In this week’s player blog presented by Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Jordan Smith reflects on his last visit to Al Hamra Golf Club, making changes in his game, and why he’s feeling so positive about this season.
Coming back to Al Hamra this week brings back a lot of good memories and feelings, because it was such a special week for me to win the Ras Al Khaimah Golf Challenge on the way to graduating to the DP World Tour. Before I came back here all I could really remember clearly was the last hole, the par five and how we played it, and obviously tapping in to win. It was probably more the emotional memories I had that stood out because I won with my best man, who was my caddie back then, and it was his first win with me as well.
But when I arrived it all came flooding back. I said to my caddie as we got a few holes in on Tuesday that I remember every hole now. I think I just needed something to trigger my brain to bring back those memories, and it all seems very similar to back then.
Any time you come back to somewhere you’ve won before it helps you take good feelings into the week. It was a Challenge Tour event and the circumstances were very different, but knowing I’ve won around this course with a really good score definitely helps with confidence – especially now that those memories are coming back and are at the front of my brain. It also helps that I’ve had a good couple of weeks out here in the Middle East already, so I’m definitely feeling positive.
When I look back on that week now it’s almost a little surreal, because it was part of an incredibly fast start for me as a professional. I’d had a year on the EuroPro Tour and won the Order of Merit, and then winning this event helped me to the top of the Challenge Tour Rankings – which I won the next week, in my first year. The next season I won on the now DP World Tour, and had a top 10 in a Major, and it felt like everything was just going so well. I was just doing my thing, I had no mental scars because everything was new, and I just didn’t have any worries – which is probably why I had that fast trend.
That learning curve of being a professional golfer happened later for me. The last few years haven’t been on that same trajectory, and to be honest it wouldn’t have been smart to think they were going to be. In less than three years I went from EuroPro to winning out here and competing in a Major, and when things go that well there’s always going to come a time where it eventually stops feeling so easy.
I think that’s quite a typical story for a lot of guys out here, and I think it’s why you see so many guys coming straight up from the Challenge Tour and winning their first year – and then not again for a while. When you first come out here it’s all brand new, you’re brimming with a lot of confidence, and you don’t have the same backlog of negative memories when things don’t go your way the previous week or at a tournament the previous year. You haven’t really had time to be tested yet, and when that does happen you have to be able to re-evaluate things.
I think the biggest lesson I had to learn was when things didn’t go my way. I knew I was eventually going to have that downward trend, but it was about picking myself back up when that happened. It took me a while to learn from things not going well and figure out what I needed to change and improve about my golf, but I feel like I’ve definitely done that coming into this year. It’s not always huge changes, but learning from things not working out and looking back at stats and results and realising what needed to change.
I always start the year with a new black notepad, and I always put in the front my goals for that year. That has been a great way for me to re-evaluate how I’m doing things, especially ahead of this year. I usually get a fresh book on the way home from the final tournament of the year and write my goals in there on the flight home so they are fresh in my head for the following year. The goals might be to get inside the top 100 in the world, or make it to the DP World Tour final, or to get my putting stats in the green, something like that. I’ll have the book with me most of the time, either in my golf bag or travel bag, and I fill it throughout the year with things like Trackman tests, notes, yardages, clubs or a ball that we might have tested. There’s a lot of numbers. I probably set eight or 10 goals and I don’t look at them until the end of the year, and if we haven’t achieved them, we might set that same goal for the following year. I don’t always achieve them but it’s nice to have them there to have things to work on and strive for when it comes to a new year, and that’s what I’m doing this year.
I’ve been on a downward trend for the last few years, and I feel like I’m approaching this year with a lot of positivity and confidence, after making a couple of changes. *Last year was the first time I hadn’t made the DP World Tour final and I was really upset about that, and the year before we hadn’t finished as high as the previous year, so we knew something needed to change. I still felt like I was working as hard as I had in previous years and the swing was feeling good, but the results weren’t happening. It was a frustrating place to be in, and you never know how everything will work out, but we were confident that making some changes was going to be a good thing.*
And while one thing that’s always been important to me is having a Team that stays pretty much the same, another thing I have changed this year is my caddie. I like to keep people in my team that I’m friendly with and have a good laugh with because I think it’s important when you’re out on Tour for weeks at a time. It’s why I’ve been with my coach since I pretty much started playing, and my fitness trainer since I turned pro.
I think one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make was to stop working with Harry as my caddie, who is my best man. We’d been together for four and a half years since half-way through my Challenge Tour season, and it had just come to that point. We weren’t falling out but we were having disagreements on the golf course, and I didn’t want it to affect our friendship, so it had to come to an end.
But that idea of keeping a close team is one I think is really valuable, and my new caddie this year, Sam, was one of the ushers at my wedding. I’ve known him since I was 14 or 15 and looking up to him because he was a great golfer himself. I always knew he was a good caddie because I’ve played a lot of practice rounds with Steven Brown and I’m really good friends with him, and when parted ways with Steve at the end of last year I jumped at the opportunity because I knew he’d be a good fit.
Sam has been awesome so far, and the first couple of results out here in the Middle East show that. I even got my first albatross here at Al Hamra on Tuesday with him. I think having that camaraderie and friendship on the golf course just really helps me, because I need that distraction on the course. It is really mentally draining being out there for five hours so I think having someone there to help take your mind away from your last shot, or the shot you’re about to hit, helps you stay mentally fresh when you do approach the ball. With that, and changing clubs, I’m happy with how everything’s worked out.
I’m definitely feeling positive about this year. I think we all needed to give ourselves a break with how things have been due to COVID, but I’m glad things are much more normal now. I think I was probably fortunate that the only time it really affected me mentally was when I stupidly did a run of seven or eight events that ended in Valderrama, and I ended up walking off for the first time in my life. I don’t know why I did it, but I just needed some time off to come back fresh, and that made the difference for me.
It was probably more off the course it had an impact for me: My wife had trained to be a virtual assistant so she could do her job and travel with me at the same time, and obviously that didn’t happen, but it’s so nice to have her out here finally with me again and I’m hopeful it stays that way. My fingers are crossed that things continue as they are now, because right now I’m as positive as I’ve been in a long time about the schedule, my game and my team, and I’m excited to get going here this week.