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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Corpus Callosum

It’s funny how much easier it is to join up the dots afterwards.

Analysing events, drawing conclusions… and then realising you’ve been taught those exact lessons more than once before. I guess it’s a weakness for most of us; needing evidence to truly believe in the path we’re taking, needing results to trust the process.  They’re probably the three most used words in the athlete world, and yet I think we say it as a reminder to ourselves rather than a statement of intent. But isn’t that the definition of trust? To have complete faith in something we have no definitive proof of?

There will be people that tell you there is proof. Well intentioned and highly reputable people who believe in you, people who undoubtedly know what they’re talking about, telling you “you’re doing things the right way”, that “it was only a matter of time”, or that “it’s the first of many”. And however much you trust these people, however much you respect them; seek out their opinions, advice and expertise in every other area, no one can make you trust yourself apart from, shock, yourself. To put it as simply as possible, the reason I have my first win on the LET is the same reason I was able to tee off the 18th with a two shot lead, knowing that a week’s work can implode in the space of a heartbeat, and still produce two of my best shots all week. I had complete trust in myself and my own ability.

But trying to figure out why I was able to do that that week is the part that possibly doesn’t quite add up on the outside. There’s probably too strong of an assumption in the sporting world that wins or good performances follow a specific set of rules, with very limited variations. Wins come because you’ve been putting in good performances, you’ve been showing signs of consistency, you’ve been in contention regularly. Or you are back somewhere you’ve done well at before; you’ve had a trigger for good vibes. I’ve had reasons to believe in myself and my own capability, I won’t doubt that. I’ve had weeks where I’ve looked at winning scores and known with complete certainty they were in my grasp, weeks where I’ve thought anything might be possible. But most of those weeks have stemmed from one of those sets of rules that I just mentioned. Weeks when maybe the odds might have leant slightly more in my favour. Weeks that weren’t on the back of two missed cuts out of three and a two month stroke average of 75. Weeks where I hadn’t spent parts of the previous events wondering if I’d reached my maximum. If I wasn’t going to achieve any kind of successful result because I just needed some practice time that I wasn’t able to get. If the strongest parts of my game would never be enough to hold the weakest parts together.

Analysis, rationality, doubts, plans, trust… all full cycle, day after day, week after week. Not knowing when, or if, it was all going to come together. Not knowing when, or if, or why, I could even get back to the level of performance I was producing a few months previously, when I believed I’d spent the time in between making myself better. But seeing the smallest of signs and trusting them… engaging in those processes that seem to be going full cycle, and realising they are edging you closer… knowing when to question, when to adapt, when to trust. Who to turn to. They all bridge the narrowing gap that might look like a chasm from the outside. They all bring you closer to the place I found myself in in Coffs Harbour, a place where I felt like limits was just a word and capability was undefined.

Corpus Callosum. It’s the name given for the structure that connects the left and right sides of your brain. The place where logic meets imagination, where reason meets intuition, where fact meets trust. Maybe it’s the scientific name for that place every athlete strives to get into… the place every athlete knows is where the magic happens, the place every athlete knows their performance will find new bounds, the place where every athlete wonders how all the endless complications can suddenly feel so simple. The place where you feel in more control than you ever thought was possible, and somehow completely out of control at the same time. The place you can only find by not looking for. The place where knowing you are in it takes you straight back out of it. The place where all your potential is laid out in its purest, barest form, simultaneously scaring and exciting you. The place you weren’t sure you could hold onto for long enough to believe it was real. The place you train for, sweat for, despair for, live for. The place some people call the zone. The place that makes it all worth it.

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You Do You

It’s always easier to theorise about things than to actually recognise them when they’re happening. Telling yourself that if x happens then I’ll do y. Telling yourself that no matter what you’ll be rational. Telling yourself you won’t care what people think. Telling yourself you won’t get sucked into pettiness. Telling yourself you’ll always push yourself, you’ll always try and do the right thing, you’ll always stand up for what you believe in. But you rarely factor in how different circumstances will impact on those promises. Because really, you have no idea how you’ll respond until you’re there in those moments.

