively crosses it fingers that he will pull through. I don’t need to go into detail about the Leicester helicopter crash, or the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre. Circumstances obviously horrifically different, but both resulting in incomprehensible loss of life and a depth of mourning that crosses lines of football, religion, politics, race, gender and wealth.

This weekend is far from the only time the world has watched the news and taken a mutual intake of breath that cuts at the soul. It’s not even the first time I’ve written about these kinds of feelings. Sometimes it feels like it’s a relentless cycle, one that leaves you struggling to find a light in all of the darkness. When Celia Barquina Arozamena was killed on a golf course only a few weeks ago, it shook the golf world to its core. Almost every single golfer knows the blissful solitude that can arise from playing alone, from being by yourself with the golf course, remembering why you fell in love with the game; for its demands of mental strength versus physical skill. Not one of us has turned down golf for fear of death. But now, sometimes, we hear the noises. We see the shadows. And we stop and wonder. We worry. We lose the moment, in worrying whether we should fear losing our life. It’s not supposed to be like that.

I didn’t know Celia, but I did. I do. Every golfer does. Ever college athlete does. Just as every sports person knows Glenn Hoddle, knows the Leicester pain. Just as every Jew will know the 11 people killed in the synagogue in Pittsburgh. We might crush each other’s fingers in our desire to stay true to our own side, our own beliefs, ourselves – but in times of darkness, we reach out and hold each other’s hands. We pull each other to the light. United.

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The Only Certainty

Write when it hurts. Then write till it doesn’t.

I don’t know if I write because things hurt, or if I write just because it helps me make sense of things. Most of the time I think it can’t possibly makes sense to other people. I also don’t know whether it’s better to write about anything when it’s still raw, or if it’s better to wait until I’ve had time to put things into perspective a little bit. It seems to be the pattern that the things that hurt tend to spill out quicker, and the things that feel more like achievements, or that are significant, come slower, more deliberately. For whatever reason, it seems to be easier to write about the things that are painful. Maybe that’s just because it feels real.

Which is better to read? The pain? Or the perspective? Maybe it depends who’s answering.

Maybe we all need the pain to find the perspective. Most things I write, most things I feel – that anyone feels – they change with time. The immediate emotion of a situation or an outcome is a wall impossible for rationality to push through, but a bit of time forces the issue. And the more experiences we have, the quicker the rationality comes. We understand the bigger picture a bit more. And I think the rationality breeds good things: it gives us a focus; a plan of action. Pain breeds change. So don’t ever let anyone tell you pain is weakness. Caring causes pain. But caring is also what can make you great.

While more experiences might bring greater rationality, I think the emotional residue lasts longer too. The thing I think I find the hardest is feeling like you’ve lived this scene before. You’ve felt this emotion before, you’ve seen these patterns. You felt some pain, you made your rational plan and tried to address it, and yet… here you are again. Seeing the same patterns. You probably feel like you’ve read this blog before. Sorry.

If you’ve cared enough to read this, you probably know that I’ve just finished second stage of LPGA Q School. From which I haven’t advanced to the next stage… so well short of getting actual LPGA status for next year. That in itself feels like a failure. Last year I attempted the same thing, and failed too. But I came 3rd at second stage… this year I came 67th. So in my immediate non-rational-but-emotional-residue-making-it-feel-like-kind-of-rational state, that doesn’t just feel like a failure, that feels like a step back. In a year where all I’ve done is tried to get better.

If the only things you know about me are from my blogs, you might be surprised to know I think I’m right a lot of the time. And yet, uncertainty has been the running theme throughout 2018. Analysing things to death might well be a character flaw, because it makes it very difficult to trust a decision in which there are no guarantees. In some ways, it feels like every plan I made has backfired or been rendered useless. I haven’t gained an LPGA card through either the Symetra Tour or through Q School, I haven’t really challenged for the LET Order of Merit. My stoke average has probably gone up. (I have won though. Actual rationality coming through). I wanted all those things at varying points in the year and I thought in meticulous detail about the best way to make them possible. But to be honest, I was never certain that I was following the most effective path. Was I unlucky or lucky to have different paths available? More uncertainty.

