I might have taken board games too seriously when I was a kid. Remember snakes and ladders? You could take hours and hours to get to that top line of the board, just a few squares away from the victorious one, sensing the finish line. Potentially one move away. Thinking all the hard work was done. All that forwards and backwards, climbing and falling, and here you were. You were on the right level. You were there.
But there was always the longest snake of all right before the last square, one that would take your precious, hopeful counter all the way back to somewhere near the beginning of the board. All the way back…
I think the people who created that game deserve some credit for life lessons.
I could compare so many things to that board game scenario. Every round, every tournament, every year, every golfing or sporting or professional career pretty much has their own versions of that. I’ve had more than one tournament this year where I’ve finished high up the leaderboard, but I was one shot or decision away, on the very last hole, from winning. There are plenty of positives in that of course, but as professionals in an individual sport we are all selfish and (at least I think) we are all in it to come home with the trophy. That’s what sport is, when it comes down to it. Second place is first loser etc etc. The brutal thing about golf is you put so much energy and effort in for so long and one tiny thing at the end of hours and hours is what brings about ‘loss’. In time – and the recovery time is thankfully getting shorter for me – you recognise the good that you did and can be proud about it, and more importantly learn from it, but… you’re still left with an incredibly bitter taste in your mouth for a while. Like getting to the penultimate square and just as you get ready to step over the line you come crashing back down. (I’m not sure I felt quite as strongly about losing in snakes and ladders, but hopefully you see the point).
US Open was kind of like that to the absolute extreme. I know people want to know what happened, why I didn’t perform, if I was that much out of my depth and so on… but I had good performances before then and I’ve had good performances since then, just as I’ve had and will have bad. What I will say is I’ve learnt more in the last month than I would have believed possible, and as long as that keeps happening then I know I can keep progressing. And the flip side of disappointments like that is you have to get into that position to have them. Getting to the top level of whatever your board game is means you’ve climbed and plotted and battled our way up there. Every person that I’m lucky enough to say supports me will make sure I don’t forget that. Disappointments are one thing, but the context of your disappointments will tell you a few things too.
There’s something about being pulled backwards to go forwards again. Look at what Koepka did… he won the US Open and suddenly people remembered that he was playing on the Challenge Tour a few years ago. Look at Jordan Smith winning the Order of Merit on EuroPro, then Challenge Tour, and now an event on the European Tour. I think people are starting to acknowledge that bursting onto a major stage as a young prodigy isn’t the only (or even the best) recipe for superstar-dom. Taking paths like that can be tough when you watch a Spieth or Lexi Thompson winning majors at the age they are. And I know I would say this with where I am career wise, but feel like you can learn possibly even more by getting yourself cut a few times on your way up. Maybe that way, you’ll be sharper when you do get there. Call it grit, resilience, character… call it nothing at all if you want. But I’m pretty sure I’ve got more of it from the past 12 months than I would have if I’d had things all go the way I wanted them to. And I’m also pretty sure that’s a good thing.