“Stay out of it”

My posts are usually golf related.. this one not so much.

There may well be people who will say golf is all I should write about, (if I have to write at all) and there will be more people who don’t really care at all. Stick to what you know, leave other people’s problems to other people, don’t upset anyone etc etc. In particular, leave politics to the politicians.

But the things going on in the world right now aren’t simply politics. This isn’t just America and one president, or the UK and one vote, or people millions of miles away who are never going to impact our lives anyway. To me at least – and judging by the ongoing protests as I’m writing this – this is real. This is about values.. compassion and empathy and humanity. And, running dangerously quietly in the background, truth. A single blog post, least of all mine, is never going to change the world, but there’s a difference between talking about values and actually living them. Maybe in another life I would be standing on the streets of New York, or volunteering in European refugee camps, or writing directly to politicians with the power to change things. Maybe that’s what someone braver would do. But writing this is better than nothing. Those values are the things I believe in, and if I’m going to write about things important to me, I would be a hypocrite to not write about this.

The last thing I want to do is preach, and I’m not going to change my opinion of people for choosing not to get involved in things they don’t think they can change. But you don’t have to go and march in the streets with a placard to embody your values. You make choices every single day that do that.. but being aware of what those choices are is incredibly important. Choosing to question whether the information being presented to you is what it says it is. Quietly, arguments are presented and ‘evidence’ given to validate bigger decisions that are made. And quietly, those arguments and evidence don’t always hold up.

The US travel ban has been enacted to “keep America safe”, but none of the perpetrators of deadly terrorist attacks in the US since 9/11 have come from any of the seven countries now barred from entry.

Syrian refugees have been banned indefinitely from entering the US.

Steve Jobs’ father was a Syrian refugee.

Everyone is entitled to an opinion, everyone has their own shadings of right and wrong.. but the information that those shadings are built on needs to be accurate. “Staying out of it” and leaving politics to the politicians, assumes accuracy without questioning it. And right now, things need to be questioned more than ever. Part of the reason I don’t talk about politics too much is because I know there’s a huge amount of stuff I don’t know. But I know the values I try to live by, and I know when something doesn’t fit in with them.

This might not have anything to do with golf, but there are values inherent in sport that are important here too. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from.. it matters what you choose to do.


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Becoming an Addict

January isn’t many people’s favourite month. The coziness of Christmas is over, but (for sportspeople anyway) the anticipation of a new season starting is still a little bit too far away. And trying to spend any time outside is a mental battle on par with saying no to chocolate when it’s already been placed in your hand. It’s funny because occasionally someone will make a comment about how much free time I must have now I’ve graduated, and I think about the way I actually spend my days and smile a little, but it’s only then that I suddenly realise that ‘mental battle’ isn’t actually one that I am obligated to have. There’s nobody making me get out of bed and do things. Of course it’s a little more complicated than that with people that have supported me, and general health etc but to an extent, I don’t actually have to answer to anyone with how I spend my days at this particular point in time. 

But if I was to do the things that sound appealing in theory, like not getting out of bed until midday, or lying in front of the fire binge watching house of cards or scandal or suits, or consuming my body weight in chocolate….. 99% of the time I try that there’ll be a nagging uncomfortableness in my brain that means I can’t quite enjoy it. 

But its not guilt. Feeling guilty for not practicing isn’t my motivation to go and practice, and nor should it be used as a tool for pushing kids to do more. If anyone thinks that’s what it’s about, they’ve got completely the wrong ideas about why people are in sport or anything else.

It’s time to stop assuming everything has to be negative. (There’s enough things to be justifiably worried about in the world right now without adding to them). I can be extremely cynical about a lot of things, and golf has given me plenty of low moments, some of which I’ve written about. But I don’t do that to be negative, or to seek validation, or to give any impressions of disillusionment with golf. It’s the most frustrating sport on the planet, yes. But I mention that only to try and provide a little bit of insight and a little bit of honesty. 

In truth, I love golf. And having the opportunity to do that for a living is one of the things that drives me. But I think I’ve always known that without quite being able to define why, or what it is about golf that gets me on the course in 0 degrees when I don’t have to be. I’ve always worked hard, which I probably owe in large part to my parents, and I know working hard is one of the biggest ingredients (or only ingredient, depending on which books you read) to achieving success. But this isn’t just about working hard. 

