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Gecko Tour - La Canada and Marbella Club

The win at San Roque not only gave me some confidence, but maybe as importantly, it gave me some financial stability. I had been haemorrhaging cash since I had arrived back after Christmas and New Year. The money should be enough to keep me in Spain until the end of the British winter. A weight off ones shoulders.

See San Roque Tournament here

me
Bit more relaxed after getting a much needed cheque in!

I went into the next event, La Canada, with mixed feelings. I was obviously playing well and felt good about my new routine and the work I had been doing with Rod Bastard at the Marbella Club, but I had indifferent memories of La Canada.

The course was built by Jimmy Ortiz-Patiño. He is known as being the owner and honorary president of the golfing Mecca that is Valderrama. ‘Jimmy’ was determined to make Valderrama a very special, top class, five star venue. To complete his vision he had to keep it private and exclusive. To ease the local authorities’ intrusions and to appease the planners he decided to build La Canada next door. The concept was to provide a golfing facility for the locals to enjoy, thus take attention away from Valderrama. In fact, what he produced was rather good.

The original 9 holes is very good. It’s a clever design by Robert Trent Jones that weaves through claustrophobic cork trees. It has the same turf and feel as Valderrama but has more undulations and lacks the absolute perfection of finish that Valderrama offers, but this is no surprise as La Canada accommodates many, many more rounds.

The front 9, the newer 9, is not as good. Designed by Dave Thomas it is open and visually not as appealing. It is very playable and offers many good chances for birdie. Having said all this, the two things that stand out about La Canada for me is the playability to the average golfer, something lost amongst La Canada’s neighbours. La Resverva, Valderrama, Finca, San Roque and to a certain extent, Sotogrande, are all great courses and clubs, but for your average golfer, a 15 to 20 handicapper, they will just beat you up. This is a decent test, especially in the wind, but is fair and accommodating to all.

The second thing that stands out is La Canada’s work with the community. They do a lot of work with the kids in the area, people with disabilities, underprivileged people etc. So much so that they are the first sports facility in Spain win a government award for their good work.

Anyway, as I mentioned, I arrived with mixed feelings. Pre Christmas I had managed to get in a share for the lead through 26 holes with Raul Quiros. My parents then arrived. It is, conservatively, 15 years since they last watched me play golf. The first hole they watched me on was the 9th, a tricky par 4 with out of bounds left and a huge drop off right of the green, and it was playing straight into a strong wind. I pulled my tee shot into a bunker, tried to hook a 7 wood out and around a tree, it didn’t hook and went down the drop off right of the green. I proceeded to chip it up and down the big slope, hitting the trees on top before watching it roll past me, four times! I ended up making 9! Thanks for coming to watch mum and dad! With the nines switched for this renewal, the 9th would be our final hole of the event!

I implemented the same routine that had worked well the week before at San Roque. I didn’t touch a club on the Saturday and Sunday. Went to the course on the Monday and hit some balls and putted. The goal; to be fresh and looking forward to playing, rather than just going through the motions.

Day one was very windy. Club selection varied from 7 irons from 112 yards to wedges from 172. I played pretty solid. I hit 77% of fairways, 67% of greens but lost 2.3 shots putting. I shot level with 3 birdies and 3 bogies. Good enough for a share of 4th, three behind Gabrielle Canizares, but with some good players between us. I was left with a bit of a sour taste in my mouth as I missed from 4 and 5 feet on the last two holes. On 17 for par and on 18, my old friend, for birdie.

Manuel Quiros and I
Boring Manuel Quiros with probably another pointless story....

Day two was very similar. I played with two English guys that didn’t say much and with the wind causing play to be very slow again, there was a lot of time with my own thoughts. Not a good thing! I got off to a good start making birdie on my third hole, the toughest hole on the course playing straight into the wind, I failed to get up and down from sand on my 5th hole and dropped a shot. On my 7th I missed from 3 feet for birdie after a good approach and parred 8 and 9 to turn in level. I was now 4 behind.

I missed a good chance from 7 feet on the par 3 second, my eleventh, after hitting a nice 7 iron but then birdied the par 5 third and hit it dead on the par 3 fourth. Two good shots into the par 5 fifth saw another birdie and a 9 iron from 102 yards into the sixth to 6 feet produced the fourth birdie in a row. I was now -4 for the event and had a one shot lead.

On the seventh, searching for five in a row, I landed a utility wedge 5 feet from the hole. It took some spin, caught a slope and ended up rolling off into the water.... gutting. I managed to get it up and down for a bogey. Fortunately this coincided with Gabby, the overnight leader, not making birdie on either par 5 and bogeying 6. I still had a one shot lead. I hit two solid shots into the wind on 8 and made a valuable par. I would stand on the ninth, my nemesis, with a one shot lead.

The good news was the hole was playing straight down wind. I hit a rescue straight towards the bunker where my previous ordeal started. It just carried it but caught the tree just beyond, the one I had to try it hook it around before. It looked like a great break from the tee but when I got down there I could see my swing would be impeded by the trunk of the tree, but I had a backswing. I had 144 yards so tried to force a wedge to a front pin on an elevated green. I stone cold fatted it and came up short of the bunker protecting the front of the green. I had about 38 yards off a muddy lie. I managed to pitch up to 3 feet below the hole. Still a good test left for me. Short putts have plagued me this winter and the 9th at La Canada has never been my friend. I knocked it in the middle. Five minutes later I watched Gabby leave a birdie putt from 12 feet, to tie, short. Job done, two wins in a row. One from in front, one from behind.

Day 2 I had hit 77% of fairways, greens in regulation were up to 78%, effective greens 83.33%, scrambling up from 57% on day one to 75% on day 2, but still lost 1.27 shots putting. 5 birdies and two bogies were good for 68 (-3).

La Canada cheque la canada on tv
Nice to get 2nd win in two weeks.... and the ‘dodgy beard’ makes an appearance on tv!

Next up was Marbella Club. This where I practice and play when I am out here. I love it. I love the people that work and play there, I love the atmosphere, the course, the whole set up. It’s just a very cool place. I am very lucky and appreciative to be able to use the facility. I also have friends, Dennis and Hilde Holdsworth that live in a beautiful house on the left hand side of the first. I have occasionally been fortunate enough to stay with them and it is heaven.