One thing I am certain of though is that I want to be honest. I won’t go on about it because I’ve already done that bit enough, but most of us use social media in a way that makes us think it’s hard to show the bad stuff. Whatever the social media version of “putting on a brave face” is… for golfers it’s either total disappearance or “not the result I wanted but the game feels close!”. Does it though? If I’m going to be there, I want to be real about it. And it hurts.

Here’s the thing about golf though. (Pain part done, perspective part incoming). Lots of patterns look very very similar without actually being the same. My results might have had patterns during the year, but the way I have had them is changing every day. A 75 that shows you the potential of a 64 may well be a better indicator for your future than a 70 that could have never been in the 60s. It made me think of that stupid dress that did the rounds on social media a few years ago that some people saw as blue and some people saw as brown. It was exactly the same image. Yet different people saw it as being completely different. And if you looked at it long enough, you might have seen it as both colours yourself. (Don’t google it. It isn’t worth it). Certainty, by its nature, shouldn’t be changeable. And yet it is. The way things look is not always as they are. So maybe really, the only thing that’s actually certain… is uncertainty. Being aware enough to remember that – whether it’s through emotion or analysis or writing blogs as you cross the Atlantic or by simply not giving a fuck – that’s what will make the difference.

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Keep On, Keeping On

The short version of this blog is the tweet that did the rounds after Justin Rose got to world number 1 a couple of weeks ago.

It isn’t anything new (I’ve fullsizerender-8.jpgprobably written nearly every blog on this theme.. sorry), because trusting the process is one of the most apt cliches there is for a sportsperson. If you’re trying to push yourself to new levels, or achieve high standards of performance, you’re going to fall. You’re going to have setbacks. It isn’t a straight line to success, however it might look from the outside. But there was something in that tweet about Justin Rose that really got me. Something about it being laid out in black and white, a few simple numbers to condense infinite moments of success and failure. A story that, if it ended now, would have a clearly defined beginning – silver medal as an amateur at the Open – and a clearly defined end – becoming the best player in the world. And yet everything that lies in between those two moments in time is what makes it all worthwhile.

I can’t remember if I was told this at university or when I was six – when you write a story, there are two things to remember. The first is that your story needs a beginning, a middle, and an end. The second is that the middle part has to have conflict. There has to be tension, there has to be a challenge that has to be overcome or something that goes wrong that needs resolving. They told us it was to create interest in the story, to make people want to read it. But I’m starting to believe they really told us that because there is no other way. And what none of us realise maybe, is that we’re always in the middle part of our stories. That’s the beauty of it.
Unless I decided to end my professional golf career right now, I’m still in the middle of my story. I’m still in the conflict. Justin Rose might have reached world number one, but I’m 100% certain that isn’t where his goals end. Which means there will still be struggles. He lost the tournament that got him to the top rung and there was probably more pain in that than immediate satisfaction in the achievement that followed it. Angela Stanford just won her first major at the age of 40. You want to tell me there haven’t been times that either of those players had doubts that they would ever achieve what they wanted to?

Being hungry to achieve success isn’t a negative. Being impatient to fulfill what you think you’re capable of isn’t a negative. But comparing your story to that of someone else, or to what you think yours should look like… that’s where you can run yourself into a dead end. I also think it’s worth pointing out that schedules can make a big difference to your perspective on things. I don’t know for a fact, but I would guess that Justin Rose’s first 20 missed cuts came in the timeframe of a year or less. If he’d had to wait three years to accumulate those 20 missed cuts, it would have been a hell of a lot harder for him to put things in context. Likewise, playing your first major in your twenties and questioning why you’re not contending, when players younger than you are doing just that, doesn’t mean you never will. Not winning a tournament in your first few years doesn’t mean you aren’t capable of winning. When your first win is a major, I think you answer that question pretty loudly. Someone else’s snapshot in time tells you absolutely nothing about their story to that point. If you read the last line of a book without reading anything else, it wouldn’t make any sense. And you wouldn’t understand its significance.

