Spoiler: I have several half written blogs about LIV and women’s LIV and entitlement and Saudi money and the blurry lines that mean I can love every second of watching Newcastle United move to 5th in the table but not want to go to New York to play in this week’s event. This is not one of them. Ok.
A couple of weeks ago, I read something about my recent ‘return to form’ after a difficult summer. It blamed said difficult summer, where I missed six cuts in seven events, on swing changes. The comment, while well-intentioned, was wrong. (For a start, if I’d known what was changing in my swing, I might not have had so many issues). It made me wonder what people think from the outside (if they have any more than a passing interest) when they see a player on a run like that… particularly when what ends that run isn’t a scrappy made cut, or even a solid top 25… but a playoff loss. For what it’s worth, I don’t expect even the most invested outsider to have a clue how to explain any of that, because even as I write this I’m not sure I know if the isolated pieces made a pattern or if the pattern was never anything more than isolated pieces.
But I can show you some of the pieces. I can try and explain how searching for answers and accountability can lead you both to breakthroughs and breakdowns. I don’t know if it was luck or the hardest work I’ve ever done that swung me onto the right path this time. Maybe the amount of times I come back to this will tell me that.
The irony of my own particular bad run of form is that I was swinging really really well for most of it. In almost every event I did things that made me believe I was capable of winning the tournament – but I also did things that spiralled to some of my lowest times on a golf course. There was more than one occasion during that stretch of events where I did nothing more and nothing less than this – I just decided to stop feeling sorry for myself. I decided I was better than what was currently going on, and played like it. (I’m sorry to say that doesn’t work all the time, otherwise I would probably have three wins this year instead of two playoff losses, and a much healthier bank account. And an LPGA card. But anyway).
In the midst of one such spell, having hovered precariously on both sides of the cut line for much of my second round, I decided to be really good again and hit a 4 iron to 6 feet, and then had a had-to-be-ten-out-of-ten pitching wedge to a pin cut tight over the kind of bunker where dreams go to die to set up another easy birdie. With one hole left, I could breathe again. I was going to be playing the weekend in probably the strongest field all year; I had another chance to test my game against the best in the world. Exactly the kind of chance I tore up all my painfully thought out January plans in America for. But then I fatted a wedge from 100 yards into a stream and made double to miss the cut by one.
And despite a shield of determination I probably had no choice but to put up, I couldn’t tap back into that “I am actually really f*cking good” mindset until I was already too many over par a week later at Muirfield. When I did find it, I made five birdies in six holes and briefly ignited the kind of adrenaline that we play golf for. But because I was too late, because either of my ‘swing changes’ or because I’d forgotten to believe how good I am, it was the kind of adrenaline that is hollowness masquerading as adrenaline. Because even though your body reacts the same way to controlled iron shots that you know are finishing pin high before the ball has reached its links-golf apex, and snaking 20 footers that hit the middle of the hole like a rewind of the film you held in your imagination – your mind knows the truth. Your mind knows that the thing you dreamed about is gone. That this particular opportunity is just another moment in time that only a handful of people who emotionally invested more in you than you’ll ever be able to repay them for know or care about. Something that could have been, but wasn’t.
“But can’t you still enjoy the experience? Isn’t it amazing to play in a major, the most significant of them all for a British player, on a course steeped in history and now societal significance?”. Maybe. Kind of. I get the point. And I’ll hopefully always be beyond grateful to do this for a living, and to the people who have made this possible. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. But these are my “swing change” stories – and while the phrase “no one cares work harder”is one of my favourites, I think it’s important to talk about all the reasons why people fail. Before I wrote this, I tweeted out a video and story from somebody else, who has been more honest than I could ever be about why she failed. It’s worth your time. Because the reasons why we fail can be the reasons why we succeed.
The biggest reason is the one that threads this piece together. It’s the one that threads the swing changes and the fatted wedges and the yipped three footers and the inferiority complexes and the Wednesday evening anxiety together with a poison that tastes like the medicine you’re supposed to drink to get better. The mind. Our greatest weapon, whether we choose to use it to further our skills or to attack our skills. The hard part is that doing one often feels like doing the other. It doesn’t always feel like a choice. For some people it isn’t – and I have the utmost empathy for those who have to try and understand the mental illnesses that I do not have to.
But relative to our profession, what the mind can do to destroy something we care so deeply about is probably responsible for more of the missed cuts and comeback stories than most fans ever know. Certainly more than swing changes. I love this game, and I’m lucky to be in a good place right now. But there is always more going on than whatever the number on the scorecard says.