The course itself is fairly unique. It is perhaps the hilliest course you will ever see, set up in the mountains overlooking Marbella, the sea, Gibraltar and Africa. The views are stunning. It is a Dave Thomas design and has a terrific variety of holes. I never get bored of playing it. Normally the course is in fantastic condition but this year, due to a lack of rain before Christmas, it is a little behind, but still wonderfully acceptable. It is improving everyday and the work they are doing on the course now will make it exceptional, once again, very soon. They certainly have the right guy, Rod Bastard, to oversee operations. Rod has also helped me a lot with my golf this winter and is a great player in his own right.

Marbella Club 18
Marbella Club offers some great views, hole 18 with Gibraltar and Africa behind.


My preparation was off going into the event. As I mentioned, I was playing less going into events to try and enjoy, look forward and want to play more. This week I had Riaz Rattansi, my Sunningdale Foursomes partner, come out for a few days. We played on Thursday, the day after La Canada, at Marbella Club, 36 holes at Finca on the Friday, Valderrama on the Saturday and La Reserva on the Sunday. A nice few days but not ideal preparation. I also had one of the pros from Wentworth, Tom Reid, come and stay with me from the Sunday through the event. I played a practice round at Marbella Club on the Monday and all of a sudden I had played 9 rounds in 8 days.

In the first round I birdied 1 and 3, a perfect start. We then waited for ages on the next two holes. I bogied 4 and missed from 6 inches for bogey on 5. I was tired and bored. We were 3 hours 15 minutes for the front 9 and just over 6 hours in all. When I have been fresh on the course the last few weeks it would not have bothered me, but it got to me that day. I only missed one fairway but still managed to make 4 bogies and 2 doubles in an awful round of 76 (+4). I did have one pretty bad break on the par 5 7th, where I hit a drive on the perfect line only to hit a tree in the middle of the fairway and stay up there. It was incredible as it was in the branches of a cork tree, not the bark and not particularly thick. At least we managed to identify it so I could drop it on the fairway instead of going back to the tee.

Marbs Club 6th
Hole number 7, Marbella Club. My ball got stuck up the tree in the fairway.

The bad score was a result of nothing physical, all mental. I beat myself and was way down in 46th. Rod had played well, shooting 67 to be one off the lead. The coach leading the student by example!

Day 2 I was a bit more into it, mainly due to the Gecko’s great decision to do a one tee u-draw. I won’t bore you further with the details but it did wonders to speed up play. We were nearer 4 hours than 6. Again, I missed only one fairway, the 18th, by a yard, but my iron play remained appalling. 91.67% of fairways, 66.67% of greens. The key to day 2 was my scrambling rose from 33% to 88.89%. I shot an easy 3 under 69 with 5 birdies and 2 bogies. I finished 21st. Pretty disappointing.

marb 2nd
Hole number 2, Marbella Club, missed this green twice with a 9 iron, iron play was poor all week.


The funniest thing, if funny is the right word, maybe ironic is better, is pre-event I said, “Driving is the key around here, you drive it good and you can shoot a score. It is intimidating from the tee but in reality when you are on the fairways they are pretty generous. You need to make your score from 6 through 14, they are the scoring holes.” I missed 2 fairways and played the stretch 6 through 14 in +6 on day 1! A little better on day 2, in 3 under.

A disappointing week when looking for a threepeat. My preparation cost me and that is something that is so easy to control.

Dona Julia this week. Starts on Tuesday.


Comments

Gecko Tour - El Pariso, Atatlya, Guadallhorce, Finca Cortesin, San Roque.

It’s been a pretty rough start to 2014. I finished 2013 playing some solid golf, finishing in the top 10 pretty much every week on the Gecko Tour and getting into contention when the putter behaved. The first three Gecko events of 2014 saw the putter go ice cold and the rest of my game turn pretty average too.

The Gecko Tour is a relatively new tour based in Marbella. Most of it’s events are played between Malaga and Sotogrande. This season they have attracted full fields (85-100 players) as the prize money is a little deeper than previous seasons and I assume, to a certain extent, because of the horrible, wet winter most of Europe has suffered this year. The depth of the fields are not great as there are no categories in place so entries are on a first come, first served basis. This is possibly the only thing the tour may wish to change going into next season. There are enough high quality players wanting to play and I think it is important to keep the standard high. It reflects well on the tour and encourages sponsorship.

Having said this, the top end is of a high standard. There are 5-10 players each week that have held European or US Tour cards as well as other established players and top young amateurs who have just turned pro. It is rare for a winning score not to be an impressive number.

The key to this tour for me is to finish in the top 10. If I do this each week I cover my expenses of being based out here in Spain. The top 20 players get paid but with a €200 entry fee and €400 for 10th, €200 for 20th, you don’t want to be finishing outside the top 10. If you play ok and think well you should top 10 it, but as I have found out this year, there are no guarantees!

Fortunately, as I mentioned, I had done ok before Christmas. A 2nd place finish behind Manuel Quiros at San Roque perhaps the highlight. But I had made enough on top of my expenses to make the decision of coming down in January a given.

The first event of 2014 would at El Pariso. A course I have played almost every Saturday since I have been here. A friend of mine from Wentworth, Keith Donaldson, is a member and I play in a club competition with him here. I like the course and it is always in good shape, especially the greens. It should be a nice advantage to know the course better than others.

I made a solid start making good chances early on and eventually birdied the 6th. This was followed by a quick 3 putt on 7 where I missed from a couple of feet. This is where the problems started. 35 putts on a low scoring course is not going to be competitive.

For the last few months I have been using a ‘strokes gained’ putting statistic. Basically it is based on the putting stats from the PGA Tour, so if a player has an 8 foot putt, on average he would take 1.515 putts. Therefore if you hole an 8ft putt you gain 0.515 of a shot on the field, if you two putt you lose 0.485. This gives you very accurate feedback on how you have putted, relative to the length of putts you have faced that day.

On day one of El Pariso I had a loss of over four and half shots in putting. I shot a four over 75. James Maw led, shooting an impressive 61. He played his first 10 holes in 9 under! He would go on to win in a close finish. As for me, a level par 71 on day 2 with an improved 34 putts (two, three putts on my last 2 holes) saw me finish way down in 42nd.