Sometimes bad results can make you feel like you’re falling off a cliff. But unless you decide it’s the end of your story, you’re not just going to freefall, you’re going to hit a ledge. And then, you’re going to find another way up.

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Too Tired to Think

If I manage to write this before I fall asleep it’ll be an accomplishment in itself. I’m on a flight back to Heathrow from Geneva, more ready than I can describe for two weeks at home. I haven’t had more than two weeks at home this year since January… and I probably won’t until December… at which point I’ll probably decide to leave again as the reality of winter in England hits me. I wouldn’t change the travelling part of professional golf – I wouldn’t be any good at staying in one place for very long anyway – but times like this definitely make me appreciate home comforts. Being constantly on the move makes it difficult to get your thoughts in order, never mind your life… the thing I’m looking forward to most about some time at home is exactly that – I can only describe it as taking my brain out, giving it a massage, and filing all the scattered lessons, fluctuating emotions and burgeoning ideas into their appropriate places.

Being aware enough to learn lessons is one thing, but with the day-to-day demands of getting on with a career, holding onto those lessons is the hardest part. It’s like in school when you think you’ve grasped something while it’s being taught to you. You get given a long-term homework project on it which you inevitably leave until the night before and suddenly discover you can’t remember a single thing. Golf is the same, life is the same. If you don’t carve out time to reflect on the things you’re learning, you’re going to forget them. And fast forward months, years later – you find yourself in a situation that throws those very same lessons you didn’t quite acknowledge all over again.

So anyway… this blog is as much for me as anyone else. Me trying to capture this moment before it gets left behind in the mountains of France and Geneva, left on a podium in Gleneagles, left on an autographed glove at Lytham, left in a pot bunker of Gullane. I came third this week in an event on the Access series, with actually one of my best performances of the year. There’s a multitude of reasons that happened, and I don’t want to diminish the importance of the hard work or analysis I’ve put in. But bit by bit in these few weeks, I’ve been letting go. Letting go of the technical thoughts, of the questions, of the doubt. All of that came from a rational place – being away for a while combined with not great results led some technical issues to come in, which I had to work hard to get rid of. Whether those technical issues crept in from a mental standpoint is another topic… or maybe it’s the exact same one. It’s a fine line between trusting your own ability and being aware of your own tendencies. But this week, I was almost forced to trust my own ability – I didn’t have the physical or mental energy to go and work on things I thought might or might not be there. Or to create as close to a bomb-proof course strategy as possible. Or to do endless putting drills until I was sure I wouldn’t miss any 6 footers. Instead, I slept as much as I possibly could, and tailored my warm up to what I knew might be the difference in this particular tournament (reading the greens properly)… and went out and played. Without really thinking. Without worrying. And found a freedom that brought me within a couple of holes of winning a tournament.

Trying to find that state of mind in tournaments is I guess what every golfer is searching for. We find it in flashes; and as soon as we recognise it, it disappears. Call it being in the zone, flow, Zen, whatever. The point is, trying to find it is the complete opposite way to find it. But when we find it, that’s when the ability takes over. Every hour of effort, of practice, of learning that we’ve ever put in, that’s when all of that shows itself. Not when we’re trying to force it out. But rather than trying to tug on the zip that reveals the best version of ourselves, staying quiet, staying calm, staying patient… brings it out all by itself.
We’ve all got a terrible habit of getting in our own way. There are enough things blocking our paths to success… and yet we’ve all got the power to get rid of the most powerful one. If we could only stop trying so hard.

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Hashtag No Filter

Pretending things don’t exist usually isn’t a particularly beneficial way of dealing with them.

I’ve been writing this blog for a while. Anyone who knows me knows I’m not great at getting things done if I don’t see them as immediately necessary. In college I would have a month to write a ten page paper, and I’d genuinely try to get moving on it in plenty of time. But it’s almost as though I couldn’t make my brain function at the capability I needed it to until that deadline was dancing irrevocably in front of me… the number of midnight due deadlines I pressed submit on at 11.59 fills me with a mixture of shamefulness and pride. So maybe because I don’t have an approving (or disapproving) professor to kickstart the gears in my brain anymore, a lot of my blogs hover on the edges of my subconscious until some kind of trigger brings them to life. But waiting for triggers isn’t usually a great recipe for success in this world.

