It's that time again, to reflect back on the year, let you all know how it's gone and how I feel about things. Although I think you will have a pretty good idea already!
I write this whilst lounging on a beach in Dubai, relaxing and enjoying ourselves after a roller coaster year. What more can I say other than thank you to all the people who have played a part in getting me to this point in my career. My sponsors who stuck by me the past couple of years, Callaway Golf and Orion Group; they believed in me and I'll be forever grateful. Thank you to everyone who took the time to send me congratulations, the response was incredible and just another way that made my maiden win even more special. And thank you to Robert Rock and Johan Rupert, I'll explain more below but thanks will never be enough for what you both have done for me this year!
For those of you that don't know the ins and outs I'll try to be brief and give you an overview. The year started brightly in Kenya on the Challenge Tour where I was contending over the weekend, however my game was still in the intermediate stage as I was driving the ball off the deck to keep it in play. The year got off track results wise as I started the transition back to teeing it up, something I knew I needed to do to get back on the tour. I had to believe in the processes and forget about the results for a little while, which is easier said than done. I suppose I forgot about that and towards the end of the summer things were looking grim and my concentration started to focus on Q school and how best to prepare. Although, being honest, I wasn't hopeful!
This was when the tide turned. I started making what's turned out to be some really good decisions. I was at a crossroads in my career and knew something had to change or I would be calling it a day at the end of the year. I sent an email to Robert Rock to get his take on my swing and 12 hours later I was holing a sand wedge on the 1st in Kazakhstan en route to a course record 64. My first round under par for a couple of months!
That weekend I had another decision to make. I was meant to be heading to Rome for a Challenge Tour event which would possibly be my last before Q school unless I could finish top 4. However, Johan Rupert had extended an invite to me to play at The Alfred Dunhill Links the same week. I genuinely struggled to decide which to play but in the end the lure of St Andrews and the opportunity to get back on tour within a week swayed me. So I opted to play at the home of golf in a tournament that I love and what a decision that turned out to be... possibly the best I'll ever make! Why Mr. Rupert offered the invite I don't know, but I suppose there's always a chance that something crazy can happen. Either way, my win was all made possible by his decision and I'll never be able to thank him enough.
Two weeks of ball beating with Rocky later, I tied the Carnoustie course record en route to my maiden win, 24 years in the making. Rob spent a serious amount of time with me leading up to and throughout the week and without that time and effort I wouldn't have been able to win. It was a very special week in many ways. A win anywhere would have been incredible but to win at the home of golf was even more so. Oh and it's always nice to hold off Rory, even if he wasn't at the top of his game! Lauren also surprised me as she had walked around with her mum for 18 holes hiding in the crowd, after which they magically appeared behind the 18th green to share in the coolest moment of my career. And to provide somewhere for me to bury my head to compose myself! That being said, I did tell her that it's a cardinal sin for a player's wife to turn up on the off chance he wins, although I'm glad she did and that I didn't see her half way around! :)
With that crazy week I was catapulted into the Race to Dubai Final Series and what a month it has been. I'm not gonna lie, it's taking a little time to adjust. It's massively different from the Challenge Tour. Now course management matters again, adjusting to quicker firmer greens and thicker rough all takes time when you've been out of that arena for so long. The Challenge Tour doesn't teach you how to become a better player, nor does it prepare you for the tour. Unfortunately it's a way of filtering down 150 golfers to 15; it's a shame but sadly it's true.
So here I am on the beach, contemplating and reflecting back on the past few years, enjoying the fact that everything has worked out ok. But now it's all about what's in front of me. A continuation of the work I've been doing my whole career, to continue to try and improve little by little, to claw away at the rankings and rebuild my career using the experience that I have learnt, especially recently. I look back on the darker days as an opportunity to realign my outlook with reality and to use it as a catalyst to be as good as I can be, keeping the mind clear, protected and focused. If I can do that who knows what's around the corner!