Aloha

Next up was Atalya. This is a good, old, traditional course. Before Christmas I finished 9th here on -4. I hit the ball badly but putted nicely, so I thought I had a decent chance this time around. The course was in good shape and the weather perfect. The only thing I didn’t like was on 13 occasions one can’t see the putting surface when hitting the approach to the green. I find it hard to picture shots when I can’t see where I want to land it, especially on approach shots.

I played ok on day 1. I only hit 8 fairways but managed to find 15 greens in regulation. This is a good number of greens at Atalya as the par 3’s are difficult. Two of them are over 225 yards with small greens. The putter remained cold but a 71 (-1) left me in a fairly competitive position going into day 2.

I changed putter for the 2nd day after a long session on the practice green after my first round. I have been using the armlock method since arriving in Spain, better known as the Kuchar method. I like it as it feels solid and makes a lot of sense, but slowly I was falling out of love with it. I switched to the short putter. I lost over 7.5 shots putting in round 2. 4 three putts. It obviously wasn’t the putter! I shot 77 (+5) on day 2 to finish +4 total which was good for a share of 34th. I had hit over 80% of the greens in regulation and shot +4. Not a good feeling and another week of no prize money.

Guadallhorce near Malaga was next. This is the home club of Pablo Martin. He is the guy who won the Portuguese Open when ranked number one amateur in the world. He won twice on the European Tour since, both of these wins came in the Alfred Dunhill at Leopard Creek. A place I love. I played my practice round with him and got some insight into how the course should be played. Although he has lost his exemptions and categories everywhere apart from on the South African Sunshine Tour, you can still see the raw ability of the guy. Add to that he is a top bloke. He has lost a lot of love for the game but you can’t help but think he will eventually get back to winning ways, he just has a few wild ones in there he needs to cut out.

Anyway, I knew what I had to do and it was fairly clear that the scoring would go pretty low. I had no excuses then and I am struggling to find one now! Pace of play was pretty slow is about as good as I’ve got! I hit is badly 57% of fairways, 61% of greens. My short game was poor 35% scrambling, 20% sand saves and I putted awful, which accounts a little for the poor short game stats. I lost 7.27 shots putting over the two days. A pair of 77’s saw me finish 44th. Simply a bad week and my funds took another hit!

I turned up at Finca knowing I had to pick up a cheque to justify staying out in Spain. The entry for Finca is a little more expensive at €250. It was the last of my pre Christmas profit. I love Finca Cortesin. Most people have mixed feelings as the course is fairly exposed and if you play it on a windy day it can beat you up quickly. It is such a long course and although fairly lenient from the tee, if you do stray, there is no point looking for it. I am fortunate that I have been allowed to play at Finca a fair bit. It is always immaculate, without doubt the best conditioned course in Spain. And yes, before you ask, better than Valderrama.

We play it a touch forward, mainly the par 3s. A few other tees are moved to make the course more playable. The first day the course offered the players a chance. Despite it’s challenges there is still a score to be shot here. Playing with Carlos, the Director of Golf, Patrick Hanrahan, a member there, and an other member I shot -7 there pre Christmas. Day 1 had similar weather. I hit it good enough to shoot a good one. 79% of fairways and 83% of greens. I had a lot of looks but putted miserably again. 37 putts for a loss of over 6 shots. I shot 76. No good on an easy day.

Finca Tee 1
1st tee at Finca, day 2. Wet, windy, long day!

Day 2 could not have been any more different. It hammered it down from the start and a decent wind blew all day. It was impossible to keep anything dry and although the fairways flooded, the greens didn’t, so we had to continue playing. It was a long, hellish day. You could shoot 62 and not enjoy it one bit! I didn’t, I shot 81. I was using a Ping moon bag, not ideal! Remarkably I only missed one fairway and that was a perfect drive that pitched on the bank right of the par 5 8th. It is the optimum landing spot but the ball just plugged. I did the tee to green thing well, and that should be the hard part considering the inclement weather, but the putter was again my downfall. Another 37 putts for a loss of over 6 shots. A shocking new low. I lost over 12 shots putting over the two days.

81 didn’t drop me back, I maintained position on a tough day for everyone. I finished 18th and picked up my first cheque of 2014. It was only for €212.50 but considering how things had been going, it felt like a small victory rather than just a step in the right direction. It would pay my entry for the next week’s event.

That event would be San Roque. Despite my poor form I was looking forward to playing the San Roque New course again. I have played there twice before and finished 1st and 2nd. Last November I closed with a 67 to finish 2nd and I always have good vibes coming back here. The key would be sorting the putter out. I hit it good enough at Finca to win, but didn’t even get close. Instead of playing a practice round I decided to putt. I putted using different drills, games and aimpoint for nearly 5 hours to try and build some confidence and to find something to go into battle with. I switched my routine to the same as I use for my long game and went back to the arm lock method, just trying to set up a little squarer.

It worked nicely on day 1. We had a perfect day. Warm with a stiff breeze. Perfect for me. The course played a little different to normal as we had a lot of rain in the days leading up to the event. I got off to the perfect start. I hit a 6 iron to 8ft at 1 and rammed it in the middle, a nice confidence builder. I hit a rescue to 1ft at the par 5, 2nd. -3 thru 2. I birdied number 5 too before dropping a shot at 9, missing from 2ft. I bounced back with birdies at 10,12 and 13. I left a 7ft birdie putt short on the hard 14th before parring in for 66 (-6). That would be good for a 3 shot lead. I had hit 92% of fairways, 88.89% of greens, scrambled 66% of the time but most significantly I had gained over a shot putting. My first gain since using the stat!

Straight after the round there was talk of the weather overnight, and the next day, being so bad that there was a chance of no play on day two. It bought mixed feelings as I would like to win it properly, but if someone wants to give you a win it is hard to turn it down! It did rain hard overnight and in to the morning. At 09.30 Pablo Mansilla, the Tournament Director, almost called it during a heavy downpour, but as he was discussing the idea it stopped and stayed dry for a couple hours. It was on.

I felt pretty good on day 2. I knew if I played solid someone else would have to do something special to beat me, and if they did, fair play to them. In the final round I played with Manuel Quiros and Alfredo Garcia Hereda, two former European Tour players and despite the rain and wind, they came at me fast.