I’m addicted to the process of getting better. 

Golf has many intricacies and just as many critics, but it gives you the opportunity to get better in more ways than perhaps any other sport. It doesn’t matter how good you are, how many weaknesses you have or even how many strengths you have.. there’s always an area to improve. And not just as a golfer, as a person too. Somewhere along the line I became addicted to that; I fell in love with that. That’s my reason. And it’s a pretty powerful one. 

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Different levels, different devils 

Marginal gains. Or the big picture?Baby steps. Or a running jump?Microscopic analysis. Or let it happen?

I could finish this post right here and I think I’d have made my point. At least in my head anyway… because it’s all the same question really, objectively, but it’s one I can go round and round in circles with. This 3 and a half hour flight isn’t looking like it’s going to be long enough…
The obvious answer is you do both. Like most things, it’s a delicate balancing act between both sides. You break your ultimate goal down into smaller, more achievable targets and then sit back and enjoy the success when they all fall together. Maybe it is that simple and I’m just letting my brain get in the way of the process. Maybe.
But the more I think about it the more I think there is a reason to question it. I think it’s dangerous to make the assumption that getting to a certain level means you have, by default, learnt to take care of all of the basics. To a certain extent I love the theory of the (now infamous) one percents. But if you give all of your attention to those, you might lose sight of a huge gain somewhere else. There could be a ten percent improvement floating just beyond your peripheral vision, waiting to launch you forward into the heady heights of success you always wanted. But you’re so busy trying to improve you don’t see it. Like the pilots who didn’t notice the fuel gauge making warning sounds and flashes because they were preoccupied with a hazard light they’d never seen before. Or the surgeons who didn’t notice their patient was about to die from lack of oxygen because they were busy arguing about why she wasn’t responding in the standard way to a standard procedure.
From another angle: what if the one percents you’re gaining are actually one percents you’re losing from elsewhere? What if you commit so much to improving that you forget to do the things you were doing so well before? Finding your weaknesses and recognising your strengths. Being aware that they change. 

And then, maybe over analysis is your worst possible option. Just get on with it. Trust the process. Hard work pays off. Your time will come. Cliché after cliché. Patience is one of the most underrated virtues on the planet – not just in golf. It’s vital to success. But so are the values of questioning, and learning, and self-awareness. If you’re not where you want to be, surely you have to look at what it takes to get there. What you need to do differently. Is there a time-frame for the improvements you want to see? Should there be? How many external factors should you allow for?

Having the right people around you is quite possibly the answer to all of this. Like it is for most things. But for now, it’s a concept that intrigues me… and drives me crazy. And if I really think about it, I probably wouldn’t want it any other way.

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Plan as if your life depends on it, but don’t let your life depend on it…

Sound like a paradox? It is. Because golf, in itself, is one massive paradox. So is life really.

Ultimately golf is a game in which you can’t control the outcome, so we fall into that irresistible trap of trying to control everything we can to lessen the severity of the uncontrollable. And to me at least, I still believe that’s the right thing to do. I still believe that’s one of the reasons I’ll never want to cut the strings that connect golf to my heart and my mind, because there is always an area you can control better than you already do. There is always something you can do better than you currently do. And figuring out what those things are is what makes golf so compelling for those who want to get to the top, and possibly so difficult to understand for the outsiders – the ones who brush golf off as boring; who don’t want to watch the best players in the world and have to wait four or five or six hours for something to happen.

It’s rarely about what spectators or fans or onlookers get to see. Whatever the critics might think, golf can be exciting to watch for anyone. It’s exciting to watch Mickelson hit an outrageous flop shot from a lie you can barely see land like a feather onto a downslope and roll gently towards the hole. It’s exciting to watch Jason Day hole a 50 foot putt across innumerable slopes to make eagle on a 600 yard par 5. It’s exciting to watch someone try desperately to keep control of their nerves and shaking hands as they stand over a 3 footer for a Major win that they’ve holed ten thousand times in practice. But none of these things, for me at least, are what keeps me practicing. They aren’t the beating heart of the game or those who give their all to mastering it. Golf isn’t possible to master. But knowing that doesn’t change our commitment to trying to – and nor should it.

