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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Putting the Human in Superhuman

None of us really knew.

The fans and the haters; the believers and the skeptics. United in the underlying truth of our defence and attacks on someone who transcended the sport he changed forever – can the man rediscover the athlete? Can the athlete, that athlete, exist again, now he is only a man?

None of us really knew. Including him.

Whether sport forgives I don’t know… but what sport does is remember. And yet for golf fans, for so long, remembering has felt so hard. We all saw the greatness back then. We were inspired by it, transfixed by it, enthralled by it. And that was regardless of whether you liked him or not. Because his greatness was unquestionable; unshakeable. The greatest ever? Debatable, depending on who you asked. Debatable, despite the dominance. Debatable, despite the inspiration of a generation. Debatable always, until he overhauled Jack’s formidable, magic eighteen. But an answer that would inevitably come, as Claret Jugs and Green Jackets were swept into the cloak of mental invincibility as year after year ticked past.

The inevitably is perhaps where we all fell down. Including him. Somehow, we normalised the greatness. Maybe he did too. The fist pumps and the roars were a staple, but they were him, they were Sundays, they were majors… they were all just routine. We spent a decade witnessing something in real time that only history would protect with the legacy it deserved. And none of us were ready for it to be history. None of us were ready for the legacy to be sealed. Worse still, none of us were ready for the legacy to be tainted by the man himself. Could it even be a legacy once its very foundations had been ripped out of the ground? What were we allowed to believe?

And so the questions changed.

How could an athlete built with no weaknesses, be a man of such weakness?
How could a personal life so delicately, dangerously stashed away for so long, thrust into the world’s unforgiving spotlight, co-exist with an impenetrable armoury of athletic and psychological ability?
Could he ever play again?
Could he ever contend again?
Should he walk away before our golden memories were frayed at the edges, colours blurred into painful shades of grey splashed over an uncontrollable fragility permeating his game? Giving the ones who wanted an excuse for the brilliance gleeful in their condemnation?
Was he doing anything but leaving us wondering if we imagined it all? Glorified it all?

Human flaws are one thing. Morally acceptable or not is another debate. But this debate was about an aura; one that was the intertwining of a man and an athlete, definable only by its indestructibility. When that was stripped away, was any of it real at all? That’s what we’ve been craving all along. A sign that it was real. A chance to remember.
Craving a chance to be proved to that greatness doesn’t have to be built on a lie. Greatness doesn’t have to be built on being one or the other; it doesn’t have to be built on unbreachable barriers or exposed vulnerabilities. Greatness can be all-conquering and it can be humbling.
Greatness can be built by a man, and not just a machine.
Greatness can stay.
Greatness can grow.

Most importantly… the greatness we saw; the greatness we knew. It was real.

Sport defines and it reveals, whether it is at the highest level with the world watching, or the lowest with only our conscience keeping score. Our flaws make us, they break us, and if we are willing, they make us again. Tiger was willing. His greatness defined him, broke him, and made him again. It doesn’t have to be a comeback story, but maybe we love it more because it is. This though is bigger than a comeback story; it is a story of greatness that needed a different ending. None of us wanted to write the ending ourselves, even though many of us tried. The ending was only ever in one person’s hands… we just needed him to pick up the pen and keep writing.
And that, he has.
Thanks Tiger.

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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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