After a year out in the golfing wilderness, a season somewhat of struggle after the highs of European Tour triumph in 2010, John Parry has bounced back with a bang after a highly impressive victory at the Qualifying School Final Stage in northern Spain just one week ago. Making his return to the top tier of European golf at the inaugural Nelson Mandela Championship presented by ISPS Handa, the Englishman feels back where he belongs and plans on making the most of his second coming.
“It’s a funny thing coming home. Nothing changes. Everything looks the same, feels the same, even smells the same. You realise what’s changed, is you.”
Fabled Hollywood screenwriter Eric Roth, in his award-winning adaptation of the F Scott Fitzgerald classic The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, eloquently alludes in the above quote to a feeling that many players might be experiencing this week as The Race to Dubai gets underway at Royal Durban Golf Club in South Africa from Thursday – especially those returning after graduation from either the Challenge Tour or Qualifying School.
For the likes of England’s John Parry, back on The European Tour thanks to his four-shot romp to victory at the Qualifying School Final Stage last week at PGA Catalunya Resort in Spain, he has been here before and flourished with it, winning the Vivendi Cup in 2010 before falling off the Tour at the close of the 2011 season.
The 26 year old’s return – after a year on the Challenge Tour in which he finished 37th in the Rankings – has elicited feelings of familiarity, of a rightful place, of coming home, but with it he knows the experience has left him a changed man – another year older, wiser.
“It’s different having been on the main Tour before for a couple of years and then to lose it,” said Parry after finishing his final preparations ahead of the first round on Thursday.
“When I first got on to The European Tour I felt a little uncomfortable, it’s all so new – and I’m sure a lot of the lads who are here for the first time will be feeling the same this week – but for me it now feels normal to be back, I feel like I should be here and belong here.”
After tasting the sweet tang of success in his maiden European Tour victory in 2010 and a subsequent 51st place finish on The Race to Dubai, the affable Harrogate man lost his focus the following season and missed out on renewing his playing privileges after finishing 126th in the Order of Merit.
But Parry feels the whole experience was a crucial part of the learning curve.
There is a very visual representation this week of what can be accomplished after losing a European Tour card and then regaining it at Q-School as South African Branden Grace – four times a winner in a stellar 2012 season after graduating in Girona in December 2011 – headlines the field in Durban.
‘Start small, aim big,’ seems to be Parry’s overriding mantra, though, and as he accepts the plaudits from his contemporaries for his Qualifying School heroics he also realises the real work – along with The 2013 Race to Dubai – starts on Thursday morning.
He said: “I’ve had more players come up congratulating me than I thought I would to be honest, I didn’t think a lot of them would be even looking at it or be that bothered so it’s been quite nice.
“But it’s a new week so in a way no one cares; it doesn’t make any difference to this tournament how you did last week. But the good thing is that I’m obviously feeling confident and now it’s about getting back to basics, doing the things that I do every other week, the same preparation, returning to normality.
“Obviously I want to win but you’ve got to set yourself small steps. It is so tough out here but if you play well then you do well no matter what tour you are on.
“I think the key is trying to keep your confidence up and a lot of that is to do with the expectation you put on yourself. You can be setting out to win and then finish 20th – not a bad result by any means – but it is easy to start getting down on yourself that way.
“So the key is starting small: just aim to get a few top tens under your belt, put yourself in contention half a dozen times a year or so and with any luck you can win one or two of them.”
While he was grinding out the first two rounds at the Final Stage, Parry was also acutely aware of the event running concurrently over 4,000 miles away in Dubai as Messrs McIlroy, Donald and Rose were going head-to-head in what was a thrilling denouement to the 2012 season at the DP World Tour Championship.
Parry played in the second edition of the climax to The Race to Dubai in 2010 – finishing 53rd – and says one of his main aims on returning to The European Tour is securing a berth in the season finale next November.
“I want to make it to Dubai – that is definitely one of my main goals for the year,” he reflected. “You can’t think about it when you go out and play but having that as a long-term goal is certainly a good thing to keep you concentrating throughout the year, not letting your practice slip or getting lazy – which is easy to do when you play up to 25 tournaments a season – so keeping that end point in mind helps you stay focussed.”
As well as citing the necessity of keeping his eye on the ball for the entirety of a season from the first drive to the last putt – which he admits he failed to do when he lost his card in 2011 – Parry references a new focus on the physiological side of his training and extolls the benefits the regimen has reaped in his golf game.
He continued: “I think physically I’m much better than I was two years ago, so if I can keep improving on that side of things that should suit the main Tour better – being able to hit it further and higher in the air obviously helps.
“I’ve been on this fitness programme probably six months now and I’ve already noticed the difference. You look at the top ten players in the world and they’re all big and strong and hit it absolutely miles. If they’re doing it and I’m not and they’re better than me already then I’m not going to catch them , am I?
“I think to make it you’ve got to be focussed on developing yourself, you’ve got to look at every single aspect you can possibly improve.”
In a book – and subsequent screenplay – flush with motivational narrative, F Scott Fitzgerald again provides an erudite conclusion and summary for both Parry and for all those returning to the upper echelons of the golfing world.
It reads: “For what it’s worth: it’s never too late to be whoever you want to be. There’s no time limit, stop whenever you want. You can change or stay the same, there are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it.”
Resolute, focussed, driven and humble, bigger, better, faster, stronger; this time around, John Parry plans on making the absolute best of it.