I’ve gone a little off track here to try and get to the essence of what I want to say. All of these areas that golf offers you to improve; all the fine margins of high performance, they lead you (or should lead you) to create plans for improvement. To identifying what those areas are and where your biggest gains might come from, and putting in motion steps to make them better. And then, as logic follows, you become a better player. You follow the natural and seemingly obvious progressions until you get to the top; get to where you want to go.

Simple yes? Straightforward yes? Justttt kiddinggggg….

Straightforward and simple are two words that just do not go with golf. In any sense. If there was a clear path to the top, a clear path to being the best – or the best you can be – everyone would do it. But they don’t and there isn’t. It goes for any sport and any walk of life – pretty much everyone wants to be successful, and pretty much everyone would be able to do that if it was a case of putting one foot in front of the other until you get there. But what people don’t realise, and what people don’t like, is when you have to go in a different direction. When you have to move sideways or backwards or simply stand still for a while to figure out why the path is blocked and what you’re going to do about it. That part is far from easy. But it’s the part where you find out who really wants it. It’s the part that separates people.

If you don’t make the plans to get to the top, you definitely won’t get there. You have to be meticulous and detailed and intelligent and dedicated and a million other things that people don’t know to even have a chance. But it guarantees absolutely nothing.

You have to plan as if your life depends on it. And then when reality smashes you in the face just when you thought you had it figured out, you have to make your life not depend on it. Find a new way. Find your own way. Let the challenges pave the way for you… and learn to trust that way as if it was what you had planned all along.


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Role Reversals

“The problem with being 20”. That was the first blog I ever wrote. The problem I was trying to get at then is something that’s been coming back to me lately. It was about being in that ‘in-between’ stage… where you know you’re not a kid anymore but you’re not quite sure you can class yourself as an adult either. That moment when someone asks for an adult and you look around to find an “adultier adult” than you. (Credit to whoever came up with that quote on Twitter). But that was a blog I wrote two years ago, and this is now.

A few people told me that in-between feeling wouldn’t ever go away properly. Sometimes I think I’m in that stage even more so now than I was then. But I think I’ve also grown up enough since then to recognise that part of coming out of the wilderness between teen and adult is taking a moment to realise the people that you might be influencing…. the people you might be having an effect on. Sometimes you’re lucky enough to have someone let you know when it happens. Sometimes it hits you in the face – signing autographs and being asked for pictures at the Curtis Cup is still one of the most surreal experiences of my life. I gave one young girl my glove after one of my matches along with the words “I don’t really know if you want this but it seems like the right thing to do…” An hour later she found me again and asked me to sign it.

Maybe it has to be that black and white sometimes for you to realise what’s happening…. and then what has happened in the past or what has the potential to happen in the future. But it doesn’t have to be black and white. You don’t have to be the older one, in the position that other people want to be in, to insipre someone or to have an effect on their life. You don’t have to have had 30 or 40 or 50 years of experience: be it experience of failed relationships and succesful ones, or career breakthroughs and disappointments, of the times to keep trying and the times to move on. Of course there are times when experience makes a difference and there are going to be people you trust and people you turn to for advice. But don’t assume that those same people have everything figured out either. Lots of people have a missing piece, whether they show it or not… and for all you know you could be lighting up that little piece of darkness they don’t let anyone see.

You don’t have to be a teacher for people to learn from you. You don’t have to be a superstar for people to look up to you. You don’t have to be given the label of ‘role-model’ to be exactly that… and you might have been a role-model to someone long before someone else said it out loud. People notice what you’re doing whether you notice them noticing it or not. So give them the right things to notice.

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Freeze Frames and Photographs

Have you ever been in one of those moments that you wish could have lasted forever? Sometimes you know you’re in them when they’re actually happening. Sometimes you don’t realise until afterwards, when whatever it was that made you feel that way isn’t there anymore. If you’re lucky, you might have a photograph of it… maybe it’s a beautiful place that you only got to visit once, and now it’s the lock screen on your phone. Maybe it’s a meaningful text from someone who meant a lot, screenshotted to be re-read long after that relationship has drifted apart. Maybe it’s video footage of a winning putt in a tournament, a reminder of the adrenaline you didn’t know it was possible to feel.

