Back on The Challenge Tour
First, I must say a huge thanks for the amount of good wishes throughout the week on social media, texts and email! It’s pretty overwhelming to see how much support I still have when I tee it up!!
It really means a lot and hopefully I’ve managed to keep many of you entertained at work refreshing scores throughout the day!
So, has it been nice to be back…….?
One thing for sure, I’ve missed the players’ lounge and the all-you-can-eat buffet lunch and desserts!!!!!!
Tuesday I headed down early, I set off just prior to 6am. I was so out of the loop with things that I followed the COVID rules by the book.
I’d been across to Bradford to pay for an 8am lateral flow test on Sunday morning (NHS tests not accepted), and was told I then had to be on site within 48 hours of the result – hence the Tuesday morning rush! So to then arrive Tuesday and be asked if I’d taken a test but didn’t even have to show proof, or even the results, was rather frustrating!
Anyway, I was there and, driving through the gates, I felt pretty excited; it had been over two years since I last played a Challenge Tour event, but it certainly didn’t feel like that driving in. I flipped back into game mode pretty easily. Once I’d checked in and got my bearings around the Belfry, as it’s pretty well spaced out, I set to work on some practice.
Steve met me in the clubhouse and from there we headed straight to the range. I’ve been hitting it pretty good for most of the year but it’s been without any swing guidance….. I’ve always had a coach and have threatened over the last year to see a few guys but strangely I’ve never got round to it.
Hitting balls on the range is basically a warm up, and to get a feel for the turf…. I have no swing thoughts!!!!!!
The frustrating thing about the warm up and the practice ground at The Belfry is that the turf is lush, green and soft and the National golf course is brown, burnt and extremely firm!!!! It was running miles off the tee, even I hit one 370 uphill on the par 6th.
I’ve always seemed to struggle on links golf and firm turf, I lose strike and always tend to lose distance on my iron shots too – anyone know why?????
So, after a few shots on the range, a few chips and putts, I headed out there earlier than planned.
The course layout is ok, but some holes are 80+ yards wide off the tee, there is no semi rough and then it’s waist high rough – but it’s so wide, scoring was always going to be low and the cut on any Tour these days is rarely above par!
So a curry for one that evening then an early night ready for a day’s practice on Wednesday.
Wednesdays are always pretty busy, there’s a big pro-am, and all the players are now on site doing their prep work; my plan was to hit a few, keep some nice feelings going, especially with the driver as that swing frustrates me so much at times, I really struggle to exaggerate the move I want in my swing especially when the wind is off the left and I can’t stop hitting it out of the toe!!
I found another chipping green hidden away with more on course-like conditions so spent some time there and then finished the day putting! It was 2pm and my prep work was complete.
It was back to the hotel, a chill out, finish some admin for the 2020protour, send some online swing notes to my students and then out for dinner with Matt Ford (former room-mate) for a Nando’s and again an early bed!
So, here we go again……. Round 1
The whole point of having Steve back on the bag was to create a relaxed environment; we had loads to catch up on so that would be easy, and to also make sure I didn’t forget all the good stuff I used to do so well and take for granted in my pre shot routine.
- Pick a target
- Decide on the wind direction and strength
- Pick a landing spot
- Decide the type of shot
- Avoid the big misses around greens
- Anticipate flyers
- The list goes on……
To be fair, over the four days we did great; it must be pretty well ingrained in me, I guess, and when I played Open Qualifying back in July Ryan Grumbridge caddied for me and was pretty impressed with my process/routine and game face!!!!
The first hole on the National course is as straightforward as they come – if you ever wanted easing back in, then this is the tee shot! Down the second I hit a nice wedge shot into 10ft and holed it, I’d opened my birdie account and was under par!!
I hit a really poor shot into three but made a great up and down, momentum was with me early and I felt pretty relaxed!
I’m not really sure why but I got drawn with a good group too, JC Ritchie was doing well on the OOM and Michael Hoey lost in a play off the previous week. I’d played with them both before and they’re both great guys and very easy to play with, it helps!!
One bogey on the 4th but I kept plodding along nicely picking up a few more birdies along the way. The 18th is a crap tournament hole, they’ve changed the design since lockdown and relocated the green next to a huge tree and a new pond….. it’s pretty daft!!
I took on the shot, crushed a two iron up to the front edge and chipped and putted for a birdie finish and 4 under – I couldn’t have been happier!
Out for a pizza with an old college mate, Ross Parker, that evening and again back for an early bed!! As Laura pointed out, life on the road is pretty easy – eat, sleep, golf, repeat.
So an earlyish start Friday morning, leaving the Travel Lodge around 6.30am, to head to the course, via a quick McDonalds Drive Thru breakfast of a bagel and coffee. With it being a one tee start this week we had the pleasure of that easy opening tee shot, you kind of expected to make birdie or at least give yourself a good chance – again I made par!! Argh!
So a slow start through 6 holes and finally I broke through on 7 making a nice birdie; from there I got into my stride and went bogey free for the day, shooting 4 under! I certainly didn’t expect that and to see myself in 7th place after 36 holes was fantastic!!!!!