San Roque Focus

Manuel started birdie, birdie to get within one. Alfredo started par, eagle to also get within one. My par, par looked pretty average by comparison. I kept plodding, trying to do my own thing and not react to what others were doing. Manuel took a triple on the par 3, 4th and I birdied 5. I missed decent chances for birdies on 6 and 7 before missing a pair of 6 footers on 8 and 9, both for par. Alfredo made a great birdie at 9 and another at 10. From three ahead I was now 2 behind. I had not done a lot wrong, Alfredo was just playing very well.

I hit a lovely approach to a foot on 12, a much needed birdie, especially as it coincided with an Alfredo bogey. We were tied with six to play. 13,14 and 15 are tough holes, especially in inclement weather. My three pars gave me a three shot lead. Brian Casey, the talented young Irish player who has just turned pro and won the Alps Tour School before Christmas, was now my closest challenger. He was -3. I should have birdied 16 but failed to get an easy bunker shot up and down. A good 6 iron to 12 feet and a lagged birdie putt on 17 meant a bogey 5 on 18 would be good enough to win, no matter what anyone else did.

I hit a good drive on the par 4 before laying up with a 9 iron. There is water right of the green and left is not a good miss. Going for it from 208 yards with a ball covered in mud made no sense. I pitched on and two putted. Job done.

San Roque Presentation

I won by 2 on -5. 66-73. Amazing how much more fun golf is when you can knock the short ones in!

Next up is La Canada on Tuesday.

San Roque win
Comments

Update - October to October!

Ah long time no blog…. Lets give a quick update on what’s been happening over pretty much the last year. I appreciate this could be extremely boring so I will try and skim across with a very brief summary, as any in depth detail could be borderline torure.

In my last update I had just finished up in Burgos, Madrid where I had putted horrifically to finish -2 and 39th. Three weeks later, 2nd Stage of Tour School began. I had a week in Marbella working on my game before travelling up to Murcia to play a new venue called Las Collinas. The week in Marbella was spent mainly trying to find some confidence with the putter, and like a lot of times when you try and force something it becomes even harder. Las Collinas is an ok course but it is very wide and easy. It suits the bombers. I had to putt good to contend and my putting was a horror show. I shot 73-76-72-69=290 (+6) to finish 55th and miss comfortably. Disappointing.

A week later I was in Marseilles for Masters 13. I needed a good week to counteract four consecutive poor ones. But it was not just my own self esteem that needed a boost, my Order of Merit position needed a one too. I arrived in 8th position and needed to jump to at least 6th in the last two events to get a Challenge Tour card. The week started poorly with three 3 putts on my front nine on Thursday. I posted an opening 73 (+1) which although unspectacular, was good for 8th on a tough, windy day. Cambis shot 63, which was without question the round of the year. It left him with a huge lead he would never give up.

masters13chipout

Masters 13, Ponte Royal, Marseilles, France.

My final three rounds were much of the same. Decent shotmaking but not making the most of the opportunities created. I hung in there but two shots killed my week. A three iron into the par 5 14th in round 3 which hit a green side sprinkler and went out of bounds instead of giving me an eagle opportunity and an 8 iron on 15 in the final round which got grabbed by the rough and went hard left out of bounds. Two freak shots that compounded my short game errors and left me at +3 after rounds of 75, 70 and 73. I finished a disappointing 21st after feeling like I was looking at a top 5 finish for most the week.

Straight on to Sardinia for the final Alps event of the year. Hublot bailed on their sponsorship commitments a few days before the event and in turn the prize fund was cut from €100,000 to €60,000 and an expected chance for a big jump on the Order Of Merit had been quashed. The course was very tight and a heavy wind for the whole week made it a demanding test tee to green. I played ok but hit a couple of lose ones at the wrong times. I never truly got going the whole week. I shot 75-76-77 for a +12 total and a share of 16th. It meant I remained 9th on the Order Of Merit and another year on the Alps Tour had been booked for 2012.

The final event of the year was a nice bonus event in Mauritius. It was a 30 man field playing on The Ernie Els Course at the Four Seasons. It is a great week and a wonderful way to finish the year. Everything is complimentary apart from a token gesture we make towards our flights. We stay at the luxury Anahita Resort and there are fantastic events every evening, either at Anahita or at the Four Seasons. As it is a limited field we always play in the morning meaning one can enjoy the facilities at this paradise. Waterskiing, sea fishing, diving, snorkelling to name but a few. It is a wonderful, wonderful place and it very nearly compensated for the disappointment of not being at Final Stage at Tour School.

Mauritius 17th

Ernie Els Course, Mauritius.

I hit it the best I have ever hit it in Mauritius, I even impressed myself at times. I was getting it right out the middle and working it both ways on demand. I was hitting it so straight and as hard as I wanted to. To play like that around a fantastic course, not just in layout but in immaculate condition as well, was very rewarding. However, putting the way I did was the opposite, absolute frustration. I shot 77-72-73 for a +6 total to finish 10th and pick up €2990 of Christmas money. A beautiful week in so many ways, but like most of the second half of the season, it was tarnished by an unruly putter. Havret won, with Otto and Colsaerts keeping him honest down the stretch.

After a few weeks off my 2012 campaign started off in good style in Spain. My first event was a Gecko Tour event at San Roque. I maintained my ball striking from Mauritius but holed out well from 6ft in - a big difference. I shot 69-73 for a -2 total and an opening win. San Roque New is not the easiest course in the world, especially with a stiff breeze but after shooting -5 on the back 9 in the first round to get in position I played really good, solid, conservative golf to see off a strong challenge from Carlos Rodiles (a successful European Tour player who won Tour School at San Roque, which is also his home course), Manuel Quiros (another European Tour player who lost a playoff for the African Open in 2011), Gabrielle Canizares (brother of Alessandro and an impressive player in his own right) and Raul Quiros (a player who was rated as good as Sergio Garcia as an amateur). It was a good confidence booster at the start of the season. Not just for my moral, but financially as well. I had no sponsor for the season.

geckowinsanroque

San Roque, Spain.