In this instance, I’ve probably been subconsciously waiting for the trigger that shows it’s all worth it. The struggles, the missed cuts, the hurt and confusion when the practice doesn’t translate into results. When the areas you’ve identified, broken down and improved, don’t have an immediate impact. When all the threads that you’ve so carefully, delicately, meticulously woven together start slipping away uncontrollably and however hard you try and grasp them, it’s like trying to catch smoke. When you’re trying to figure out if you should practice more, grind harder, or brush things aside, or be patient, or trust yourself, or look for help, or have a break, or get blind drunk and come back again when the hangover has subsided (surprisingly to some, I haven’t actually tried that option in the last few months… maybe that’s where I’m going wrong). And then, like for me in Australia, something unknowing clicks into place and you get the sign you’ve been waiting for that it is all worth it.

But by waiting for that trigger I’m doing the exact opposite of what I’m trying to write about. The social media world brings with it a complete reluctance to be real; an unwillingness to show weakness and admit struggle. Part of me doesn’t want to show anything at all on social media, and part of me also understands the reality of professional sport… showing any sign of weakness can be an opportunity for your opponents to get ahead of you. It’s part of being an athlete, of wanting to be the best you can be. But the devastating consequences of living in this virtual, partial reality are becoming more and more prevalent. It’s a glittering magnet that sucks you into the black hole it’s hiding; the bright lights, the sunsets, the coffee art, the bikini bodies and perfect couples and the never ending stories of success. We’re hypnotised by it all, endlessly tapping and scrolling on a screen full of people we don’t really know, if at all. Their slices of happiness.

And yet, everybody struggles. Everybody has doubts and indecisions and times when they feel completely and utterly lost. Publicising your flaws might not feel like the way to become stronger, particularly in professional sport, but it’s about perspective as much as anything. Your weaknesses can be the very same things that make you strong if you look at them in a different way. Sport, more than anything, is the perfect example of how that can be the case. There’s a reason we all love a comeback story, a reason why we all care more about the athlete or the team that’s dragged itself up from the dirt over the one who’s on a seemingly unbreakable winning streak. It reminds us that it’s ok to fail, it’s ok not to have everything all figured out. Accepting that is part of making yourself better.

Maybe deleting Twitter and Instagram and all the rest is the better way to deal with things. But if you’re going to show any of the picture, I strongly believe you should show more than just the highlight reel. If we’re going to build things up – the Instagram posts of excited anticipation, the grateful sponsor plugs, the firm belief that the hard work is about to show up in results – then I think we have a responsibility to use social media to reflect too. Or to at the very least be honest that a result hurts, that you’re frustrated, or angry, or disappointed. Because the youngsters growing up following their stars on Instagram; they need to know that that’s all a part of the process too. In a way that’s more than just “learnt a lot, had a great experience” etc. The GB&I Curtis Cup team just lost pretty heavily to the USA, and while the end result won’t be reflective of the standard of golf displayed by every player, it’ll still hurt them. I know every one of those players will have had an incredible week despite the result… but I also know they’ll be disappointed, they’ll be angry when they read comments about a lack of competitiveness between the two teams. And yet that will make every single one of those players better in the long run, if they acknowledge those feelings. Creating strength from weakness.

Giving people glimpses into your world isn’t just about the finished, filtered picture. It’s about the crumpled up drafts, the torn edges and the scribblings out and the colours that don’t really match when you look at them closely. Professional sport, especially golf, is a minefield of pain and doubt and indecision. But navigating all of that is what makes it so rewarding. That’s what makes it real. And should being real really be the thing we’re trying to hide?