We get a bad rap sometimes for photographing things too often. For forgetting to actually experience our experiences because we’re too busy taking pictures of them. It’s a valid point when people do it purely for the ‘look at me look where I went look how cool my life is’ image they attempt to paint. But a lot of the time people photograph things for a genuine reason… they want something to help them hit rewind when the buzz has gone.

The problem is that those freeze frames, whether you have them physically or on a screen or in your head, they aren’t real. Life isn’t a series of pictures and videos and memories for us to play back when we want to remember, it’s what actually happens to us every second we’re breathing. Pictures can’t put us back in those moments. Because what we really want isn’t to look at the picture and remember, it’s to be back in that place, at that time, with those people, feeling those feelings and thinking those thoughts. We don’t want photographs, we want it again. We want a rewind button.

I’m not sure if it’s cynicism or maturity to know that nothing lasts forever. I think a lot of people have that fear of never being that happy again. The problem with letting something, or someone, make you happy is that you can’t always control whether that gets taken away from you. Life moves on whether you want it to or not. What I do know is that allowing that to hold you back is a mistake. It’s an understandable mistake – people go through painful experiences all the time, and perhaps the more painful the experience the more likely it is to make a person unwilling to be put in a position to feel that pain again. But if you never have any pain, you don’t get to appreciate just how good the good is. Knowing it could end is bittersweet, but not having it at all would be worse. Some people would rather spend their whole life treading water because they don’t want to hit the rocks at the bottom after they’ve stood atop the highest diving board. But once you’ve had a taste for that highest diving board….

I’m not a scientist but adrenaline is the reason I can’t see myself ever giving up on golf. There have been times I questioned whether the highs could really outweigh the lows, and that’s something that applies to a whole other world as well. But the adrenaline, the high, the happiness when it finally comes through… it is so worth it. We might not be able to press pause on certain moments in our life or to put that feeling in a bottle to take out anytime we need it. We might not be able to protect ourselves from crashing back down to earth sometimes. But if we’re willing to try and touch the clouds, in whatever sense that might be, the grazes from the rocks at the bottom really don’t mean a thing.

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Split Life Living

I’m writing this as I sit in Costa at Gatwick airport, looking out the window at darkening skies and bare trees that make me think I’m back home for Christmas again.In 24 hours time I’ll have finished a practice round in Portugal for the inaugural Patsy Hankins Trophy, a matchplay event between Europe and Asia. Even as I type this messages are flashing up as the players already there discuss what the dress code is for tonight’s dinner.

Less than 24 hours ago I was in Phoenix, Arizona, probably about to watch my 8 iron on 17 drift slowly, agonisingly into the water as I made double to drop out of the lead in my most recent college tournament.

I still have three hours to kill before my next flight. Maybe it’s the tiredness, the coffee covered jetlag struggling to make sense of which emotion is most appropriate to feel. I want to go through my stats from Phoenix, I want to get lost in new House of Cards episodes, I want to finish reading Legacy, I want to get ready for the amazing experience ahead of me this week and I want to take a train to Leicester with my sister to watch Newcastle’s first game under Benitez.

But I don’t know which.

Everything just feels a little bit different. Exactly the same, but different.

CNN to BBC News. The New York Times to The Guardian. I have Netflix open but my US account won’t play here. And even if it would, watching a show about American politics isn’t something my brain feels right about in a UK airport. (Not that American politics is something my brain feels right about either). I asked my dad to bring me some European adapters when he picked me up, which he did, but now I’ve realized I only have an American head for my phone charger with me and the adapters are UK-Europe. I accidently asked for a grande latte in Costa instead of a medium. I’m not supposed to be in England in March. Split life living.

It’s hard to answer the standard “do you know what you’re going to do when you graduate?” college tournament question when you just don’t know what’s going to happen. you don’t know which path will work out. They say the best in the world don’t even consider the Plan B option because doubting Plan A is a self-belief weakness they just don’t have. But one thing golf teaches you is that you can have all the best plans, best preparation and best intentions in the world… but it will never guarantee the outcome. The unpredictability is what keeps me in love with it. It doesn’t help me answer the question though.