The rest of my run on the Gecko Tour was not so successful. I finished 23rd at Torrequebrada, a fiddly, horrible little course in bad condition. I putted so badly there and never got in the mix. 16th at Finca Cortesin. A tough track where I got nailed by the draw. Not a fun place to play in wind and rain. 6th at La Canada where I played good enough to win but never got the putter going. 13th at Parador. An absolute dog track where I struggled all week. I can’t believe they have hosted multiple European Tour events on the course, it is so bad. 4th at Arcos Gardens where I started badly and finished like a train, coming up just short. 7th at Costa Ballena, where I lead after day 1 but put in a horrific back 9 on the final day to fall away and miss out on a 4 man playoff by a couple of shots and 20th at Valderrama, where, for the first time for a long time, I just absolutely lost my head!

In March, between Parador and Arcos Gardens, I popped home from Spain to play the Sunningdale Foursomes. Riaz and I really played some good stuff there last year but never really got going this year. We scrapped through to the 4th round but never looked good enough to win. I went from there to Hossegor in the south of France for a French PGA event. It is a great little course and one that really suits me. However, there is no course that suits a bad putter and I certainly matched that label at Hossegor. I missed everything for 73 on day 1, got it going on day 2 only to falter late on. I had a 4ft birdie putt on my 12th hole to go -5 for the day and 3 putted. I also missed a 4ft birdie putt on my last hole to miss the cut by 1. Gutting. I punished myself with a 7 hour practice putting session the next day. 7 hour putting sessions are not something that will benefit your putting but they certainly make you not wanna putt bad again!

The Alps Tour kicked off in Barcelona in late April. I played awfully, I couldn’t hit a wedge straight. I shot 75-69 (+4) to miss the cut. Not a great start, especially as I was going to miss 3 of the first 4 events and there are not too many Alps events in 2012.

In May I was back out to Florida for the Sawgrass Pro Am, played the week after The Players Championship. I opened up well with 71-65 to be one off the lead. However I did not keep the momentum of the second round going and I ended up finishing 2nd closing with 73-72 for a -7 total. I picked up $1982.34 which again, was a handy boost.

It was straight back to Europe for a run of 5 Alps Tour events from mid May to the end of June. The run started in Slovenia. I shot 70-76-69 (+1) around a course I detest. I hit the ball so straight all week, never in trouble, but the putter was ice cold on bad greens. You need a bit of luck in conditions like that.

San Remo in Italy was the next venue. Rounds of 70-67-67 (-3) left me in 8th. I played ok in Italy round a tricky, little, hilly course. I just made some really bad, unforced errors during the week which proved to be costly.

sanremo

San Remo, Italy

Back to San Roque New Course in mid June. Obviously my expectations where high after winning on the course in January and I was playing well. I played pretty good, well good enough but the short game mistakes during the week were horrendous. It included a triple bogey 7 on the 3rd in the 1st round where I missed a green with a wedge into a green side bunker and turned it into something it should never have been and a double bogey 6 on the very next hole where I dunched a couple of easy chips. I opened with a disappointing 76, bounced back with a solid 69 and closed with a two under 70. A -1 total was only good enough for 17th in easier, warmer, firmer, mid-summer conditions than my January victory.

Poitiers in France was a rerun of my 2011 tournament there. Last year I should have won, I was leading with 10 holes to play but lost my head. This year I got into position again, without really playing well. I was never leading this time but was only ever a couple of birdies from getting right in the mix. The birdies never came and I lost interest. I shot 73-71-78 (+3) to finish 19th.

I had a chance of winning the following week too in Metz. I played ok the first three rounds but again without much happening. Then the last day I just holed the ones you expect to and found myself 7 under for the day standing on the last tee. I was out a long way ahead of the leaders so did not really know where I stood. I hit a good drive that just ran through the fairway on this difficult par 4. I caught an ok lie but it looked like it could fly. All the trouble, including water and a bunker, is short so I thought I would hit a hard 4 iron from 214 yards and if it came out normal it would be perfect and if it came out hot it would be long but safe. I hit it great, straight at it and it came out soft. I thought it was money in the air but came up just short, in the bunker. It plugged, I left it in there and it plugged again. I duffed it out to 20ft and 2 putted for a double, a 66 and a share of 7th. A birdie would have got me in a playoff. If I had posted 63 it may have been even better with the added pressure on the leaders. But there you go, another week were my short game cost me.

Seven Fountains was the venue for the Alps event in Belgium. The course was easy but like so many easy courses it could be very frustrating if you can’t keep up with the scoring. I didn’t and spent most the week in a very dark place. A pair of 74’s meant a missed cut. The only consolation was the wonderful hospitality forwarded to us. We stayed with a great family who were members at the club and another family took me and the 2 Irish boys up in their private plane to see the course!

belgiumplanebelgiumplane2belgiumplane3

The private plane in Belgium offering us the perfect practice round!

It was baking in Monthecchia, Italy in July. 38 degrees and humid. I started awfully but played holes 26-36 in 7 under to squeeze past the cut. A final round 69 in conjunction with the opening 74-67 left me at -3 and a share of 19th. Another nothing week.

I have never played well at Club De Campo in Madrid. My best finish is 37th in 2010. This year, in the heat, I shot 72-75 to miss the cut.

After a months break we were back in Italy at the end of August. The Valle d’Aosta Open is the worst venue I have played a tournament at, interesting, but appalling. It’s a ski resort. I shot 69-72 to miss the cut and was left with that ‘what a waste of time’ feeling. Beautiful place, an awful course in awful condition.

valledastapar3 valledastapar5


Normandy was next up. I love this event. The course is always in great shape and we get treated like kings for the week. I finally got the putter going on the first day. I posted a 65 that felt very easy. The putter cooled down for the final three rounds and it felt hard again. 65-73-69-73 left me at -4 and a share of 14th.

I missed the cut in the Dolomiti Open last year and really was not a fan of the course. It was better this year but the front 9 still has 3 of the worst par 5’s you will ever see in your life. I made 16 birdies, 16 bogies and 22 pars to shoot level par and finish 28th. Another nothing week.

So we are up to date, that was the last event that I have played. Here is my bullet point summary of why 2012 has been disappointing.

- To play good golf you need a good team around you. You need moral support, motivational support and, at times, financial support. Playing professional sport is hard and a good team can give you a huge edge and let you concentrate on making the most of opportunities.

- You can’t win if you don’t putt well and a strong short game can give you huge momentum and keep your chances alive when you are not quite on.