I’d certainly enjoyed my two days on the course so far with Steve on the bag, it had been pretty relaxed, stress free – bar one lucky break where I ended up scraping a par after hitting two provisionals off the par 5 12th tee.
The only thing was my 4 under felt like 5 over when Michael Hoey cruised round in -9 for the day. The crazy thing is, and I’ve had this conversation with a few of my students this week, that it doesn’t look that impressive, it’s simple, boring golf, no mistakes and take your chances when you get them.
Short par fives and a few good wedge shots and it soon adds up to a low score, it was a pleasure to watch!!
So back to the hotel for me and dinner for one again, this time Frankie and Benny’s… totally living the dream – haha!
Day 3 was a nice late start, I’d got myself in to the third from last group with Oliver Bekker and Yannik Paul, both players going well in the OOM!
I didn’t have a great day in the end, I actually played solidly and had a great chance to go to -2 on the 10/11th missing them both…. I then hit two shocking drives on the 13th and made triple!!! GUTTED! It knocked the wind out of me!!!
I ended up shooting +2 and fell down the board to around 30th!!!! You just can’t make mistakes at this level as you get punished soooooo much – players are making birdies all the time, especially on such an easy course!
And today felt even worse than round two as Oli Bekker shot -10!!!!!!!!
I really was frustrated/disappointed with my score (maybe I shouldn’t have been with the lack of practice). I didn’t even want to head out that evening for dinner for one….. so a Belfry pack up sandwich from the players’ lounge, a bag of crisps, a chocolate bar and a McDonalds Drive Thru Toffee Latte on route home was all I deserved!!!
A catch up with the kids on FaceTime, some Netflix and an even earlier night with an early start Sunday after falling down the leader board!!!!
My only thought for the day, let’s get out there and make some birdies asap, a nice cheque and then get back up the M1 home!
Round 4 – I smashed it off the first onto the front edge of the green and two putted for birdie!!! The perfect start followed quickly by a terrible bogey after going for the par 5 second in two shots!!
A perfect eagle up the 6th after hitting a drive 370 yards and a 9 iron to 10ft, I was up and running, another birdie on the 8th from 45ft and boom -3! Climbing that board!
It was all looking so promising until it ended up being quite a disaster of a last ten holes with three doubles – two of these compounded errors with two flyers from the semi rough and a couple of really terrible shots!!!!
68 – 68 – 74 -74 = -4 total T53rd
So the week’s round up…..
With the lack of practice I certainly overachieved in that company for two days, my wedge game was certainly shown up inside 120 yards with such lack of distance control!
I drove the ball great for most of the week, but certainly found it hard to trust when the wind was off the left, again an issue I know about but commitment is difficult under the gun.
The most amazing part of my game was putting….. When I say I probably putted the best I ever have for the first two rounds would be no exaggeration. I felt so comfortable with the short stick and since I’ve changed to a centre shafted putter it’s transformed my stroke, especially in my through stroke, my start line has improved sooooo much!!!
Did I miss it?
I certainly can’t believe it had been two years since playing a Challenge Tour event!
And I will always miss competing, there is no better feeling than trying to be the best you can be out on the course and I always try to shoot one shot better!!!!!!
But I certainly don’t miss the travel and the meals for one on an evening and this week I hadn’t even seen an airport!
One thing I know I need to get in place, and as soon as possible, is go and see a coach, get some structure to my game/practice and create some feelings to take out on the course, also set some goals!!!!!!!!
So where do I go from here? I may have some more opportunities over the next few months to play on the Challenge Tour but I also have a lot to get sorted and in place with my own coaching setup and a few other exciting ventures; so let’s see what the weeks ahead bring and try to get some practice in too.
The good news for next year is, which was news to me, that the Challenge Tour categories haven’t been frozen but there is a ‘safety net’ which I will fall into; this means I will still have opportunities next season, most likely in the full field summer events, but that’s great to know – as it only takes a couple of weeks to shine!
Let’s also hope Q School is back on the schedule too!
Again, a huge thank you must go to Owen Hall (Bradley Hall), Craig Waddington (Woodsome Hall/Easy Bathrooms) and Johnny Pringle for their ongoing support and support last week back on The Challenge Tour; it was great to play last week and be able to take Steve, a professional caddy, with me which certainly helped me get through to the weekend.
Really looking forward to catching up with you all on the course or in the lesson studio soon!!
What events are coming up?
The Tour Final on the 2020protour will be a great three day trip up to Scotland. I’m looking forward to teaming up with some friends around Irvine, Glasgow Gailes and Dundonald Links.
There is space in the event for one more team of three amateurs if anyone fancies it… see below for more details, you would be paired with a top pro from the 2020protour OOM.
Coaching…. The #ScoringSchool is also back with more dates to be added, but if you fancy improving your short game over the winter, then keep your eyes peeled – the next session has two spaces left! See below.
I hope you all have a great end to the season and as ever a HUGE thank you for the continued support when I tee it up in any competition, it means the world to me!!