Last year was the best of my career. Two years ago, I couldn’t have imagined that I would finish in the top 20 in the Race to Dubai, but last season I was in contention three times, played my first Major as a professional, and my first World Golf Championships. I lost three play-offs in China, Scotland and Turkey which was a little bit frustrating, but I learned a lot. Now I think I’m ready, and hopefully the next time a situation like that happens I will be prepared and manage it better.
Losing the Scottish Open play-off against Bernd Wiesberger was probably the toughest of the three. It was in the middle of the season, it was a Rolex Series event, and I had two chances to win. On the first play-off hole I had maybe ten feet to win, then I three putted on the second hole. Bernd had already made bogey, so I had a putt from four or five feet to win, and again I missed.
I didn’t actually expect to be in a play-off at all. I was far behind on the last day when I shot nine under, and when I finished my round, Bernd was only on the 12th. I was tied for the lead but he had six holes left and was playing well, and the last three holes are not that hard. It was hard to reset my focus for the play-off, and I think the way I managed the time waiting maybe cost me the trophy because I lost my concentration. I learned a couple of lessons there; that anything can happen, that I need try and stay in the present moment, and while I’m waiting for the results I should keep practicing and warming up so that I’m ready if it happens.
Turkey was a different thing and frustrating situation, but the lesson was the same. The referees decided to make two groups of three players and I was in the second, so I had to wait around 45 minutes from the time I hit my last shot to my first drive in the play-off. In the first group, Erik van Rooyen had to find his ball and take a drop, and the whole thing took about 15 minutes. I think I lost a little bit of my focus there which didn’t help me, then I missed my drive, made par and didn’t qualify for the rest of the play-off.
After each of those events, I had a debrief with my psychologist Meriem Salmi, who is the same psychologist Mike Lorenzo-Vera and Romain Langasque use. We talk a lot and she’s been very important for me and has helped build a great staff of people around me for every part of my game. I went to her about two years ago when I decided I needed to change how I do things. I said to myself OK, you’re 31, in ten years do you want to regret something or do you want to give it your all and see what happens. At the time I had a few guys who are still on my team, but I think the mental part was the piece we were missing, so the director of my team got me a meeting with her. I spent an hour with her then went away and thought about it, and a month later decided that she would help me a lot, and it has probably been one of the best moves that I have made in the last two years.
I used to struggle with my mental side of things when I was in contention, but that changed when I started working with Meriem. She introduced me to a relaxation exercise called mindfulness to help me focus on me instead of what’s happening around me. It’s actually pretty simple, but when you don’t really know about it or do it you don’t realise the difference it can make, and it has helped me a lot. It’s an everyday exercise that lasts maybe five to ten minutes, and I do it before each round but also sometimes during my round when I feel I’m getting excited or stressed. It helps me to relax and stay in the moment when something happens so I won’t be distracted. That’s the biggest thing she’s done for me.
Surfing is something that helps me too. When I’m in the water I just think in the moment, I relax a lot, and it puts the golf out of my head. I don’t think too much about what I can do better and what I have to do next. It definitely helps me, and it’s something that I really love, but I also don’t want anything to disturb my career plans so I’m doing a little less than I used to because I’m spending more time on everything else to improve my game.
I’ve put a lot of money into getting the best people around me in the last two years. For me, it means treating my career like an enterprise: I have to put money into it to get the rewards out of it. I said I don’t want to look at how much I spend, I just want to have the best around me and try to learn from all of them and see what happens. I’m at a good age. I’m now 33, it’s now or never, and I think last season shows we’re going in the right direction.
Even though I lost at the Scottish Open, I did qualify for my first Major as a professional, which had actually been my goal. I was trying to go as low as I could to qualify for The Open during that final round, because I knew it was definitely my last chance to play a Major last year. Even on the last two holes I wasn’t thinking about winning, I just wanted to finish in the top ten and get a spot in The Open. I was very happy. It took me ten years, and it was a long wait. I played The Open at Royal Birkdale in 2008, but I was an amateur and everything was new, and at the time I didn’t even know if I would be a good player. This time was different, and when I arrived at The Open I felt like I deserved to be there.
Playing in my first World Golf Championships at the WGC - HSBC Champions was a good experience too. I was happy to play and it was good for my year, but I didn’t feel very comfortable on the course and I played pretty badly. It was a tough one, and very different from earlier this year at the WGC - Mexico Championship, which gave me a lot of confidence. Chapultepec was the kind of tricky course with small greens that suits me, but it was almost like another game because we hit the ball 15-20 per cent longer than usual. I didn’t feel very well that week but I had three good days, and it showed me that I am able to compete at one of the top tournaments of the year in that level of field, which gave me confidence that the work I’ve been doing with my team is good. Hopefully I’ll play a few more.
I haven’t actually changed or worked on one specific thing, but I really focus on three things now; the physical, the mental and the technique. I think it’s the very hardest thing in golf to get all three of those things to be ready together. You can be ready with the technical stuff but your head doesn’t really follow, or sometimes it’s the opposite, and because we travel to a lot of different countries you also need to be physically prepared. I think the best players in the world do that a lot more often, like maybe ten or 12 weeks of the year. Last year for me it was maybe three weeks, so I still need to improve that.
I’ve got a lot of goals for the future and I’m very aware that I’m at the highest Official World Golf Ranking I’ve ever been, but I try not to think about it too much. I would like to win, I would like to be in the top 50 in the world and I would like to play in the four Majors and the four WGCs every year, but I don’t like to think too much about it because it can put a lot of unnecessary pressure on me.
I used to think too much and it didn’t help me. I still want to improve every part of my game and be a better player, so right now I’m just trying to stick to the plan I have scheduled with all my staff. You know if you play and you play well you’ll get points – whether its Race to Dubai or Official World Golf Ranking points – so you just have to focus, train and have good people around you to improve every part of your career, and that’s what I’m trying to do. Don’t think too much, that’s the real thing for me.
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