James Morrison describes ‘surreal’ round after besting his own course record at his home club of St George’s Hill on Tuesday with a 12 under par 58.
European Tour golfers are preparing to return next month for the first time since the Covid-19 pandemic, and two-time winner James Morrison has been making the most of the reopening of golf courses around the UK with a feat rarely dreamed about let alone achieved: A 58.
Playing at his home course of St George’s Hill on Tuesday, Morrison was enjoying a game with three friends as he broke his own course record by three strokes with a birdie on his final hole.
His ‘surreal’ but significant total is five strokes lower than his career best of 63 on the European Tour, which he achieved during round one of the 2015 KLM Open and round two of the 2014 ISPS Handa Perth International.
“It was pretty surreal,” said Morrison, who has been playing at St George’s Hill two or three times a week since lockdown was eased.
“I just played really well. I had been playing well before that, but I was terrible last week. The round before my 58 I kept hitting balls in the water and I think I would have shot around an 85.
“I’ve never been anywhere near 58 before and I wasn’t really thinking about it. When you’re in tournament play you never really get that chance to shoot in the 50s, it’s unchartered territory really.
“I know it was only a friendly game of golf with three of my mates, but it’s nice to get the brain back into some sort of scoring mode, to keep going and play with some intention before we get going in a month’s time.
“St George’s is such a magical place. I was a junior there and had the record before, a 61, but I haven’t played that many rounds with a card in my pocket at my home club. It’s a beautiful place to play and with a club of that history to shoot 58 around there was very pleasing.”
Starting at the 10th hole, Morrison opened his account with three birdies in a row and a further gain at the 15th to post a four under 31 on his outward nine.
He then added two further birdies at the 10th and 11th holes, before finding the green on the short par four fourth hole with his driver and rolling in a putt for eagle.
“I’ve actually had a hole in one there before so it’s a hole that’s been quite kind to me. It’s about 280 yards downhill, I hit to about 25 feet and holed it.”
Yet with just five holes left to go, a storm rolled in and Morrison was all but ready to abandon his scorecard. His playing partners insisted they wait it out and keep going, a decision Morrison is now considerably thankful for after adding four more birdies at the fifth, sixth, seventh and ninth holes.
“We had about five holes to go and I was eight under par, and all four of us were huddling under a tree in the pouring rain with no umbrella and towels over our heads and I was ready to walk in.
“They told me they thought I could shoot 59 and I was like I’m not really bothered, I don’t want to get wet, but they convinced me to wait it out under this tree for half an hour before the sun came out. Then we dried out and I shot 58, so it worked out well in the end.
“I won £20 for my score and I got them all to sign it and I’m going to hang it up in a little frame. I think they all took credit for being there.”
The feeling of standing over a putt for 58 around your home course is an understandably different pressure to playing for the same number on Tour – something Oliver Fisher experienced when he recorded the European Tour’s only 59 in 2018 – yet Morrison wasn’t nervous.
“There were no nerves,” he said. “I imagine if it was Sunday afternoon in a tournament there would have been lots of nerves but it was more anticipation.
“Once I got it in to the fairway on the last hole (the ninth) I knew I had 100 yards in for my second, so I knew once I was there – without falling over – I could shoot 59.”
Crediting the work he has done on fitness and specifically iron play, Morrison said his latest round has lifted his confidence ahead of his return to competitive golf next month.
“I putted well but putting is my strength,” he explained.
“I’ve worked on a bit of technique with my fitness coach Justin Buckthorpe, and we’ve worked hard on my iron play. It’s the one part of my game that if I get right then I know I can compete again and get back in the winner’s circle. It was actually nice to play a round of golf where I peppered the flags from start to finish.
“With my stats over the years my iron-play has been terrible, but when my iron play is OK then I normally shoot a pretty good score. I’ve normally got a couple of short sided iron shots plugged in bunkers so it was nice to play a round of golf where I actually had plenty of chances for birdie
“It has given me massive confidence. At the end of the day we practice to re-enact tournament play as best as we can, so whenever I try and play I take it vaguely seriously. When we get going again in a month’s time on Tour it will definitely stand me in good stead, knowing that everything I’ve been doing is working in the right direction.
“I know it will be a different environment and different courses but at the same time we’ll be playing behind closed doors with no crowds so it will feel a little bit like friendly golf at the start, and I think playing lots of golf like I have done and shooting scores like that can only help. I’ll be trying to draw on that confidence and flow of golf when I get going again on Tour.”