College opens your eyes to the world and the thousands of different paths you could take; the different lives you could lead. You want to give your all to one thing and see how far it could take you, but what if you’re leaving something else behind? What bit of your life goes into what compartment? It’s not just college: people travel all the time and have experiences every day that change the way they view things. We leave, and learn, and return, and everything is the same, but different. Maybe we expect the world to go on hold while we figure out what and where we are. But the world keeps turning and people keep living. Trying to figure out how that all fits together can be unsettling. But who wants to settle anyway? I’m incredibly grateful to get these experiences.

Split life living. It’s time to find another coffee.

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New year, new resolutions, new goals, new chances to be a better person… all of the inspiration is lighting up social media at the minute. And why shouldn’t it? It’s good to see people making extra efforts to achieve the things they want to. There’s something about a new year that starts the hope in people again – even though really, January 1st is just another day, it can be a chance to remember that a better version of you has the potential to exist.

Maybe it’s more of a mental thing than anything else. Some people don’t buy into resolutions. There are a lot of good people out there, and if you’ve spent the whole of 2015 – or even your whole lifetime – chasing your dreams or living your values, a new year might not seem like a big deal. Trying to be the best person you can be doesn’t require January 1st for everyone. But that doesn’t make the “new year, new me” promises invalid. It may well be irritating, but anyone who recognises and is willing to address the changes needed in their life should be commended.

But it isn’t about how you feel at the start of the year.

That inspiration doesn’t come on tap… trust me. There will be times when the light isn’t there. There will be times when distractions intervene and there will be times when you wonder whether you’ve been going backwards instead of forwards the whole time. Times when you’re stuck in a routine that is showing you no sign of progress and the people who supported you through the good are nowhere to be found. (Side note, that’s exactly when you’ll figure out who the genuine ones are). But when the version of you who made those promises at the start of the year gets slapped in the face, or stabbed in the back, by something that you think is reality… it’s about how you feel then. Whether you’re willing to keep those January 1st promises then.

The motivation and inspiration will not always be there. Your trust in yourself will not always be there. Life can get in the way of the promises you make quicker than you have time to realize. But the whole point is that it isn’t supposed to be easy; it isn’t supposed to be comfortable. Comfortable is going to the gym because you have new nike trainers and nothing better to do. Comfortable is going to the range because the weather is good and you know you’re hitting it well. Comfortable is complimenting a stranger because you’re having a good day. But comfortable isn’t always there, and it’s about the things you’re willing to do when uncomfortable hits. Will you still remember your promises to yourself then?

So whatever it was that made you dream those dreams, whatever it was that made you believe you were capable of becoming what you were meant to become, don’t forget it. Bottle it. Screenshot it. Write it down and figure out a way to make it happen. Do whatever you have to do to make sure you can find those feelings again, because there will be times when the only one who can bring them back is you.

Having a goal is the first step. But it’s not the only step.

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Different paths, different people