- You have to be fit, the trapped nerve I have had in my foot for the second half of the year has affected my practice time and my focus on the course.

And my bullet point plan going forward.

- I have two more events on the Alps Tour where I currently stand 30th on the Order of Merit. I obviously need two huge weeks to get anything out the year.

- I did not enter European Tour School this year as there are such limited benefits available now, it needs to change. Also the trapped nerve (Mortons Neuroma) in my left foot has been a hindrance and has benefited from the rest. Instead I intend to got to Asian Tour School in January.

- I have two pro ams in the USA in November, Arizona and Palm Springs, that have the potential to give me a financial boost going into 2013.

So there we go, up to date, lets hope after Valencia 18-20th October that I have something a little more positive to report. The course looks great. The flights, accommodation and hire car are all booked. All I am left to worry about is making sure my golf game is ready to go….. easier said than done in this weather!!

JK




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Open International de Normandie, Dolomiti Golf Open and Peugeot Open de Lerma

The last three weeks have been very disappointing. A good final round in Austria had put me in 6th on the Order of Merit, a strong position to attack until the end of the season. Unfortunately it has not gone quite to plan.

After a week off I drove over to Normandy. I had fond memories of the course at Saint-Saens having finished 6th last year. I actually had a decent chance to win after making birdies on 6 of the first 7 in the final round but then kind of fizzled out. Expectations were high.

normandy clubhouse
Beautiful clubhouse at Saint-Saens

The course was very different this year. Last year the event was held early in the summer and the course was firm and fast. Now, playing in September and after some poor weather the course was very wet. So much so that some of the fairways could not be cut. The course at Saint-Saens was playing longer with a greater emphasis on finding fairways.

normandy 6th
The 6th a strong par 3 (and my pro-am partners!)

I played poorly in the pro am but was holing some nice putts so I felt good going into the first round. Turning the long game around is not normally as difficult as warming the putter up. Indeed I hit the ball nicely all day creating plenty of chances. Frustratingly the putter had gone cold. I three putted my third hole, a par five, from 16ft. Missed a 6ft birdie chance at the next a 3ft par putt on the hole after. Two putts from 7ft on my 9th saw me turn in a poor +2. The back nine was a little better. I picked up a birdie on my 11th, eagled my 12th, bogied my 13th and birdied my 14th. Pars in from there saw me round in 70 (-1), good for a share of 28th. Day 2 was very similar. A poor start after missing some putts followed by a few birdies on the back 9 to make the round respectable. The result a 71, level par for the day and -1 overall in 39th. Only 23% of fairways and 33 putts on day 2. On the bright side I still managed to hit 15 greens.

The theme was clearly set early in the week. Day 3 consisted of 37 shots out and 31 back. The typical poor start followed by a rally. I hit three greens on the front nine and everyone on the back. 68 (-3) was a decent score but was not the move I needed to make. Into 28th and 9 behind. The final day was just very poor. I went out with no goal, no direction and no desire. Unsurprisingly the round unravelled quickly. No shot selection, no commitment, no belief lead to a 39 front nine (+4). It slightly improved on the back nine. It took a three putt from four feet to wake me up and fight. I birdied 3 of the next four before losing my tee shot on 18. I salvaged a bogey for a 74. A very poor day at the office. I finished 39th on level par. Not the week I was looking for and I deserved to drop a costly three place on the Order of Merit.

On to Italy and a trip to Trentino. Trentino is in the middle of no where. Well, I say no where but it is in the middle of apple trees......LOTS of apple trees! We stayed in a tiny little village around 15 minutes from Dolomiti Golf Club and an hour and a half from Verona, in the north east of Italy. It is a mountainous area and can get very hot.

dolomito village
Traffic jam in the Italian village!

I know this shows a particularly poor attitude but straight away I was not a fan. The course was made up of two very different nines. The front nine consists of short, fiddly holes that meander through a forest. There are three ridiculous par 5’s that have enormous doglegs and barely resemble golf holes. The back nine is wide open and modern. It was certainly the scoring nine and the better nine, but far from classic. My biggest concern was the condition. The rough was heavy in places and non existent elsewhere. Some holes had semi rough, others did not and some had semi up one side and not the other. However, my biggest concern were the greens. They had a good coverage of grass and had the potential to be good but they did not prepare them well. The greens were left too long and were machine cut, not hand cut. This meant they were incredibly grainy. If they had cut them short, hand cut them and rolled them they could have taken a lot of the grain out. Instead the grain was going everywhere. Every square of ‘cut’ had grain going in a different direction. So a 3ft putt could have two or more directions of grain. Not ideal.

dolomiti grain
The grainy squares on the green.....just a nightmare

I had been making way too many mistakes the previous couple of weeks. My goal this week was to eliminate them. It is not a demanding course tee to green. A lot of chip irons to get it in play on the front nine and a wide open back nine. So the plan, the goal, to go bogey free.

It lasted four holes until I three putted a par 3 for bogey. Two holes later I made another 3 putt bogey. I offset these with two birdies and turned in level. Unfortunately that was the easier nine. I three putted my 10th and 15th holes for more bogies and finished with two sloppy drop shots. They were really brought on through frustration. 77 (+4) to open. 35 putts, not great when averaging 12.5 feet from the hole in regulation.

dolomiti 16th
The 16th, a beautiful par 3 with a view..... there is a church every 2km surrounding the course.... a fair sound on the hour!

Day 2 revealed much of the same. Birdied 1, 3 putted 2, birdied 4 and 6, bogied 5 and 8. Out in level. Three putt bogey on 13, birdie on 17. I missed two greens and shot level. I hit it close all day but to try and read the grain combined with the slope seemed impossible. You had to try and guess how much the grain would move the ball at certain speeds coming from all different directions. Not easy, you need some good fortune and it was not there for me this week.

dolomiti planner
Not the most professional yardage book on a sub par week.....nice hole too!

I missed the cut by two. Six three putts in two rounds. Zero hold putts from outside of 6ft. Sixteen putts missed inside of 10ft. Pretty good on a week were you are trying to eliminate the mistakes! I played with Emmanuelle Canonica the first two rounds. He made one bogey playing solid, sensible golf. He used all of his 20+ years of experience on the main tour. I tried to learn from the way he managed his game.

