In this week’s player blog presented by Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Andy Sullivan talks about tough reflections, a change in mind-set and returning to the winner’s circle.
As we start a new season and I look back on 2020, I think mindset is probably the biggest thing that has changed for me. In a way, COVID gave me the time I needed to think about things. It was really the first time in ten years that I’ve had a long time to sit and reflect, and it forced me to realise that there was a lot I needed to change on and off the course about myself.
It’s the hardest thing in the world, realising how you are around other people isn’t how you want to be. Just before lockdown I played in Qatar, and I performed terribly that week. I let my caddie down, and I let my team around me down. I was being snappy and arrogant in how I reacted to information that was getting fed my way, and they aren’t nice traits to have or to be around. I’ve always considered myself a happy-go-lucky guy, and so when I had that time to think about how I had treated people, it really hurt me to admit that I wasn’t acting as the nice guy I thought I was.
I was sitting on how badly behaved I was in Qatar, and I had a long, long time to think about it. I spoke to my psychologist quite a lot through the COVID period, and it helped me start making a conscious effort to change how I was reacting to people around me, and to things on the golf course. I wanted to change, I didn’t want to keep letting people down because I didn’t want to step up and play at times. I think a lot of that is just growing up and being less immature, too. As you get older you do change, and it got to that point where I couldn’t be the person that I was being.
My team and I have a group chat and owning up to everything with them was honestly the hardest message I’ve ever sent. It’s not the nicest thing when you are constantly apologising for how you’ve been, and it was really difficult, but in our team we have a live and die by the sword mentality, and I wanted to stop letting myself down, and by consequence them down.
But being brutally honest, that time to reflect probably saved me, and my ability to play longer on this Tour, because if I had kept going down the road I was on I was ready to call it a day. I was unhappy, I wasn’t enjoying golf, and I thought I would rather be doing something else that I enjoy than come out here and be miserable about everything. So the break in the schedule really came at the right time to refocus me, and from that point on my mindset completely changed.
A lot of that was about attitude. I used to constantly think, “If I play well I’ve got a chance this week”, but now my expectations are ones I can control – like routine and process. Once that ball is in the air you don’t have control over it anymore, and for a long period of time I thought I did, which is mad.
But that’s not to say shifting my mentality has been a quick fix. There are still times on the golf course where I want to let loose or break something, but I’ve got a lot more control over myself and my thoughts, and I’ve put in a lot of hard work with Lee Crombleholme. He has been amazing, because as much as I’ve taken it on, he’s also been in my ear every week, and every so often I still need that little reality check.
I’ve also focused on improving my game, and I feel like I’m working harder than I’ve ever worked because I’m enjoying that process of becoming better. I’ve worked with Mike Kanski for the last two years on my putting, and it’s the area where the biggest improvement still needs to come. But my appetite for being better is so much bigger now, and in December when I normally take time off, I was working with Mike. I want to be better, learn why I wasn’t so good at something, and it has helped because I’m getting a lot more happiness seeing results on an area I’ve worked on, than focusing on being a certain number under par.
Made some good changes and improvements in a week thanks to mike Kanski the ledge pic.twitter.com/7sN42r6HXG— Andy Sullivan (@andysulligolf) January 2, 2021
I think it would have been naïve to think there would be instant impact, and I really didn’t expect things to happen so quickly on the course. My goal was to be mentally in a state where I could compete by Abu Dhabi, and in a way it took a lot of pressure off results.
Winning at Hanbury Manor was a bonus. It had been such a long time since I’d won, and it was just a week where I played out of my skin, I putted really well, and I had bits of luck. What I will say is that anyone who says they sleep on a five shot lead is an absolute liar because I slept terribly, but I think the one thing that came out of that week was how much I enjoyed it. I felt confident and in control of myself, and it was nice knowing that if anyone did get close to me I could press on. I played for a long time without having that confidence, and clarity between my ears, and it was nice to get that back. I had a smile on my face the whole time, and it was just like me and Rids (my caddie Thomas Ridley) playing around and having banter, and that’s when I know I’m playing my best.
It’s funny though, because as amazing as that week was, I think my most impressive performances last season were the ones where I’ve not been close to my best, because I was less worried about results and knew I could accept challenges thrown at me. That’s a big change in me, because in the past things might have been going well and I’d end up 15th because I was holding myself back mentally, whereas last year I squeezed out a lot of top tens.
Having said that, my victory meant a lot to my family, and to my fiancé. Losing my brother in law two years ago has been tough. It’s still tough now to think about and we all miss him dearly, and he was really on my mind that day. When I hit my tee shot on 17, I knew I was going to win. The whole way down that hole I was thinking about him and things we’ve done, or him holding my little boy. It was really emotional, and so when I pointed at the sky it felt the right thing to do, just to say that one is for you big boy. I know he’s looking down and will be proud of what I’ve done.
Family is so important to me, and this year has made me realise that I want to be able to look back and say to my children I gave the game everything I could. I want to set a good example for them. Right now my son is all about golf, and it’s important to me he also sees me enjoy it. He’s two years old, and every time I come home he wants to go and play, and it takes me back to my childhood and the fond memories I have of me and my dad. In Dubai earlier this year we were at the Els Club and there were so many kids playing and practicing, and it was just so refreshing to see, because those memories of being young and playing are memories I’ll hold forever. Whatever my son does I’ll support him, but at the moment it’s just golf, golf, golf, and it’s amazing to see him enjoy it.
I’ve also realised how easy it is to take this life for granted because you’ve earned a lot of money, you’re travelling the world and have a great life. I wouldn’t say it’s been tough for me since 2015 because I’ve been pretty consistently around the top 60 in the Race to Dubai, but you also can’t experience the highest highs without experiencing lows. When I got to 28th in the Official World Golf Rankings I thought those days would last forever, but they don’t, and it was difficult to accept that. You can’t rest on your laurels out here because there’s always someone else ready to knock you off your perch. It also took me a long time to realise that the reason I was playing well and winning five years ago was because I was enjoying the game, and being competitive, rather than enjoying it because I was winning. Because of that, I spent too long focusing on kissing trophies rather than on things I could control – and last year woke me up to that.
I want to achieve as much as I can in the game, and I do want to get back to where I was before in the World Rankings. All I’m doing now is trying to think about how close I can get to those goals, and I’m motivated by working hard to do that. I think stats are the only way to measure that, so I constantly measure against myself and the best players in the world. Obviously The Ryder Cup is on my radar – it’s truly the best event in the world and I had a brilliant experience in 2016 – but for me to make it there would be a hell of an achievement, and my priority right now is focusing on just getting better.
I took my foot off the gas for part of my career, but you’ve got to learn from your mistakes and move on, and that’s what refocusing in 2020 has helped me do.