When those moments show themselves, or our environments change, or our comfort zones change, or the people we spend our time with change, it can affect us without us really realising what’s happening. It takes longer than it should for most people to feel comfortable in their own skin… even if some hide it better than others. Pretty much everyone has their insecurities, pretty much everyone craves acceptance, or approval, or respect, in some shape or form. And just when you think you might have learnt to trust yourself, to feel comfortable in yourself, something changes. But maybe that’s the whole point. The last thing I ever want is to get stuck in one place; in one comfort zone. Not being sure where you stand – whether that’s with yourself or with other people – or why you’re struggling, or if you are even struggling… it’s all part of it. And I think recognising that means you’re learning. It means you’re stretching yourself in readiness for moving onto something better. But the only way to move to something better is to not be ok with where you are and what you’re doing. I think one of the things that’s difficult is comparing other people’s comfort zone to your own, or comparing the path other people take to your own, or trying to judge what new people in new situations think of what your ‘normal’ is. That’s when there’s a danger of trying to do what other people do, or not doing what you feel like you need to do, or not trusting your instincts. But one of the most obvious things in the world can be the hardest to wrap your head round; that different things work for different people.

The thing I’m trying to remind myself of though is that really, it only matters if you, yourself, think you’re doing the right thing. If you think you’re doing what is best for yourself, getting yourself where you want to get to… then that’s what counts. Because the people around you that matter should be influencing you to do exactly that anyway. There shouldn’t be a need to worry about what they might be thinking, or changing your behaviour to suit them, because chances are the people around you, are around you, for you. For you being yourself. (Maybe if I repeat the same words one more time it might make sense..) But if they don’t get it, if you feel uncomfortable doing the things you really want to do, if you have to think twice before doing anything… then it isn’t you that needs to change. Chances are, the only thing you need to think twice about is who those people are, and why they are having an influence on your life.

Figuring out what’s right for you doesn’t mean you have to wonder why it isn’t right for other people. If spending a few hours in the pouring rain on the driving range is what you feel like works for you, trust it. If spending all afternoon sitting inside with friends watching movies you really should have seen before is what you feel like works for you, trust it. If having a few drinks after missing a cut, or having a bad day, or getting into an argument with someone you care about, is what you feel like works for you, trust it. (Although establishing the limits of a “few” drinks is probably a good idea first…). Trusting yourself, and looking after yourself… that’s what works. And that’s what will bring people you need into your life, and people whose opinion you can care about, people’s whose respect you’ll have. Just by doing you.

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Access to Better

People always want to know about the difference between amateur golf and professional golf. Why do some make the step up and some don’t? Why do some of the best amateurs in the world fall off the radar? Why do players you’ve never heard of keep their card year after year? Why do players who have struggled on feeder tours for their whole careers suddenly win on the big stage?

I don’t have the answers to all of that (if I did, I wouldn’t be writing a blog post wondering if anyone is actually going to read it), but I do know one of the most obvious changes can be one of the most problematic. You tick a box or sign a letter to say you’ve turned professional, and suddenly there’s a cheque being waved at you with every event you play. Initially, that just seems like an incredible bonus… you’re doing exactly what you’ve always done, the thing you love, the thing you’ve put sweat and sacrifice and into… and now you’re getting paid for it. Unfortunately that novelty wears off pretty quickly because you realise just how many expenses you have. You realise exactly what position in what tournament you have to finish, just to break even. Just to make the life that you want, the life that you can’t imagine not doing, financially viable. Going from a little thrill of excitement when you check your bank account or see the ‘earnings’ tab next to your name on the leaderboard, to doing all you can to avoid mentally or physically comparing the relentless ‘money out’ column to the lonely ‘money in’ one. Or repeatedly logging in to your accounts page, desperately hoping the payment has gone in, so you can find something else to worry about for a few days. And that’s if you’re making cuts…

Even though I feel like the money side of things will make my head explode sometimes, I’m pretty lucky that I’m still young enough to not have my whole life revolve around which bills I need to pay. And at the highest level, golf can be an incredibly rewarding, even ludicrous sport from a financial perspective. But not at every level. It almost amused rather than irritated me last year as I realised that making a profit by playing on the Access Series is damn near impossible. (If anyone is interested, I’d say you pretty much have to finish top 5 to have a chance of breaking even in each event). But that’s not a dig at Access, because feeder tours are exactly what they say they are: feeder tours. You shouldn’t be able to sustain your career by playing them for the rest of your life. In my mind, sport, and life, are about pushing yourself to be the best you can possibly be… I can’t understand people who ever get comfortable with mediocrity.