Next stop Madrid. Well, not quite. We flew into Madrid but drove an hour and a bit to Burgos. I arrived on the Monday for a Thursday start. Very early for me but I was rewarded on arrival, the practice facilities at Lerma Golf are world class. Two big putting greens, a great chipping green and a massive, flat grass range. Monday and Tuesday became full practice days and Wednesday the pro am.

burgos
The nice side of Burgos....

This is a good course in pretty good condition. The weather was perfect too. So hard to make excuses this week! Not an ideal course for me as it was fairly long and wide open. It was tough to get your ball in trouble. The course was designed well though and was very fair. This weeks objective was to keep it simple and to stop over thinking. Just let the birdies flow. Hmmmm, easier said than done!

burgos 7th
7th, a driveable par 4.... a good hole on a good course

Day one was a perfect day for golf. I was out in the afternoon. Burgos is still pretty hot this time of year so they water the greens heavily each morning to make sure they do not die during the heat of the day. This had taken its toll. The morning starters had left their mark. Footprints and scrapes everywhere. I played nicely. 15 greens in regulation but again a poor putting day. 35 putts including two more three putts. A 72, level par was the outcome.

The strangest thing happened on the 8th green on day 1. I hit a great 5 iron from 232 yards to 5ft and had a putt for eagle (that’s not the strangest thing!). As I was lining it up I got stung by a bee on my leg, right by my right pocket. It hurt but I was ok. As I set up to the ball, trying to focus I got stung again right next to the first sting. I manned up and made the putt but my leg felt dead and numb for the next two days.

sting
Not the nicest picture..... the bee stings on my leg!

Day two and out early in search of the good greens. Better greens is what I found, eventually. I say eventually as it took a few to find the first green! I took a rescue club for my first shot of the day from the tee on the par 5 10th. I proceeded to hit it 274 yards into a water hazard I was trying to be short off. Nice start. I dropped a ball, hit a driver off the deck into the trees on the right, called a referee, dropped from an animal scrape, chopped it on to 60 ft and eventually two putted for a bogey. I topped my tee shot with a driver off the 11th! This lead to another bogey.

Fortunately things got a little better after that. I did not miss another green. I birdied 13,14 and 16 to go out in -1. I picked up further birdies on 1,3,4 and 8. I had another eagle putt on the 8th from 7ft put completely miss read it this time. I shot 68 (-4) after a poor start and snuck through to the final day in 31st.

The last day was another horror show. I had one option, to go low. I started off with a good birdie but then bogied 3,4 and 9. A three putt from 16 feet on the 4th and a missed birdie from 4 feet on the 6th really got me down. I birdied 10, 3 putted 13 for bogey, birdied 14 and hit my drive into the water at the last for another bogey. 74, a very poor final day score. I finished 39th on -2. I slipped down to 9th in the Order of Merit.

burgos 13th
13th, par 3 with a tree in the green!

Those three weeks were poor. I hit it ok, I worked hard, I thought well for the most part. I did a lot of things right but the putter has really let me down. In France it was not too bad. I made a lot of midrange putts, sort of 8-20ft but missed a lot of short ones. In Italy I made nothing, I had no clue or answers. In Spain I had lost confidence. I did not make a putt outside of 6ft in 2 rounds in Italy and 3 rounds in Spain. In my last five rounds I have averaged 34 putts and a whopping 2.4 three putts per round. My first putt average in the five rounds is 14.5 feet. It is pretty clear what has been going wrong. The average US Tour player averages a three putt once every 32 holes. Luke Donald, the world number one averages one every 83 holes. Donald has 13 three putts on the US Tour this year and is on a run of 396 holes without one! Putting on very different surfaces each week has not made it easy and the greens at Wentworth have not been great to practice on in between.

Last year I putted great and hit it poorly but it felt great. You inevitably make the most of every round and it feels good. Making the worst out of every round does not feel so good. I know I am a good putter, I am streaky but good. Confidence is everything. You need to see and trust. You can’t fake confidence, you need to build it. In practice these two weeks I have been hitting a lot of putts from 2 feet just to see the ball go in over and over again. I have also switched back to the belly putter and it feels pretty good. I generally make less ‘bonus’ putts with it but am much more solid on the short ones and that is what I need at the moment.

The proof will be in the pudding this week. I travel to Marseilles at 06.40 on Sunday morning for a Thursday start. The greens were great at Pont Royal last year and I want to get as much time on them as I can before we kick off. I have two more events left on the Alps Tour this year and I need to win at least one of them to get into the top 6 and guarantee a Challenge Tour card for next year. I know when I do the simple things well and think well I can win, so that is what I am going to do.

JK
















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Flory von Donck Challenge and Styrian Mountain Challenge

To get to Ghent in Belgium is a surprisingly short journey. An hour and a half to Dover, ferry to Dunkirk then another hour from there. In Ghent we found a great little golf course. Royal Latem Golf Club is one of the ‘big 4’ Belgium golf clubs and features a short but brutally tight golf course. Each hole is framed by huge trees that have been maturing since the course was built in 1909.

belgium 6th
6th tee shot at Royal Latem. Tight course!

After Le Fonti I was in 7th on the Alps Tour Order of Merit. The top 7 on the 31st of August are exempt from the first stage of Tour School. It would be great if I could have a good week in Belgium and pretty much confirm my exemption. I arrived on the Tuesday and played the pro am on Wednesday. I had a great group for the pro am. Three members who were fantastic company and incredibly hospitable. I did not play particularly well but enjoyed the day and was pleased that the Ping Craz-e mid length putter that had been put in the bag seemed to be working.

The Latem course set up well for me. A big reward for straight hitting and the majority of holes set up well for a fade and I got off to the perfect start on day 1. I hit it close on the first and made birdie before topping it off the par 5 second into the hay before holing a 35 ft birdie putt! For the first 11 holes I played awful but kept scrambling well. I was one under par standing on tee 12, an easy par five and a chance to flatter the score. I hit two nice shots to 30 feet before three putting. That was a huge mistake. After working so hard to hang in there that really killed any momentum . I proceeded to three putt the next two for bogies. I topped another tee shot on 17 and made another bogey. A birdie on the 18th, the hardest hole on the course, gave me some hope for day 2.

belgium 16th
17th..... a top is not the ideal tee shot here!!