Maybe it’s a side effect of trying to make it in sport. Maybe it’s a side effect of going to university on the other side of the world… maybe it’s a side effect of growing up. Maybe it’s a side effect of my personality. Realistically it’s probably a combination of all those things, and those things have led me to some great people and incredible experiences. But they’ve also led me to this: the realisation of the things you’re giving up if you want something badly enough. I’ve met some amazing people in every stage of my life. I’ve met a lot of people that I don’t have much time for too, but for every 20 that fill your head with doubts and mistrust there’s one or two that make it all worth it. The trouble isn’t just finding those people though; it’s holding onto them. Because how are you supposed to hold onto people when you know you’re always going to go your separate ways? The US college system is probably the best and easiest example of how the biggest benefit can also be the biggest drawback. Ask anyone who is there now or has been – without wanting to sound cliché, the friendships you can make out there really are special. You practice together, you live together, you eat together, you take classes together; every single day for months at a time. You can’t just come home for the weekend or decide to take a week off. And when you spend that much time with people you are going to get closer than you ever thought possible. But in the college system, what happens after it’s over? When the 4 years are done that phase of life is over, and everyone goes on their own path to be successful in whichever way they want to. You’re all forced to remember that being from countries 5000 miles apart makes continuing the same level of friendship very difficult. Two people can have the best intentions in the world, and skype and facetime and snapchat and the endless list of other ways to interact do make it easier. And there are always friendships that do last and people that do stay in your life forever. If you’re lucky enough to have that, take the time to appreciate it. Because that slow process of slipping out of each other’s lives is almost inevitable in so many cases – unless you get comfortable doing the same thing day in, day out, your life isn’t going to stay still forever. And that’s something I would never want. It’s one of my biggest frustrations – watching people with the potential to achieve so much more settle for what’s easy, or what’s comfortable. I understand why people do it, and I’m in no position to tell people how to live their lives. But don’t sit and complain about how nothing ever changes in the world if you live a life where nothing ever changes. My point isn’t to tell people to stop being comfortable. (I already wrote that blog…) And this probably sounds a lot more depressing than it’s supposed to. I’m not bothered about not having people in my life that are going to drag me down. I don’t want to be around people whose conversations revolve around highlighting the flaws of others; I want to be around people who are trying to make themselves better. When you want something badly enough, you know whether the time you’re spending is going towards achieving it. If you’re not spending the time wisely, someone else is. What do you want most? That quote about people never being too busy for the people that are important to them – I don’t agree with it. The people that are important will understand what your time needs to go on and why it does. Why you can’t go out on a Saturday night; why you want to stay an extra hour at practice. Why you can’t meet them for dinner during the week or why you’re too tired to Skype. Don’t get me wrong it’s hugely important to have time out from whatever it is you’re chasing, and it’s hugely important to have people in your life that give you time out from that. There are still people I would drop everything for in a heartbeat, if they needed me, and if someone has their trust in me, they will always have it. Chasing success, chasing a dream, chasing a life that makes you become what you’re capable of becoming is something worth doing. But don’t expect everyone to hang around to understand it.

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Stop waiting for your turn

So many things in life are down to chance. Some people will tell you that everything is – we have no control over our future (those people still look before crossing the road though…). But regardless of what you believe about fate and destiny and God and all that philosophical stuff, there are without a doubt certain things that we have no control over.

Golfers know that more than anyone. When you spend months doing the right things and then don’t seem able to put one good round together, or the first drive you stripe down the middle of the fairway finds a divot, or you get the wrong side of the draw in every single big tournament in the summer. They aren’t the only times a golfer can wonder why they chose a sport where there are so many factors that influence the result and only a small portion of those are the ones they can actually do anything about. At the end of a football season, the team who performed best will win the league. And the teams that performed worst will go down (we all know Newcastle deserved to stay up). In tennis, whatever external factors affecting the match should have the same effect on your opponent too. And you only have to beat one person at a time… not 50, or a 100, or 200. I’m not saying other sports are easier (but lets be honest can golf get any harder), but I personally think the outcome of most other sports depends a lot less on factors outside of the players’ control.

But, here’s the thing. Too many golfers use exactly that as an excuse not to control the things they can control. So the person who won could get on all the par 5s in two? Go work out how you can hit the ball 20 yards further. The selectors picked somebody for a team ahead of you? Make sure you get in through the automatic spots. (Trust me, it’s less stressful). Nobody has told you which putting skills tests to do? Go and find them out for yourself. Make up your own. Not everybody who pretends to be an expert is actually an expert; there are things you can figure out by yourself.

Maybe it’s because when we’re younger, we get things handed to us. I’ve been incredibly lucky with all the support I’ve received over the years from all kinds of sources, but that isn’t an automatic formula for success. Some people have to find that support themselves much earlier, and even if you do have it there comes a time when you realize that there’s certain steps you have to take on your own. You can’t just sit around and wait for the people or the money or the coaches or the success to come to you, and you can’t expect all the people that support you to automatically know what you need from them. You have to take time to figure out what works for you and what other people can give you. Build relationships, and trust, and recognize when you need to hold on tight to someone or something. But don’t be afraid of moving on from things. Don’t be afraid of looking for more. (You might lose a few people, but turns out they aren’t meant to be part of your future anyway…)

Anyone can say they want to be the best in the world, but you can’t expect that to come along and hit you if you keep doing the same things everyone else is doing. There’s no point having goals if you don’t have a plan. If you want success, in anything, step up and find a way to get it. Be brave; take risks; ask questions. Work hard. Stop waiting.

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