In this week’s Player Blog presented by Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Antoine Rozner discusses the route to his maiden victory on the European Tour ahead of his DP World Tour Championship Dubai debut
It means a lot to me to be playing at the DP World Tour Championship this week. My goal at the start of my rookie season was to get here and I knew it was going to be tough to get to play the bigger events, so to be able to accomplish a goal and see all that hard work pay-off is very gratifying.
You know, golf is such a frustrating sport. We’re pretty much frustrated every week in this game, and when you are able to win, it’s like all of that frustration goes away in a second. I didn’t get into any of the other Rolex Series events this season, and it was very frustrating for me because I felt like I was playing well and my results were good but I wasn’t getting a chance to play at that level. To qualify for the biggest tournament of the year by winning last week is a big thing. It’s the best feeling in the world. I’ve been watching this tournament on TV for so long, and I’m now just excited to see how it goes and how my game is at this level.
I knew I was playing well leading up to the event, but my win last week in Dubai was still unexpected. The way I played, nine under the opening round and eight under in the final round, was just really solid, but I still didn’t know if I was going to be able to get it done.
I only found out I was leading on the 18th, and I don’t think I will ever forget sharing that moment of standing with my caddie Darren, realising I had won when Andy Sullivan didn’t hole the bunker shot to force a play-off. It was just such a big moment for me, one I think I’ll remember forever.
That final approach shot I hit to 18, for the quality and because of its importance, was probably the best – and biggest – shot of my career so far. It was actually funny because I was using a new 3-iron that I’d only decided to put in play last week. I’d changed it because I had been using a blade and thought under pressure it was too hard to hit so I changed it for a face that was bigger and easier to hit, so I’m pretty glad I put it in play.
The feeling of winning my first Challenge Tour event last year and my first European Tour event this year was actually quite similar. A win is a win and is tough to do, no matter where you play, and both were really huge for my confidence.
When I started last season on the Challenge Tour I was playing some of the best golf I’ve ever played, and I really took advantage of it. I was surfing a wave, and I ended up winning two times in the first three events, so it was a pretty nice wave. The first was my first victory as a professional, and I holed out on the 15th on the final day of my first victory, which is a shot I’ll remember for a very long time. To win again at the next event in Spain was a massive dream come too, because it helped lead me to earn my European Tour card for the first time - which just felt like the completion of all the hard work I’d put in.
So much of golf is about working hard, no matter if you play well or badly, and believing in what you are doing. I’m lucky my family have always been very supportive of my choice to be a professional. Golf has always been a big thing in the family, and they really gave me brother and I our love for the game. My grandparents started the game, and then my mother and her two brothers got into the game, and my brother Oliver and I both started playing when we were young.
I think because we all played, golf was just a natural choice for me, but I actually also played field hockey for nine years until I was 15 years old too. It was pretty convenient for practice because the hockey field was by the golf course, and I spent a lot of weekends growing up playing hockey games on Saturdays and golf tournaments on Sundays. In the end I had to stop to do golf full time because it got too hard to play both, and golf was just the natural one to focus on for me.
By the time I was 18, after high school, I wasn’t good enough yet to turn professional, so I’ll always be grateful for my coach that he recruited me to play at the University of Missouri Kansas City. When I went to America I didn’t really know what to expect, but I had four of the best years of my life there. I decided to go because felt like I needed some studies but I also didn’t want to stop playing golf, and it was there that I really just started to play a lot better. I won a few events and my world ranking as an amateur got higher so I thought that this is what I want to do with my life, and I’ll give it a try.
My brother helped me a lot when I first decided to turn pro. He played as a professional for seven years, which included on the Challenge Tour for a few years. We didn’t really play that much together in teams growing up and only a little as professionals on the Challenge Tour, but he really helped me discover new places, and get used to the world of professional golf. He’s actually here with me this week in Dubai, and it’s really nice to be able to share this experience with him together during my rookie year.
It’s hard to summarise my first season on the European Tour, but I think the play-off loss at the start of season in Mauritius gave me a lot of strength. I remember crying a lot that day because I was very exhausted, it was the last event of the year, and it had been a long and stressful season on the Challenge Tour. When the play-off finished I got very emotional, but when I look back it also gave me a lot of strength and confidence about belonging. It was only my second European Tour start, and it was a good confirmation for me that I had the level to compete on this Tour. That my place was here. It was a really tough loss, but in other ways that week was very good going forward for my confidence.
I ended up making every cut until the season stopped. It’s tough because you want to play those beautiful courses you’ve seen on TV, and I was a bit scared when lockdown happened that my game wouldn’t be at the same level when we came back. That was my big worry, because in Paris it was very strict and there was no way to practice, but I do think with my team we did a great job getting prepared for the restart. The European Tour did such an amazing job to allow us to compete too, and I’ll be forever grateful that we were given the chance to get back to work.
Then to win, and to make it to Dubai, was achieving a goal. I’d say my next short-term goal is to try to get inside the top 100 in the Official World Golf Ranking. I looked this morning and I’m 123rd, which is my highest, but I’d love to be able to set a goal of getting inside the top 100, or the top 50, to be able to get more opportunities to play in WGC’s and the Majors. Augusta is a dream, and has always been a dream, but I think it may become a goal shortly.
The Ryder Cup is definitely a goal for me, too. I went there every single day in Paris and was on the first tee on the first day at 5:30 in the morning, just watching everyone and taking in the spirit and the atmosphere, which were unbelievable. I found it so inspirational to see all of these guys get together and all play towards the same goal, when most weeks golf is such an individual sport. Because I played hockey I know a lot about what it’s like to play for different guys, the different energy you have when you aren’t just playing for yourself, and I love that, so hopefully one day I can get into a team. That’s a dream for me.