In this week’s Player Blog presented by Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Graeme Storm reflects on his journey in the game as he makes his 500th and final DP World Tour appearance as a professional at the scene of his first title and discusses his new career as a rule official.
I will be able to look back on my playing career and think, ‘well, I’ve not done bad for a lad from Hartlepool Golf Club who had ambitions to become a golfer’. I’m getting emotional now just thinking about it.
To be able to finish up by making my 500th Tour appearance as a professional is something that I will always cherish. To reach this milestone at the Open de France at Le Golf National, an event and venue which has a special place in my heart after I won there in 2007, makes it even more meaningful.
The memories of my win at the Open de France are as fresh as ever. I remember having a really good start to the week and in the build-up. I’d been playing some really good golf throughout the 2007 season. I felt as if I was more established on the Tour at that time and I felt like I was always contending. I just couldn't seem to get the monkey off my back and win that first tournament.
On Sunday, everything just seemed to come together. I got a fantastic draw playing in the final Round with Zane Scotland. He was somebody I was really comfortable playing with. He played well and we kind of helped each other along. I played one of the best rounds I've ever played, shooting a 66 and managed to hold off some fantastic players in Soren Hansen, Colin Montgomerie, Thomas Bjørn to name but a few and win the title.
Most people who look at my career now probably think back to my victory over Rory McIlroy at the South African Open in 2017 as the biggest highlight. It probably is when I look back too. To go toe-to-toe with arguably the best golfer on the planet was an amazing feeling for me. I'd never managed to be able to play with Rory in a tournament before that.
To be able to go down the stretch against Rory and hold him off in a play-off is something dear to my heart and something that I'll always cherish. I knew him when he first came out in 2007-2008 and burst onto the scene. We all knew how much of a talent he was going to be and what he is now is exactly what everybody thought he would be. He's a fantastic player as well as a fantastic human being and somebody who I've become a massive fan of.
A little funny story is that at the time when my kids were younger, they were shouting for Rory to win the tournament when he was up against me, but obviously my wife got them in check and made sure that they were cheering me on from home! For me to come out on top made it extra special for them to be able to see me win a tournament.
My grandfather got me into the sport when I was aged 11 and he saw some potential in me. At that age, golf was just a game that I wanted to play, and I really enjoyed playing on a weekend, especially over the summer periods when I wasn't playing football. Football was always my first love when I was a child and something I always wanted to do. My dad was a good footballer and I wanted to follow in his footsteps a little bit. Although he didn’t make it as a professional, he was well renowned in the North East area. But at the age of 14, it was the decision that I made where I needed to concentrate on my golf because my golf was getting better, and my football was kind of stalling.
Within two years of deciding to play golf a little bit more frequently, I became an English under 16 champion winning the McGregor Trophy and then I won the under 18. That was it, then I was hooked. I wanted to be a golfer, the best golfer I could possibly be. I had a fantastic amateur career, winning the Amateur Championship obviously in 1999 as well. That gave me the platform to go onto the European Tour as it was then and the DP World Tour as it is now. I can only thank the DP World Tour and the European Tour for giving me that platform to be able to succeed as a player.
But the game has not always been easy. When I first started out on Tour, having been at the top of the amateur game, you feel like you’re ready to make that next step. But it was a real struggle. I played on invites and played okay, managed to be able to get through to where I didn't have to go to Stage One of Qualifying School. I got straight through to Stage Two with the points or money that I earned at the time. Then I got my card straight away at Tour School and I look back and that was maybe a little too early on in my career.
I should maybe have been on the European Challenge Tour to start with, which obviously I then ended up back on in 2003-2004. After I lost my card back in 2001 by a very, very small margin, 2002 was really, really tough. I tried to play a bit of main Tour, a bit of Challenge Tour, and didn't really find my feet at all. I really struggled with my game at the time, so everything was kind of going the wrong way. At the beginning of 2003, I had to restart everything again.
I had to go back to regional qualifying for the EuroPro, which was again another very difficult situation having earlier been catapulted from being a top amateur to then playing on the main tour and then suddenly feeling like I had to go all the way back to the very beginning again. When I was at regional qualifying for the EuroPro, I played the first round, I think I shot 79 in the first round around Wynyard where I live now. On that evening, my father dropped dead of a heart seizure going to the pub and that was a very, very difficult and emotional time for me.
The very next day was the second round of qualifying and I managed to pluck up the courage to play and shot a 69. I always look back and think, my father would've wanted me to do that because he was there to watch me when I shot 79 on the first day of the qualifier. So, I did it for him and I look back at that and think, well, that made me as a person. That made me a little bit stronger, although I have suffered with other mental health issues over the years since then.
