In this week’s Player Blog presented by Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Ricardo Gouveia reflects on the road to back to the DP World Tour, the support of those around him, and going back to his old mental coach.
It feels amazing to be here on Tour this week in South Africa after wrapping up the Challenge Tour season a couple of weeks ago and earning my card back. It’s not been an easy road to get here, and it’s been a really nice feeling to return this week and have so much support from other players, caddies and Tour staff who have been congratulating me on a great season.
I’ve definitely come a long way since I lost my card in 2019. Back then I was in a really bad place mentally and with my game, and it was hard because I always felt that being on the main Tour was where I belonged. It took some time for me to reset to get my game back to where I knew it could be, and I’m grateful to have come through the other side of that and now be back playing at the highest level.
When I look back at where I was and how I was feeling then, I realise how far I’ve come since I really hit rock bottom at the beginning of 2020 in South Africa. During those events I was really struggling: I was hitting it all over the place, I didn’t know where the ball was going, and I felt like I didn’t want to be there. By the time I was on the way back home I had even started wondering if playing golf was really worth continuing, or if I should keep pushing.
It was around the same time that my grandad passed away, which made everything harder. We were really close, he had a wonderful sense of humour, and he followed every tournament of mine. He was a big joker who would always laugh and say ‘oh please don’t give me this heart attack every time you play’, but he was someone who brought a lot of joy to my life. Losing him at the same time as I was going through a bad spell was obviously difficult, and when he died it was just a lot of things at once, so I wondered if I should keep going with golf. I’m glad that I didn’t give up though, and I thought a lot about him when I won both in Italy and Denmark, because I know that he is looking down on me and is proud that I kept going.
Back when I was going through that hard time, and talking to my team, my wife and my family about what I should do with my future, it wasn’t long before COVID hit and tournaments were cancelled. I hadn’t expected to have such a big break in the schedule, but I think it actually helped me a lot because it gave me time to reset. I went back to Portugal to the Algarve for a while, and it gave me a real chance to think about what had changed from the time I was playing my best golf in 2015/2016 to now.
That was when I realised there were things I needed to change. Between 2017 and the start of 2020, I felt like I had lost my identity as a player, and as a person, because of how I was performing, and I wanted to get back to how I had been doing things before. To have that break in schedule and be able go back and rest and pretty much start from scratch, made all the difference to me. I realise I had lost belief in what I was doing, so I decided to simplify everything and make some changes in my team – and slowly through practice I began to feel the improvements.
One of the big lessons I learned was about the mental side of things, and last year I went back to my old mental coach. I think it was around the middle of 2017 that I had stopped working with him, because I stopped feeling like I was seeing results. I realise now that a big part of that was because I wasn’t taking the time to do the work I should have done, but at that time I felt like I needed something else. Then I went to a different mental coach, and it didn’t work, but I think it was important for me to go to someone else and see the difference. It helped me realise that what I was doing with my first coach was the right thing for me, but I needed to be more consistent and disciplined with it. When I started working with him again consistency was my goal, and now I do a range of exercises every day that have different goals – focus, patience, breathing, meditation – and it’s been really effective. In the second half of the season this year I could really feel the impact and importance of it all, and it’s paid off in my personal life too.
Another change I made last year was my coach. I had been working with a guy that I’ve known all my life, but I realised I wanted to find someone to help me that is a little less technical. That’s when I started speaking to a good friend of mine that I used to play golf with when I was younger. He started coaching four years ago, and he’s someone that really knows me and my game. He has swing philosophies of his own, but he’s also the type of coach that adapts to the player, and so he simplifies things a lot for me, which is what I needed. It made a difference when I was going through swing changes in 2020, because I felt like what we were working on helped me go back to the swing that worked for me in 2015, the one that is mine. I think through working with him, I felt like I found my identity again in my golf game.
After changing those things and working hard, I started feeling a lot better under pressure and my confidence began to rise again. But despite that, there was still a part of me last year that didn’t feel like I was ready to come back to the main Tour yet. I then worked really hard again in the second lockdown back in Portugal to prepare for this year, and I came back to South Africa for the Challenge Tour to start off the season with quite a lot of confidence. It didn’t go according to plan, and I was a bit surprised because I was expecting to play a little better, and it took a while until I really saw the results.
It wasn’t until Austria that for some reason, something clicked while I was practicing. All of a sudden I started to have similar feelings with my swing that I had had in 2015, and that was a big turning point for me. Then in Italy, everything clicked and came together. It was like all the consistency I’d put into my swing work and mental work was paying off, and it was the perfect week for me. From then on I gained a huge amount of confidence, which helped me to win again a couple of weeks later and play well the rest of the season.
I didn’t even realise I would have the chance to win the Rankings for a second time until I won the second time in Denmark. I had another good week the week after Denmark, and when I saw Santiago Tarrio was taking some time to focus on the main Tour, that’s when I realised I had a chance to do it again. It was a shame at the Grand Final because I came really close to doing it again, but I’m just really happy with the way I finished the season.
I always knew that this year I really wanted to focus on the Challenge Tour and get my card back that way, and I’m glad I made that decision. In the back of my mind I felt I should be on the DP World Tour, but like Marcel Siem said in his player blog, he had to accept that he was on the Challenge Tour in order for him to free up and play, and for me it was a bit of the same thing. I’ve also seen other players in the past start off a season well on the Challenge Tour and think they’ve got their card locked in, only to start playing on the main Tour and realise they have to play really well at the end of the season to get a card. I just accepted that I was going to play a full season on the Challenge Tour, and while I respect that guys like Santiago Tarrio wanted to gain some experience on the main Tour, I wanted to make the most of where I was at because I knew that was my best chance at coming back. I’m grateful that it was.
Now that I’ve been through those hard times and I’m on the other side of it, I’m kind of glad I went through it. Obviously I don’t want to go through it again, but ultimately I’ve learned my lesson. I feel like it’s made me mature as a player and a person, and I’ve taken away a lot of important things that work for me and that I need to do going forward in order for me to be successful in golf and in life.
And I honestly couldn’t have gone through all of the ups and downs without the support of my sponsors, my team, my good friends, my wife and my family. I think it’s in the bad moments that you see the real people, friends and supporters you have. To have so many people around me show me that they believed in me is why I didn’t put the clubs away when I could have. With the way I had been playing, I wasn’t expecting my sponsors to continue supporting me when I lost my card, but they did. I’m particularly grateful to Quinta do Lago, Rolex and Titleist, because their support has been so important to me, and it’s a wonderful feeling knowing they have been there in the bad moments, and now they can also share in the good ones.
And as for these three weeks in South Africa, I’m going to take them as they come. It almost feels like I’m still finishing up the Challenge Tour season as it’s only been two weeks since the Grand Final, so it’s really just about playing. After that I’m going to take a little vacation from golf until the beginning of January, and that’s when I’ll have time to really sit down and look at goals. For now though I’m just happy to be back, and hopefully I can start off the DP World Tour season with some momentum.