Playing Access was my only choice last year; it was the only tour I was guaranteed playing opportunities. That was far from how I envisioned moving from the amateur ranks to the professional ones, but I will tell anyone who will listen now that it was the best thing that could have happened to me. And maybe it was because of the limited prize money that I was able to play myself into a much better position in a year… to improve mentally and physically. I read something recently about how providing a financial, or external, incentive has been proven to lessen your intrinsic motivation. Maybe playing a tour where it’s pretty impossible to be driven by the financials is actually a benefit; you can’t get distracted by a reason you didn’t fall in love with something in the first place. Your only choice is to concentrate on getting better…. Maybe that’s part of why there can be more hunger on feeder tours than on bigger tours.

But I also think there’s a lot of pressure, whether self-inflicted or not, on players who have had a good amateur career, and think they are ready to make their mark in the professional world. Social media is all about the superstars; the players at the top, the players who make instant breakthroughs as if it was the only logical next step. The reality is that there are a million and one ‘next steps’ that you can take.. and they can come at any point in a player’s career. Quite often, they might feel like a step back. But actually, if you keep your eyes forward, it doesn’t matter what direction each individual step goes in. Ultimately, you’ll end up exactly where you are supposed to.

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365 Days, 360 Degrees

Every time I’ve gone to write or add to this blog post, I seem to have a slightly different perspective on what I’m trying to say… and maybe that in itself is the thread that’s woven its way through 2017.

It started on my flight home from Dubai (anyone reading this who I saw the night before that flight will recognise that is an achievement in itself), and I was trying to find a way to piece together the story of that week, in the context of the whole year. Because in a way, that season-ending event felt like a snapshot of the twelve months that preceded it. Kind of like when a series that you really like has just begun its new season, and despite how obsessed you were with it previously, so many details have slipped your mind… and so they show you a 30 second crash course of the 20 episodes worth of drama that went before. The combination of controlled confidence, adrenaline, leaderboard-climbing and crashing, exhaustion, despair… and then perspective. It was like every single emotion I’ve felt this year was thrown at me in its most extreme form… but maybe it all happened to re-emphasize everything I’ve learnt in my first year as a professional. It’s funny how even when you feel like you are learning unbelievable amounts from every single day of every single tournament, of every practice session, of every travel dilemma and every person you come across – it’s still far too easy to let those lessons slip by you. Maybe that’s why everything in Dubai seemed so heightened… it was like a reminder to remember.

And another reminder to remember has hit me in the last few days, with LET Q School going on. Mentally, I was a little all over the place this time last year, but in a completely different way to how I was when I started writing this blog. When Q School was over last year and I hadn’t achieved my full card, and I hadn’t gained any status in America after I graduated from college in the summer, I had a battle with myself over whether I needed to take a massive step back and find the missing pieces, or whether I needed to commit everything I had to the small improvements I was already trying to make. There was a lot of doubt involved at that point… a lot of analysis and questioning and reflection. While wondering if I should be doing the complete opposite. Weeks like Q School can do that to you; when it feels like your entire career and self worth is balancing upon a razor blade of a missed putt or a pulled 5 iron.

But the point I managed to reach at the end of last year, and the point I’m at now the rawness of Dubai has passed, is that perspective is everything. While your initial emotions can be the most honest ones, taking a step back from situations can be what you need to see the whole picture. Sometimes you’re too close to have clarity. Some things this year hurt more than I thought was possible; for every moment of pride and satisfaction there have been infinite moments of frustration and pain. But I’m proud of a lot of what I’ve done this year, in how I’ve grown golf wise and character wise. And golf… golf is a sport where even one of the greatest sportspeople the world has ever seen, in Tiger, could never come close to a wining percentage over the course of a career.

Equally though, I think it’s incredibly important to see every angle. I don’t ever want to pretend those reactions; those emotions, those ‘losses’ aren’t real. I don’t think people are always willing to admit to, or accept, or maybe even let themselves see that there are both ends of the spectrum; there are highs and lows and that’s ok. Maybe it’s an element of success to be single-minded in your pursuit of a goal; to refuse to let weakness show itself. But I think there has to be a way to see it all, to feel it all, and to appreciate it all. Because if you choose to ignore anything other than self-satisfaction, I think it undermines both your desire, and your capacity for improvement… it undermines your potential.

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