In this week’s player blog presented by Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Aaron Rai reflects on getting into golf, his biggest influences, and becoming a Rolex Series winner.
My family had never really been into golf before I took it up, so my teachings and upbringings in golf definitely weren’t what I’d call normal. My dad’s side had immigrated from India in the 1950s, and my mum’s side from Kenya in the 1970s, so sport was never a thing going back generations in our family. It maybe became more of a thing for my dad growing up in England because he played a lot of tennis, but he never really got into golf so no one in my family had any real experience of what you need to do.
From a young age a lot of what I did came from my dad. Although he didn’t play he used to read a lot of books about golf, but he also used to try and approach his teachings with me in a bit more outside the box way with certain things like technique, the way of thinking and strategizing about the game. It probably came from his own experience in tennis and things he’d read that he tried to put together, so it was my dad’s version of what he thought should happen.
It helped a lot and I’m now quite a meticulous person, especially when it comes to golf. A lot of what he taught me was about preparation, whether it was just practicing a given shot or tee shot. We would often stay on one hole for an hour just doing the same thing time and time again until I felt comfortable or it felt right, so even from a young age in junior tournaments I knew that’d I’d hit enough good shots in that situation to derive some confidence. I think that’s stayed with me through the years, and as a result I spend a lot of time out on the course just trying to get a feel for the misses, the good and bad spots and it all stems from that really.
It’s something I do every week, but I also think it’s important to spend time on the course to see how it’s playing. If my game is in a good place I like do my practice out on the course, and if I’ve played there before I’ll always bring my yardage book – and I make a lot of notes. If it’s playing similar then I can rely on notes I’ve made before but if it’s playing a bit different, the notes are starting a little bit more from scratch. This week is the perfect example of that.
"I have a load of numbers - it's my way of doing things. Then event time I'm doing the pins the night before, seeing the right areas, the right spots, times you can be aggressive, times to back off, it's really important for me."— The European Tour (@EuropeanTour) October 5, 2020
Rai explains his process.#ASISO #RolexSeries
My dad also helped install in me respect for my equipment. We were never from a particularly rich background, and my dad used to pay for my clubs – which were really expensive. He’d always get me the best clubs, and so it started off with him just cleaning the clubs with baby oil to tell me to respect it, then it ended up with me cleaning the clubs. I obviously don’t do that anymore, but the idea of looking after my clubs is where the iron covers I have came from.
I’m quite lucky that I work with Andy and Piers from Me & My Golf too, who I’ve known pretty much my whole life. I don’t even want to brand them as coaches because they are so much more to me than that. I’ve known Andy since I was about 4 years old and knew of Piers from a similar age, we all grew up in the same area. Andy used to work in the shop at the range I used to practice at so we used to have putting competitions in the pro shop, and practice a little bit on the short course even from when I was five, six years old.
Then they both did their PGA soon after, and then from the age of 11 they both coached me full time, so even before that kind of coaching relationship they were almost like mentors. It naturally evolved into coaching and they know my game inside out, but we have a great personal relationship as well which is more important. It’s rare to see nowadays because people seem to chop and change quite a lot, whether its coaches, physios or whatever it might be so it’s really nice about our setup because it goes beyond player and coach.
“It started when I was 8. I was given two gloves & got into the habit of wearing them. Then one day my dad forgot to put them both in the bag so I had to play with one. It was terrible. I couldn’t play, I couldn’t feel the grip, so it's two gloves ever since.”#ASIO #RolexSeries— The European Tour (@EuropeanTour) October 5, 2020
I’m really close to them, but I’m also really close to my family. I have two sisters and a brother, all of who are a lot older, so they always used to give me a lot of advice, and it was great growing up and still is now. I have quite an open relationship with one of my sisters where we just talk about a load of things, she feels like a best friend and a sister so it’s great to bounce ideas back and forth.
She’s great with the mental side of things, which really helped after losing out in Ireland. We had a long journey to Scotland, and I spoke both to my caddie and to her that evening, vocalising my thoughts rather than them staying in my head. I think that really helped me to embrace stop some of the disappointment festering into the Monday and Tuesday.
I don’t think my win in Scotland wouldn’t have happened without Ireland, either. It had been quite a long time since I’d been in that position, leading or being close to the lead, and I had to deal with that feeling of being in contention again. So by experiencing that in Ireland, regardless of finishing second, and then talking it through with her, helped me feel more settled in that situation again.
I think my relationship with my family is why my first win on the Challenge Tour in Kenya means so much to me. I think the scale of the tournament plays a role in how the public, and how I, interpret my success, because there’s a big gulf between a Rolex Series event and a victory on the Challenge Tour, but in terms of pure meaning to me, that first victory will always be special. I had my mum there, it was mother’s day, and it was also the first time she had been back in Kenya since she’d left as a young girl. It was also the culmination of all the support of people around me, and even at that point I felt like it was always something I would remember. It’s nice now to have perspective, and know after two wins on the European Tour the meaning for me hasn’t changed.
When I won last week, my immediate feeling was shock. You’re asked straight away how it feels and what it means but it really is hard to sum up. In my mind I was struggling for four and thought a really good result would just to be to extend the play-off, because Tommy was in such a good position. Even after making the putt I thought it was a given we’d be heading back to the tee, so that initial moment wasn’t the best feeling. I felt for him, because regardless of what he has achieved, I think as a golfer everyone can kind of relate to that.
It took a while, and probably only began to settle on the drive back to the Midlands. My caddie Jason and I spoke about the day, and a couple of moments, just how surreal it was, and it was actually nice to have that long drive just to reflect, and have that time to speak to friends and family.
I’m very proud, but I think the more than anything my wins have given me a lot of confidence about playing against the best in the game. I think it has to when you’re competing with these guys and winning events that they are playing in. At first it’s great just to feel comfortable in the environment, and it’s great now to feel comfortable that I can compete at the top of the leaderboard.
The majors are still a step away for me, but it’d be nice to play another one. I played in the 2017 U.S Open, and I don’t think I was ready and it happened a little too early for me to compete in an event like that. I’d only played a handful of events on the European Tour and it just felt like the gulf between the course set-up between the Challenge Tour and U.S. Open was huge. I tried to get there early and prepare as much as possible, but I didn’t have the shots, I didn’t have the length and I wasn’t good enough out of the rough. If I had that chance again there’s certain things I can adjust and prepare for, and I feel like I’m in a better position with my game now.