I’m delighted to report that just days after writing last month’s column, I headed to East London for the Africa Open, spent the whole week around the lead, and eventually finished runner up to earn my biggest ever cheque of €120,484. I jumped to around 40th on the Race to Dubai, and climbed 363 places in the world rankings from to 402nd. March was a very good month!
It wasn’t a bombers’ course, like some I’ve played, and there wasn’t much advantage to hitting the ball 300 yards. We were back at sea level, so it was a bit windy, and there was no real benefit to hitting the ball high. It was more about keeping the ball lower – and that’s just my cup of tea.
I’ve had some good first rounds, so my opening 67 wasn’t anything new; but to still be leading after my second-round 66 was quite a big step. Being in the last group for the third round was probably the biggest thing, because although I was leading for much of round two – even holing a full wedge on the 12th for an eagle two – I didn’t get much TV coverage. So the third round was where it really became a new experience for me.
I was nervous and excited. You’re obviously happy you’re up where you want to be, and the pressure and the nerves are something you want, so they’re not really negatives. But dealing with heightened levels of anxiety and emotion, and everything that was going on, was new. Overall, I think I handled it pretty well. There were a couple of little mistakes, but I kept it going quite nicely to shoot three under. I wasn’t too aware of what Trevor Fisher was doing until I walked down the 18th and saw he was two clear.
That third round was really important, because going into Sunday I’d had all those new experiences on Saturday, so being in the hunt in the final round wasn’t quite such a shock to the system. Trevor obviously had the weekend of his life to shoot 63, 64 and win by five, but I had plenty of birdies too – including one on the last – to shoot 67 and finish runner-up, three clear of third place for that career-high cheque.
But the Order of Merit is the most important thing. Those are the cheques you need – big chunks from top-10 finishes – and I’ll need a couple more of those before my card is secure for next season. That said, it’s a big step in the right direction. I said in my last column that the money situation can prey on your mind, so it definitely takes a little bit of weight off your shoulders.
If I go a few months missing cuts, I start thinking ‘Am I covering the mortgage? Am I paying my bills?’ Now all of a sudden I don’t have to worry about that for a few months, and hopefully, longer, depending on how well I keep playing. No treats for myself or my family just yet though. If I’m going to spend any money, it will probably be out of the next cheque, not this one!
I missed the cut in the next tournament, the Tshwane Open, by one, but I don’t think it was a direct knock-on effect of the previous week’s success; it was more to do with the four weeks before. It was my fifth event in a row, and I was feeling drained, although I’m sure the excitement of the previous week added to the draining effect.
Missing the cut by one is one of worst things in professional golf; even more so having birdied the last two holes. I gave myself lots of chances, but just didn’t hole anything outside 15 feet for two whole rounds, which was disappointing. But overall my game wasn’t that bad – it just wasn’t quite there.
Sadly, that big result doesn’t make much difference to my schedule, as the only way to really change your category is by winning. I still won’t know about China in April until two weeks before – and as for Wentworth, that’s going to be tight. Last year, fourth at Qualifying School was last man in, but going on Abu Dhabi this year, I may end up missing out by two or three spots – unless something happens, like a top-ten the week before in Spain… or a win, of course, between now and then!