 

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Equality, Disparity, and the 2018 Reality

In the space of a few weeks, two events have brought male and female professional golfers together in Europe. A sign of things to come? Signs of hope for the growth of women’s golf in Europe?
The simultaneous playing of the Lalla Meryem Cup and the Hassan II Golf Trophy in Morocco, and this weekend’s Golf Sixes, are both undoubtedly positives from an equality standpoint. I think Golf Sixes is going to be a brilliant showcase for a few incredibly talented female players, for once with the opportunity to be on level footing in the media with their male counterparts. Imagine if that opportunity was there every week? Or even for one regular tournament?

If you’re a fan of golf and have Sky, chances are you probably saw some of the men’s golf when they played in Morocco. Four days of full coverage gives you plenty of opportunity. But the women’s? How many fans know it culminated in a play off between three great players (and great people)? Getting a glimpse of that would have been a bit more tricky, given the fact there was no live coverage… at all. Maybe it’s the idealist in me, but find a better opportunity to put a regular women’s European event on display… the audience would literally already be there. The camera crews were already there… would moving a few of them 100 yards, from the men’s course to the women’s course, really be that difficult? I know it’s far from that simple. Contracts, money, logistics, companies, rights etc. But for all the talk of supporting women’s golf, of wanting to help it grow… taking advantage of the opportunities that are staring you in the face seems like a pretty good place to start.

Morocco was actually the trigger for this blog for a different reason. It’s one of my favourite weeks of the year. Immaculate course, perfect weather, fantastic hospitality and now, world-class practice facilities. Everything a professional golf tournament at the top level should be. Like Abu Dhabi last year, there’s a quiet bubbling happiness that we get to play such a high quality event. The kind of week that most players on tour envision for their career; want for their career. Of course there are the majors and the lure of America and the pathway to the top that I’d like to think everyone strives for, but in terms of travelling the world, making a living doing something you love… that’s what it’s about.

But making a living from 14 events in a year is pretty damn difficult.

14 events, excluding majors, for female professionals at the highest level in Europe. Of those 14, five are in continental Europe. Two are full field events (126 LET players). Two events. In a whole year. The men’s European Tour has 40 events, excluding majors and WGCs.

Despite not being full field events, the majority of our schedule does give a lot of players the opportunity to play. As of right now, the players who gained their full playing rights at Q School last year would get into roughly 70% of the events, not counting majors. Pretty fair; an improvement on last year; and fairly comparable to the men’s tour. Their Challenge Tour graduates get into roughly 85-90% of their total schedule, which is similar to the LET Access graduates this year. However… you don’t have to be great at maths to recognise that 85% of 40 is a hell of a lot more than 85% of 14. Playing regularly is the best possible way to improve; I’ve learnt that first-hand. But a player with full LET status (which I didn’t have last year) shouldn’t have to dip in and out of feeder tours to become better; they shouldn’t have to dip in and out of feeder tours anywhere. They should have the opportunity to become better while earning a living where they want to earn a living.

A third of the LET schedule this year is already over. Not everyone could afford to play that first third in Australia and South Africa (justifiably; I won one of the events on the Australian swing and barely made a profit for the trip). For those players their season may have started in Morocco in April. With the lack of full field events, those same players may not have the opportunity to play on the main tour again until France… in September… five months later.

In that five month period, there are 15 events (again excluding majors and WGCs) on the men’s European Tour. Two players with roughly the same categories on the two tours would get in a similar proportion of the overall schedule… yet the male player has potentially 15 more opportunities in the same time frame to play; to develop; to learn and to improve (and to make money). Money… the average purse on the LET for 2018, excluding majors, is €350,000. Take out the Scottish Open, which is elevated because of the LPGA, and that average drops to roughly €285,000. The average purse on the men’s European Tour, discounting majors and WGCs, is just over €2,500,000. Two hundred and eighty five thousand, versus two and a half million. Just writing it makes me feel a bit sick. These numbers aren’t necessarily to do with how a professional organisation is operated… they are to do with the way the world operates. The way the world views women’s sport, and the way the world is disinterested in the facts.

