Justin Harding reflects on the global odyssey over the last 18 months which has taken him from Zambia to Augusta.
The 33-year-old South African takes his place among the cast for the first time on the greatest stage of all at Augusta National Golf Club this week.
He has travelled to 21 countries in his last 36 events, finishing in the top ten in almost half of them and winning five times along the way – twice on the Sunshine Tour, twice on the Asian Tour and once on the European Tour.
In this week’s Player Blog, he looks both back on the journey that led to his Masters debut.
I was playing in Zambia 12 months ago. I played the Zanaco Masters and then a couple of weeks later at Nkana Golf Club. They were all asking if I was going to be back this year, but I had to say I had another event to play! It is crazy – still gives me the giggles. I finished second at Nkana so a repeat performance this week would be nice.
I was based solely in South Africa playing the Sunshine Tour during beginning of last year, where I posted a couple of wins and some decent results. Then Grant Wilson and the guys from the Sunshine Tour squeezed me a couple of invites for the Asian Tour and I won the first one in Indonesia and then a second one the following week, and suddenly I had an Asian Tour card. I finished off the season well, and, in doing so, got a category on the European Tour. It wasn’t a full card, as people kept reminding me, but it kept flowing as I won in Qatar and now I am playing here in America. I’ve been going where the golf goes. If I continue to post results it will take me to where I want to go. It’s been fun. We were laughing this week about how my schedule seems to be changing on a monthly basis.
I tried to identify what those top ten, top 20 players in the world seem to have. It pretty much came down to consistency. Week in week out, regardless of how they are playing, they seem to be in the top ten. I would always rather win or miss the cut. So, I have tried to be more consistent so even if I was not in the running for the tournament, try and have a good Sunday and post a good score. In making that change, I have managed to get myself in the hunt a bit more often. And it’s nice to have won five. There were a couple or results I got grumpy with, but you can’t be greedy and it’s been a very good run. I hope it kicks on and keeps going. But it is all about consistency.
Interrupted by roar from the course…
That has to be a hole in one, or Tiger has made an eagle – who knows? Anything can happen around here. That was what I most wanted to experience. I have been here in the past but now to walk the fairways and have the conversations with Branden and Charl I was playing with today, and hearing the murmurs and whispers and cheers, that is something special. It is not the home of golf but it is where golf became theatre.
I was here in 2005 and 2006 as a spectator. Lamar University I attended played in Augusta State’s collegiate golf event – in fact it was played last week as well and I saw my old coach. They gave us tickets for the Monday so I have been around here like a headless chicken once or twice in the past. It’s an unbelievable experience. But it is completely different as a player, knowing you are pulling up to hit some balls on the range and actually walk between the ropes. This is the reward for a lot of good golf over the last 12-18 months and I’m looking forward to it.
I’ve practiced with Charl, Branden and Jovan Rebula, Ernie’s nephew, and we had a lot of laughs. Ernie told me about a few of the holes last week in San Antonio, although ironically Charl and Gracey disagreed with Ernie which was funny. I’ll have to drop Ernie a text! It felt good. I was not overwhelmed by the experience and think I’ll be okay. If I negotiate the first couple of holes without hiccups then hopefully I can kick on.
Winning in Qatar was huge in terms of what it meant for career at the time and my future. I had a good start to the European Tour season so my card was looking safe, but that win has got me in to the Rolex Series events, and bigger events at the end of the year, and helped me get into this one and also the US Open, US PGA and all the others. So that one has opened the most doors. But Indonesia was in itself as big as that kick-started everything else. They all kept the train rolling. I changed the focus from won-and-done to consistency and it got me here – a lot quicker than I anticipated but I always knew there was a game in there, it was just when was it going to come out and play.
Dad is super excited, Mum, not so much! She is super excited as well but there will be nerves there. She will be a nervous wreck, but it will be good fun. It will be good to see them as I have not seen them since Singapore in the second week of January, so I’m looking forward to that. I am so pleased they will be here to share the experience as they have been a huge part of my success. But it is not just about having a good time. I still want to execute my shots and put in a performance.
Although I am playing here for the first time, but I am playing most courses for the first time every week, so I am also not carrying any baggage. There are a lot of good golfers here with a lot more experience than I have, but for me there are no demons of bad shots here and there. I am fresh mentally and playing courses as I see them.
The nice thing about this week is you have seen this played so many times and know you have to hit it to spots, and you know where they are. You don’t see so many tee shots on the coverage so that is different. You know ten is a draw but more of a draw than you imagine, while 18, is so narrow and if the wind picks up, becomes very, very tight.
That is the nice thing about being here, you get to live out your Saturday and Sunday night couch time. So just see if we can execute some shots, roll in some putts and see what happens.