In this week's Player Blog presented by Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Belgium’s Thomas Detry talks about the challenges of being your own boss and his pursuit of individual accolades on the European Tour.
Golf is like a business and I’m still in the early phases. I have some good friends back in Belgium who own a co-share working space in the city. It’s a start up company they created and a couple of months ago, they asked me to come to talk to some of their clients about the similarities between my life as a professional athlete and the challenges of running your own business.
As a business owner, you have complete control over your own goals and decisions. It's the same for us golfers. There is a consistent need to work hard and stay focused, but each day, I am also faced with numerous choices that have a direct impact on my performance. I think the most valuable piece of advice that I gave to the audience that evening was to make sure you surround yourself with positive and intelligent people. We all have tough times out there on the golf course, as in the working world. In those moments, when you don't have the time or mental energy to make good decisions yourself, it’s essential to have a good team to fall back on. If you choose these people carefully, the ones who truly understand your strengths and weaknesses and share your vision, then you’ll perform more confidently, knowing that you always have them to rely on. It’s these same hard-working people who can help me push myself to the next level too. Just like a business, we golfers need to be continually investing in ourselves because the more we put in, the more we will get out. As an example, in contrast to when I first started, I now fly my strength trainer out to work with me most weeks and bring my coaches to as many events as possible. The benefits are immeasurable.
Just like a start-up, golf requires a bit of luck. After an incredible experience at College in America I started out on the Challenge Tour, which was initially a frustrating time for me since I was struggling to post any finishes higher than 30/40th place. One of my most poignant memories from that time was the Wednesday evening of the Bridgestone Challenge. I hadn’t been putting well in the previous weeks and made the last minute decision to speak to someone on the Tour Truck after they had already shut up shop for the day. I politely asked the Rep if he could spare a couple of minutes to quickly check my putter and he instantly noticed that the face of the club was off. Instead of having two or three degrees loft, I only had one. This might sound minimal but this game is all about the small details and it turned out to be the exact reason why I was struggling to get a nice roll on my putts. The next day, I shot 12-under and won the event. If I didn’t tweak my putter that Wednesday night, I honestly might never have won that week and made it on the European Tour. I realise now that no detail is ever too small to be considered.
Even though I had a fast start to my professional career, I think I still took enough time to fully appreciate how each of those small details have the potential to make or break you. After graduating onto the European Tour in 2017 my first big week came in South Africa at Leopard Creek when I finished third, then In my same debut season, I finished second at this event here in Germany. That performance remains the closest I've ever come to a solo win and I learnt a lot about the game as well as myself that Sunday afternoon. After that fast start I ran out of steam mid season, though. Again, I fell into the frustrating pattern of making cuts without securing any big finishes. It was the KLM Open that really turned things around for me. After shooting four-over the first day, I asked my coach Jérôme to help out early the next morning, ready for the second round. We did some solid work and I had a good day but remained convinced that I was going to be one shot short of making the cut (we even drove all the way back to Belgium). Fortunately for me, the conditions got testier that Friday afternoon and I ended up making it on the number which meant a speedy drive back to the Netherlands. On Saturday morning I shot the course record and my lowest ever career round which brought me nicely into contention and another good day on Sunday meant I ended up finishing in third place. Interestingly enough, if I had scored just one shot higher that week, I would never have qualified to play in the World Cup. Just another example illustrating how those tiny margins always turn out to be extremely significant!
I never expected such an incredible end to 2018. I began the final events by finishing third in Turkey, my best result in a Rolex Series tournament to date. The following week I was back in contention at Nedbank with another great chance to win on Sunday. I will always remember how it felt to play with Sergio Garcia and Louis Oosthuizen that day. Even though our games were in similar shape, they both shot two/three less than me and I realised that I still have so much to learn as I watched them manage their games and emotions so well under pressure. After you have been in that position so many times, you know when to attack and when to show restraint. I know that will come to me in time. I had an average finish at the season finale in Dubai which resulted in me finishing 31st in the Race to Dubai. I had surpassed all expectations of myself for the year, but at the same time, couldn’t help being disappointed that day when I realised this meant I had missed qualification for The Open at Portrush by just one place. Another example of those small details! I did go on to win the World Cup with Thomas Pieters, though. That was incredible. It’s not every day that you get to represent your country on the main stage, but to do it with one of your best friends by your side was a truly an unforgettable experience. We shared every moment and emotion with each other that week in Australia and it will forever be a permanent landmark in our friendship.
I'm getting tired of hearing myself being described as one of the good players ‘yet to have won’. Winning takes time. I’m confident now that I have what it takes, but at the same time, I also know I have so much more to improve on. It’s encouraging to be making cuts even though my game isn’t in perfect shape right now. In fact, I haven't missed a cut this season yet but I also haven't played my best golf. I think I’m on the right path, though. It all comes back to patience. No one should underestimate how hard it is to win out here. Each week someone else is going to be playing exceptionally well too. I've been down the stretch with chances to win and then played aggressively and not pulled it off. Sometimes you get too excited and the adrenaline can become your enemy. It’s all part of a process though and I just need to get it right on the day. I think I’m on the right path.
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