In a Player Blog for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, Sepp Straka talks about a chance meeting with a Ryder Cup great, his commitment to the European cause, his relationship with his golfing twin brother and his first PGA TOUR win.
My dad is Austrian and my mum is American, but my Austrian heritage is very important to me. It's part of who I am. I love going back and it's a beautiful country. It's maybe not ideal for golf weather-wise but I love it and hopefully I can go back a little more in the future.
There'll be no split loyalties if I get to play in the Ryder Cup, it'll be pretty easy to tap into the Austrian side. I've played a lot of team golf for Austria and played for Continental Europe last week in the Hero Cup. It was a great time. I didn't know some of the guys on the Continental Europe team but after that week, I feel like I made a lot of new friends, and it was great hanging out with them and getting to know them. Every golfer grows up watching the Ryder Cup and gearing up for it. It doesn’t happen all that often, so it was always a dream to play in that.
Tiger Woods was definitely the number one influence on me growing up. My twin brother Sam and I both just loved watching him play, and José María Olazábal too, we loved his style and his flair. I weirdly got into a Moe Norman phase for a while, I was a big fan and still am - the guy was a pretty remarkable golfer and one of the best ball-strikers ever.
Me, Sam and a couple of friends were about to play an evening nine holes and we saw Paul McGinley on the putting green randomly at Fontana, the golf club where my mum worked. We asked him to play with us, but he told he had a sponsor function he was doing so he couldn’t do it, but ever since then we have rooted for him.
I got into golf through my mum running the pro shop at Fontana when Sam and I were growing up. That's where we learned the game and when we were 11 we did a summer camp at the course and got the bug. My dad still plays a lot and loves it, and my mum did a little bit. We grew up playing with them and they showed us how the game worked.
We played a lot of soccer growing up, you have to do that in Austria! We did that until we were 11 or 12 and played a bit of baseball as well but that summer camp was when we got the bug for golf and we quit soccer soon after that.
We moved to the United States when we were 14 and we knew we wanted to keep playing, we even knew then that we wanted to play in college, that was the goal. I never really ever thought that it would end up being my career but that was the dream.
It was a little bit difficult changing countries at 14. We visited my mum's family in Georgia so I kind of knew what we were getting into, but it was very different. The school was completely different in the States to Austria, and it was a change in routine, but we got to go back to Austria almost every year and we still try to do that.
We grew up watching college sports, mainly college football, and always enjoyed it. The idea of being able to play in a team for four or five years and learn a lot about golf in that environment was very appealing to us. I lived with Sam in college and we've always been best friends, we still are to this day. We had our own friend groups at college but other than that we were always together.
But the first question we always asked when we finished playing was 'what did the other guy shoot?'. We always wanted to beat each other and we're still that way today. Sam still plays mid-am stuff but just for fun.
College golf was a huge influence on the player I am now. I kind of rode Sam's coat-tails into college, he was the better player in junior golf. College was really where I learned to play the game and learned what worked for me. At the University of Georgia it was very unstructured in terms of practice, we did our own thing so it was nice to figure out what worked for me and that was a huge help.
It was amazing to play at the Olympics with Sam caddying and get to share that experience with him. We didn't get the full experience with there being no fans due to Covid but everywhere we went everybody was just excited to see Olympic athletes walking around, even as golfers. It was our first time in Japan and I absolutely fell in love with the place, I've been back twice since, it's an amazing country and we had a great time. I can't wait to play at the Olympics again with fans.
Last year there was no specific moment where my game changed. I did a much better job of taking advantage when I was playing well and I played well all four days. A lot of the time you get in the mix on Sunday and it's tough to keep your focus and keep going but last year I did a great job of blocking everything out and doing well when I had my A-game.
The win at the Honda Classic was amazing, it was a cool day. We were five back going into the final round but I knew I had a chance on that course because it's mayhem everywhere, water on every hole and there's not an easy shot on the golf course. We got back into it pretty early and the thing I'll remember the most is my caddie on the ninth tee telling me he wanted the best ten holes of the week and all of a sudden I started hitting the ball well and getting myself some birdie looks. Things just started happening and at the end, I was lucky to hit the green in two on 18 and two-putt for the win there.
I always wanted to come back to Europe and play some events once I won on the PGA TOUR, that was always the goal. It's hard when you haven't won and you're trying to make the play-offs, it's hard to give up the events to come over here and play but I always wanted to secure the card and then come over here.
I grew up watching these Desert Swing events in Abu Dhabi and Dubai and always wanted to make this trip. I'm very excited and I knew they put on a big event here. I remember seeing swings in Dubai 20-something years ago and there was nothing in the background and now you look at it and there's a huge skyline. It's kind of fun to see the places I grew up watching on TV. It's nice to experience a new part of the world, it's amazing and absolutely beautiful.
The course is in great shape. I think iron play is going to be the biggest thing because the greens are very sectioned and there are small hills all over them. So being very precise with irons is going to be key. I've made a few minor swing changes, just trying to clean things up after the off-season and those really started to kick in last week, I feel like I was hitting the ball pretty well at the end of last week and I want to keep that going.
My goals now are just to try and keep getting in contention in tournaments and maybe at a Major, I'd love to give myself a chance to get a chance to win one of those.