There are attempts to bridge the inequality gap. I have a lot of respect for the people in charge of most of the major professional golf tours in the world right now; from what I can see they are genuinely trying. Despite how things may look on paper, I think there’s an undercurrent of positive movement for women in general, for women in sport, for women golfers in Europe. But it needs understanding, and financial help, and media support, from the world.

Take the Vic Open in Australia. Probably the closest case of gender equality in the golfing world, and there must be huge credit given to the ALPG, the PGA of Australia and the LET for making such an event happen. Men and women on the same courses, at the same time, playing for the same amount of money. But even that event has embedded inequality. Without wanting to piss off the PGA of Australia, the strength of the respective fields is different, in relative terms. That might be arguable, but take the top ten from this year’s event in the male and female spheres: the average world ranking of the female top ten finishers is 152. The average for the men’s? 582. And walk onto the range there and talk about product support… golfing inequality in possibly its most black and white form.

I feel slightly guilty for criticising one of the best attempts at golfing gender equality, but I want to show just how far there actually is to go. It’s an example of an argument I’d be willing to make that it actually takes more effort and commitment to achieve greatness in women’s golf than in men’s. That’s not to diminish anything the men do; they are incredibly talented athletes, but as women we have to work harder for less. Less sponsorship, less product and equipment support, less hospitality, more barriers… for doing exactly the same thing. A 4 iron to 3ft is still a 4 iron to 3ft, a miraculous up and down from behind a bunker is still a miraculous up and down from behind a bunker. A birdie on the last to make the cut is still a birdie on the last to make the cut. The golf course doesn’t know what gender you are.

So go ahead and tell me women’s sport will never be able to compete with men’s sport. The Williams sisters would beg to differ. As would tennis great Billie Jean King, who explained why she took on a male opponent in an exhibition match (and won): “I was not playing the game to prove that women could beat men. I was playing to prove that men and women had the same entertainment value, which is why we should be paid equally.” Proven too, by the success of the LPGA. 27 events on the 2018 schedule (excluding majors), around 20 of which are full field. The average purse? Just over $1,750,000… or just under €1.5 million. Those facts alone show that women’s golf is financially viable, is marketable for sponsors and media; does actually have a product worth buying into.

But it doesn’t have to be a case of women’s golf in America thrives while women’s golf in Europe barely survives (or vice versa). Ten years ago, in 2008, there were 28 events on the LET schedule, 22 of which were in continental Europe. There are an array of reasons why this isn’t the case currently, a lot of which have been caused by instability in European financial markets and political situations. But that proof that the LET is an attractive proposition for sponsors is right there in the archives. Proof that European golf doesn’t have to exist in the shadow of American golf – it can be its rival, not its supplement. I think tours across the world can learn huge amounts from each other and I’d like to think they are willing to do so. I might not agree with everything and I might not have the facts about every possibility that is thrown around, but I do admire anyone in business or sport that believes in the capability of its own product and its own employees. It’s one of the reasons I think the future for the LET is brighter than people realise. But the future doesn’t stop the need to show that capability to the rest of the world right now. Players are limited in their ability to do that when they don’t have events to play in, and they don’t have events to play in because people with the means to do so are not putting in the money to support them. I might not have the answer (if I did I’d be doing more than writing a blog), but I know with certainty that flat out criticism, complaining and ignorance isn’t it.

Professional golf is an incredible way to get to spend your life, I’m not trying to suggest otherwise. We’re not all after superstardom and lavish lifestyles. I loved golf in exactly the same way when I was an amateur. But I, like so many others, don’t just love golf and the whole process of what goes into it and what comes out of it… I crave it. But we need more than just a couple of hits a year to survive. We need a constant dosage. And maybe I’m asking for too much… but if it can be in place for some, it should be in place for others. Why does gender, or the country that you play golf in, entitle you to more or less?

I can’t prove that all the data here is 100% accurate, but it’s close. It’s a lot harder than you’d think to make clear cut comparisons (that’s why it’s taken me a week longer than it should have to write this). But fact check this to death; the numbers might change a little. The bigger picture… it won’t change at all.

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