Day 2 started off as poorly as day 1 finished. I bogied 1, 2 and 4. I missed a 2ft birdie putt on 3 so don’t think that hole made me happy for a moment. Then I reset. I was not picking my shots so had no chance of executing them how I wanted to. I started to hit big fades on pretty much every shot. Instantly I started to create some chances. I missed short birdie putts on 6 and 7 before bogeying 9. Out in 40, not ideal!

The back 9 was better. I birdied 11, 16 and 18. I made an awful bogey on 17 where I missed from 3 feet. I ended up shooting 2 over for a 3 over total. Bad enough to miss the cut by 1. A seriously disappointing week as the course was perfect for me and it was an important week. I made a lot of middle distance putts but struggled with the short ones. The Craz-e putter took compulsory early retirement. The good news was the players around me in the Order of Merit did not do much. It was a missed cut that did not hurt me too much but it could have helped me a lot.

belgium mushroom
Not mush-room to play this shot on number 9!

Serge Platel, who I played with in the pro am, became a good friend as the week went on. He went out of his way to make sure we were looked after. Recommending restaurants, buying drinks and maybe most astonishingly he managed to supply us with fishing equipment for the weekend. His hospitality and generosity made it a fun week. The weekend’s fishing was as fruitful as the golf but a lot more enjoyable and relaxing. We had a beautiful river at the back of our hotel and hours just seemed to drift by. Ghent is a lovely part of Belgium. It has picture post card scenery combined with enormous wealth. The display of houses and cars in Ghent would rival even the wealthiest of areas and the atmosphere at the golf club made it one of the most welcoming I have been to. All in a good week despite a missed cut.

belgium fishing
Nice weekend off fishing in Belgium

A week off followed Belgium. It very nearly wasn’t a full week as I had left my passport in someone else’s car. I only realised this when I arrived to get on the train at Calais. At that point my passport was at Dunkirk! Fortunately I dealt with a sensible guy at passport control who checked the details I gave him and allowed me through. Not only that but he did not cancel my passport which would have been a costly inconvenience.

So a weeks practice before Austria. I did my research into the venue. It was 40 minutes outside of Graz right up in the mountains. In fact it was 800 meters above sea level and the forecast was for extremely hot weather. Sounded like a nice combination! Flights to Austria, be it Vienna or Graz, were ludicrously expensive. We ended up flying with Lufthansa to Munich before taking a propeller plane from there to Graz. The trip was surprisingly good despite having to do the connection thing which I usually detest.

On arrival it surpassed expectations. Yes it was very hot, yes it was at altitude and yes the course was very hilly but it was also a decent lay out in excellent condition. I had feared the worst in regard to the course but every course I have played in Austria has been presented beautifully.

austria village
The village we stayed in....beautiful place if not a little boring....

austria breakfast
....But always a nice view for breakfast

I chipped and putted a little on the Monday evening, played 11 holes on Tuesday and the pro am on the Wednesday. A nice way to build up and more preparation than I normally do. The pro am was nicely done with an evening of entertainment and a three course dinner. Whenever Lyoness sponsor an event the players get looked after extremely well. They do it properly.

As for me I was still 7th in the order of merit with this being the last event before the exemptions to second stage of European Tour School are given out. The top 7 earn the exemptions. I was €550 behind 6th, €1500 clear of 8th and €1750 clear of 9th. I had to have a good, solid week and I was playing ok.

Day one was hot. Around 35 degrees with no wind, high altitude and a tough walk up and down some serious slopes. My game was as up and down as the terrain. 5 birdies and 4 bogies saw me round in 70 (-1). Day two was much of the same, 4 birdies and 3 bogies for another 70 (-1). After two rounds I was in a tie for 16th, which was not too bad if it were not for 8th and 9th in the Order of Merit being in 4th and 5th position respectively . Fortunately the guy in 6th had missed the cut so he was catchable. I needed a good final round.

austria 2nd
2nd.... a nice par 3 with an extremely undulating green

austria 11th
11th.... very good par 3... 200 yards but plays 28 yards down hill

I had a great draw for the last day. I had played with Marco Crespi in the final round in Italy when I won. We played together again two weeks later when he won. It looked like a good omen to be paired together again even if we were too far back to have a legitimate chance to win. He is a great guy to play with as he is the straightest hitter I have ever seen. He starts 98% of his shots online and they just don’t move. When his short game is half acceptable he will contend, he is a machine. We had played the first two rounds together here, mirroring each other with 70’s both days. His perhaps a little more steady than mine!

So a big final day needed and it started well. I holed from 11ft at one for birdie. I then missed from 8ft at 2 for another but birdied 3,4 and 5 to get to four under for the day, six under for the tournament. I bogied the tricky par 3 6th and the 7th. The 7th is one of the easiest par 5’s I have played however I continued to make three sixes there! A birdie at nine took me out three under. An up and down nine holes that was nothing compared to the back 9!

austria 15th
15th....easy par 4.... 3 costly bogies for me!

I chipped in on the 10th for a birdie, missed a great chance from 5ft on the 11th but made up for it with a birdie at 12. Back to -4 for the day. A good approach to the island green 13th gave me another good chance. I rushed it by and missed the one on the way back - bogey. I eagled the par 5 14th, bogied the easy 15th (for the third time) and birdied the 18th.

R1

5

3
4
3
4
3
6
4
4
36
4
2
3
4
4
5
3
5
4
34
70

R2

5

3
4
3
4
4
6
4
4
37
4
2
3
2
5
5
3
4
5
33
70

R3

4

3
3
2
4
4
6
4
3
33
3
3
3
4
3
5
3
4
4
32
65


4 bogies, 8 birdies and an eagle on the final day. It added up to 65. It moved me up to 7th in the tournament and helped me finish in front of the two players who could have gone past me on the OOM. It was a big round at the right time. I ended up going forward on the OOM, up to 6th. It was a good week in the end. Obviously with so many errors there is that nagging sense that it should have been better but I came here to achieve something and I achieved it. So I can’t be too hard on myself.

Anyway I got a week off to work it out and get ready for Normandy. I am looking forward to that, I finished third there last year and the course sets up very well for me. A few less mistakes and who knows......

austria sunset
Bit cheesy but the sun did set on the Styrian Mountain Challenge ...... a good week.

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