Ahead of the season-ending DP World Tour Championship in Dubai, Tyrrell Hatton writes about losing out here last year, a season of three-thirds, how an old mate helped turn his year around and trying to control that infamous temper.
If I could change one shot in my career so far, it would be the tee shot on the 72nd hole here last year. I would hit three wood. All day long. Standing on that tee box, I knew a birdie would win it but I went with driver. And at the time I thought ‘Why not?’ I had been driving the ball well all week and driver is a club I’m very comfortable with but unfortunately, in this instance, I pushed it a little bit, found the water hazard down the middle and the rest is history. I made bogey, and then one group behind me, Fitzy gets up-and-down for birdie to win the tournament. Fair play to Fitzy, but finishing on a par five, like that; I felt like I had thrown away the chance to win a massive event. It was tough to take.
My girlfriend Emily and I went on holiday to the Maldives straight after Dubai last year for ten days. It was amazing but the memories of that finish were still fresh and, the Maldives being the Maldives, there’s not that much to do besides chilling out and that gives you plenty of time to think about things. That one stuck with me for a while.
But I rationalised it by thinking that every player is going to go through something like that at one stage. It’s the nature of the game I suppose.
Last year still exceeded my expectations, though, so I didn’t set myself a lot of goals coming into this year. If you had told me at the start of the season that I was going to finish fourth in the Race to Dubai I would’ve bitten your hand off. But that did add a degree of pressure coming into 2017. I naturally put a lot of pressure on myself so I kept my aims big: have a good year.
Getting off to a fast start was key. I wanted to pick up where I left off and I was leading into the final round in Abu Dhabi before letting it go a bit with a poor finish there. But I got back on the horse and finished third two weeks later in Dubai before getting my temporary membership on the PGA Tour with a fourth, tenth, fourth run in the States. I was over the moon to get that done in just three starts. That took a lot of pressure off for the rest of my time out there. But the results gradually started to deteriorate…
It all started at the Masters. I was walking off the par three course on Wednesday after that huge storm had forced the contest to be called off. I was on the pine needles, on a side-slope, and my foot gave way and down I went. Your natural reaction is to put your arms out to break your fall and I landed fairly heavily on my hand. It didn’t hurt that much at the time and I played the tournament. No problem, no pain. The following week, no pain. It was only the next week, after I’d had four days off, that it hit me.
I had some downtime, a week off, and went to play Lake Nona on the Friday and couldn’t even hit a 50-yard pitch shot. It was agony. I was due to play the Zurich Classic with Jamie Donaldson the week after so I went to see a hand and wrist specialist there. He told me I needed an injection. At that point, I didn’t want to have an injection because I was wanted to play. So he gave me some really strong pain killers to get me through and I headed to New Orleans.
So I hadn’t had any practice before that event, then I had another week off and didn’t practice to rest the wrist. Then it was the Players Championship and, again, I played loaded up on pain killers before another week off at home with no practice before Wentworth. By that point I was feeling very rusty and was trying to swing it in a way to protect the wrist and play pain-free.
I ended up finally getting the injection the week after Wentworth and two weeks off before the US Open. But it had already taken its toll. I had had a very consistent swing for ten years but even just two months of doing something different to protect the wrist had become pretty well embedded and it took a while to shake it off.
I lost my way over the summer. I’ve never been the sort of player to hit loads of balls on the range. When I’m home I like to go out and play. But I was searching for my swing, searching for some good form. I reached a low point when my caddie Ricey and I decided to part ways after the US PGA Championship. I hadn’t been in a good place golf-wise and I’d been struggling a little bit mentally off the course, too. I just wasn’t very happy. It was back to the drawing board.
I had three weeks off and I went back to the processes that had got me to this point – namely my dad. We started to find some routine again and I would see him every few days for constant check-ups. It began to feel comfortable again. And then I turned to my friend Jonathan and asked him to caddie for me.