2004 was a massive season for me. I was working with a new coach, Ian Rae, who transformed my game from where it was at the beginning of 2003 and we were building good things together. Every week I felt as though I could compete. Yes, I had a few blips, but whenever I felt as though I was in contention, I felt like I could win. I won twice that year on the Challenge Tour, probably should have won three times. I was unfortunate in Sweden where the conditions were really brutal and we got the worst of it, going out as leaders, but I finished third on the order of merit and what it did for me was give me that confidence to believe in myself, feel like I was ready.
I'll always look back and think, well that was the making of me as a player. It made me grow up a little bit more. The Challenge Tour is a great breeding ground for new talent. I think we see that right now. Some have become Ryder Cup players and I think that's just testament to the structure that the Challenge Tour has put together. Long may that continue.
To be able to say I have played in all four Majors is great. It was obviously an ambition as a child, you dream of those things. You go to the putting green in the evenings after school and pretend that you're going to be holing a putt to win The Open or The Masters, they were the two biggest Majors at the time that everybody was watching. You remember watching them as kid on TV and just thinking, could I get there?
In 2000, I played the Masters as the British Amateur champion, something that I'll always again look back on and think what a fabulous achievement. I never played it as a professional, but when I looked back at that week, it was quite a demanding week. I had struggled with illness going into it. I had glandular fever, so I was really weak and not very well at the time, but obviously I was never going to miss it. I was always going to go play and had a fantastic week even though I didn't play great. You remember watching them as kid on TV and just thinking, could I get there. I think I played six Opens, a couple of US Opens. The US PGA Championship was the one where I was leading after the first round. That too was 2007, a fantastic year for me personally.
You are always striving to play in the biggest events against the best players in the game. I've managed to be able to say that I've done that. I've played in World Golf Championships, finished sixth in one at Doral, playing in the last group with Vijay Singh and Geoff Ogilvy. So again, fantastic memories. I do believe I could have achieved more in those events. But that is just the way the game goes. If you're not on your A game and especially at that level, you get swallowed up. Just playing in Majors is a lot more difficult than just on the DP World Tour.
When I was offered a job by the European Tour group to become an official earlier this year, I was really pleased. Becoming an official was something that I had been interested in doing for a long time.
It dates to 2013-2014 when I was in a really difficult place. I'd split up with a management group which didn't turn out to go too well for me. That was a really difficult period of my life, caused me a lot of heartache and it was really difficult for me and my family at that time. At one point I was struggling to keep my card. I miraculously played unbelievable golf at the end of 2014, losing in a play-off in Switzerland to David Lipsky. I also managed to get a hole-in-one to win a BMW i8 that week. So, I had an unbelievable week that year!
But, at that time I was thinking of other things. I'd spoken to David Garland, Director of Tour Operations at the DP World Tour, about potentially doing rules as a career path going forward. But obviously everything changed. One moment you're down and out and the next minute you're on a high and everything starts to go your way. That's what happened over the period of the next three or four years. But then after winning in 2017, an unbelievable year for me, maybe a massive purple patch where just everything went my way, everything went really well. But after getting injured in 2018 and then having three wrist operations, I've never come back from that.
To do the rules and do the travelling while still being involved with the Tour is brilliant. I've really embraced the opportunity. I look forward to keeping on doing my best in that job and hopefully I can start to become a good referee and you never know, at some point I'll maybe be a rules official at a Major Championship or a Ryder Cup further down the line, but I've got to work hard and start from the bottom, which I've no problem with. I’ve worked hard all my life and I'll do that again to be able to become the best referee possible.
In a certain way, being inside the ropes but not as a player has been a little bit surreal at times, I'll admit. At times I’ve thought, well, could I still do it? Could I still play? Obviously playing the Open de France this week, I'll find out that I probably can’t. But to be able to have an impact or have an input in a Tour setup or anything like that within the role of a referee, then that's something that I'm looking forward to gaining more experience in and learning from a fantastic team. Obviously, working with Michael Hoey and Marcus Higley and other senior ex-players is brilliant. I have my exams later this year and hopefully once I pass those I can kick on and do more events next year and become a key part of the team.
But back to this week. On Monday, I played at a Golf Day for Sir Graham Wylie at Close House. I think that was only my tenth round of the year! My son has gotten into golf a little bit, so it's given me the chance to play a little bit when I've been off. But, in truth, I haven’t really picked up my clubs a lot, so I don’t have any great expectations doing too well in France.
My wife and kids are flying out to see me play. They arrive on Friday morning so hopefully I can play well enough to make the cut, but they’ll be there to see me play Friday in any case. It's going to be an amazing experience. Hopefully I don't get too emotional when it comes down to it on Thursday.