I did it, just! I retained my European Tour card but it was as stressful as it gets, as I didn’t secure it until the final event of the season in Hong Kong! Obviously I would have loved to have had it secured well before the last event, but as I hadn’t, it was always going be stressful all the way to the last putt on Sunday.
Going into the tournament, there had been plenty of promising signs and I felt my game was in a good place. I’d had some reasonable finishes at the KLM and Italy, finishing 36th and 44th respectively, but nothing to write home about or get me across the line.
I had also recently changed my caddy, which was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. Learning what I want or need from a caddy and how that relationship works is one of the biggest lessons I’ve learnt this year. My new caddy is Rob Gibson (pictured above with Ford), who is also from Kent. He is an experienced tour caddy, having been on tour for 20 years or so. We’ve now been working together for the last nine tournaments and prior to that he had been with Kristoffer Broberg.
Finding a new caddy isn’t that easy either as most of them are already on bags of other players. It’s not like anyone was going to jump ship to join me. I knew a couple of experienced caddies who were on the Caddies committee and sounded them out, as it’s not like you advertise and get a CV! Rob was suggested and available, we had a quick chat and decide to give it a go! Having an experienced caddy with the right personality to match is vital. Given the amount of time you spend with your caddy you need to be able to chat and have a laugh. Not everyone will understand the Only Fools and Horses humour! We have definitely been working well the last couple of tournaments!
So my 2015 season came down to the last event, and at a course that I was told would suit me. My preparation couldn’t have started better, as I was fortunate to get a free upgrade on the long flight out and gain some much needed rest after a busy end of the season. I also got to play in the pro-am on the Wednesday, which was key as I didn’t arrive till Tuesday afternoon after Portugal the previous week. So I managed to get a good look at the course.
Being the final tournament of the regular season, as you’d imagine it was a tense week. There were a lot of players there playing for their futures and another year on tour. You could certainly feel a different atmosphere. If you let it, the pressure could easily get on top of you and make the week unbearable. I went into it with the same attitude I had at Q-school a year earlier, just to give it my best effort. Sticking to the simple processes and try and enjoy the week whatever happened was the goal. I couldn’t let the possible outcomes and what was at stake enter my mind, and there was the real challenge!
I went into the week roughly knowing what was needed, as most people did. I would say there were a good dozen on the cusp with another 30 or more players who could finish in the top two and catapult themselves up the rankings and retain their card. I knew a top 10 would be enough and potentially a top 15 maybe, but knew the possible scenarios were endless, hence why thinking of the outcome was the worst thing I could do. The week was always going to have a sub plot that a lot of people said was more interesting than who was going to win, and more about the stories of who kept their cards. I was hugely relieved to get mine and extremely emotional at the end, as I had been trying for the last few days, if not weeks, to not think about it and finally I could! At the end of the tournament, there were a lot of celebrating players and caddies. It was a nice touch that Justin Rose, who won the tournament, came over and congratulated a few people as he understood how much it also meant to us.
I had a four week break between playing in Hong Kong and picking up the clubs competitively at Leopard Creek at the end of November for the first event of the 2016 season. It was great to have that time off to celebrate, rest and spend time with my family after what had been a long season and, of course, there was the relief of securing my card and everything that goes with that.
It was also very strange not going to Q school, not that I was complaining!! In my time at home I was presented with an outstanding achievement award at the annual end-of-season dinner in the South Region. I confess it came as a total surprise. I met up with Ian Pether, the managing director from my sponsors CK Group, to play in the pro-am. Sam Smith (regional secretary) invited me along to the event saying he wanted me to play with a couple of people. For me it was an opportunity to play with my sponsor and have a laugh on the course for a change! In the evening, sat at the dinner, the awards were being given out and there was a special award. When they started describing the winner it was then I realised it was me! I was really surprised and of course then I had to go a give a speech – which I hadn’t been prepared for. I haven’t played much in the region this year and I do have a lot of fond memories competing in the region so to get the award was pretty special. The region has supported me and I am more than happy to support the region when I can.
It was almost three weeks after Hong Kong before I saw my coach and it wasn’t until then that I started doing some work on my game, which meant I only had one week’s preparation ahead of Leopard Creek. But I had quite a relaxed attitude going into the week as I viewed it as a one-off tournament as my next one was five weeks away. I really like South Africa and going there I was still relatively confident from my performance in Hong Kong and in a really good frame of mind, however I didn’t go there with any set expectations after a few weeks off. I didn’t hit the ball great in the first round but had just 22 putts which is probably a personal best. That turned it into a very good round. I putted nicely for the whole week and although I hit the ball a little ropey at times, my short game kept me going well through those moments. But for the majority of the week I kept giving myself good birdie opportunities. It was a good start to the season and gives me a nice chunk on the Race2Dubai before Christmas!
This season will be a bit different to 2015, as I will know some of the courses, I have a year’s experience under my belt and that will help enormously. The experiences I had in tournaments when I was in good positions and playing with the bigger names will also help. One of my main goals will be looking for more top 10 finishes, to have one already is a great start. The one big advantage now that I have kept my card and gained a higher category, is I can plan my schedule much better and that should help with my preparation. Last year I was never sure what tournaments I would be playing in. With the exception of the majors and world golf events I will pretty much be eligible to play in all European Tour events. It also means that I can choose courses that suit my game. The hardest decision for me now is which events to miss out! Which is a great problem to have. I am excited to play Dubai (above) and Abu Dhabi in the New Year, as I have always wanted to play those events. The PGA Championship at Wentworth, the Irish Open, The Scottish Open and The British Masters will all be great events that I will be excited to play. Crans-Sur-Sierre (below) is also a great place and a course which is right up my street.
I have also added a new sponsor for the year – Crisp Thinking. It’s great to have these guys on board and supporting me along with my main sponsor CK Group and Price Bailey Chartered Accountants. They really do make a difference in allowing to me to just focus on playing golf. My next event will be the South African Open in the 1st week of January, which will kick of a busy stretch of tournaments and 2016, which I am very excited about.