Jonathan and I have known each other since we were seven years old. We met playing the same junior tournaments, our dads became good friends and we did too. We travelled around together, stayed in the same hotels, playing in all the junior Opens. And Jonathan would win quite a lot of them too! He was easily one of the top three players in the country at under 18, if not the best. But he had a bad injury. He actually broke his arm arm-wrestling with Tommy Fleetwood. After his initial operation to get it fixed, he had two bits of bone that continued to grow in his elbow joint that affected his golf swing. They got to the point they were two marble-sized growths in his joint so he had to have those removed too, leading to another six months out for him with rehab. He couldn’t straighten his right arm at all. It’s been a difficult time for him trying to get that swing back but he is still a very good player.
He’s still a pro but couldn’t afford to play this year so he’d been working on and off as a gardener. It turned out he could take a few weeks out and come and do a few weeks on the bag for me. We started out at the Omega European Masters and the British Masters and thought, ‘Let’s just see how we get on’.
Switzerland is always a place I have really enjoyed going to. I like the golf course, I love the little town so I have always felt happy there. Having Jonathan on the bag was fresh and new, too, and it definitely gave me some extra motivation. I wanted to do really well that week because I knew that the better I did, the more money it would give him. I just kept on thinking: ‘If I can do well, I can give him a really good foundation for his next year and getting back to playing.’ I wanted to take that pressure off him. We had two really good weeks so decided to carry on until the end of the year. Having him around helps keep me level – not that it always works.
It’s no secret that I struggle with trying to stay calm on the golf course. But nobody’s perfect. Sometimes it boils over. But that’s just the person I am. I don’t mean to offend anyone and it is something I’m working on controlling better. I get frustrated with myself but I’ve always been that way and that’s not necessarily an excuse. I do think that having a bit of that inside can sometimes light a fire under you, it can sometimes help. But it can also go the other way. There are occasions where it doesn’t help, where it goes past the motivational stage. It becomes a negative, I can make it difficult for myself.
Everyone has battles they deal with, personally, and this is mine. If I can improve in that respect, if I can make myself a little bit calmer on the golf course, get a little bit better at dealing with my emotions, I have no doubt that could help me a lot.
It’s not just golf, to be fair. I had to ban myself from online FIFA on the xBox! I can’t help but attack, don’t thing about defending and broke a few controllers, and even a TV, at one point. I’ve been a bit more defensively minded with the new one, though, and learned to “park the bus”. The controllers are safe, for now!
To defend a title is special. To do it at the Home of Golf is incredible. The week before I had led after 36 holes at the British Masters but obviously didn’t get it done on the weekend so getting straight back on the horse was important. The Dunhill Links was the first tournament I had a chance of defending on the European Tour and I was really keen to have a good week. In the build-up I arranged to play with Jamie Dornan again, just like in 2016, and there were lots of good memories there. I had a bit of form going into the event so I was happy with where I was at. There was definitely a sense of déjà vu in a way. Going out on Sunday with a five-shot lead, I felt really calm and I played really nicely. But it’s not every day you go out with a five-shot lead, shoot six under and win by only three – Fish had an unbelievable day, chased me down and made the last few holes a little more nervy than I would’ve liked! It was a great experience.
Up until the Italian Open, I hadn’t done that well in the Rolex Series so I was always targeting a big week. I was obviously in decent form having won the week before in Scotland and on Sunday, I was pretty calm again playing the last few holes. But that wasn’t the story of the whole day. Golf Club Milano always gives up quite a lot of birdies and I’d had a bit of a frustrating front nine with chances going begging. Jonathan kept on telling me, ‘Stay patient, it will happen.’ At the time you don’t really think it will but I tried my best to stay as cool and in the end it did happen, and I finished with five birdies in the last seven holes. It was a completely different feeling compared to the Dunhill. I felt like I really went out and won that event in Italy. The feeling when that final putt dropped was indescribable. I’m not usually one for a big fist pump but when that one went in I just lost the plot.
This season has been a bit like a new school year: at first you’re keen to do well, then you lose interest, your marks start to go down, you get a kick up the backside and you do well again. If I had to give myself a grade for 2017 I would say ‘A’. If I’d had a better summer it would have been an ‘A plus’ but with two wins, and showing some mental toughness coming back from a dip in form in the middle of the year, was big for me. Every golfer goes through a bad patch at some stage and that was the first time I’ve really experienced anything like that. You do wonder when you’re going to come out the other side but thankfully for me it only lasted a couple of months and a short while later, I was a winner again.
I guess it just goes to show how crazy golf really is.