In this week’s Player Blog presented by Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Brandon Stone discusses the importance of being able to adapt, how the past year has changed his relationships for the better, and convincing his caddie out of retirement.
You always want to get the year off to a good start, so I was delighted with my result in Dubai last week. From my entire professional career on the European Tour we have always started in the Middle East so the emphasis on starting the year well has always been there. Both Abu Dhabi Golf Club and Emirates have been golf courses I’ve enjoyed in the past, and I’ve enjoyed the atmosphere and prestige of the events and strength of fields. In Abu Dhabi I played quite consistently and then fell off the boil in the first few holes of the second round and I wasn’t able to claw it back, so I ended up missing the cut.
I spent hours working on Saturday and Sunday trying to get my confidence back as I had felt really good going into Abu Dhabi and then mentally what happened on the Friday shook me up. It obviously paid dividends because I felt fantastic last week, all week. I played some of the best golf I’ve played in many, many months. I came up just short, but Paul Casey played some exceptional golf and to finish second, in the second event of this season gives me something to build on for the rest of the season and it motivates you to strive to get better.
In the bubble, it’s a little bit more restrictive so you don’t get to decompress in the same way. You can’t go out for dinner with the guys or go to the beach. We know what we are in for though. Three weeks of golf course, hotel, golf course and yes, it’s not ideal, but at the same time it is the same for every one of us, so the person who can adapt the most and embrace it is going to perform better. I actually ended up buying a gaming PC and I have been playing Call of Duty with my mates back in South Africa as my release instead of going for dinner. You have to have that as a professional sportsman. I think it is working and paying dividends because I had a fantastic week last week, and I’m trying to improve on it again this week in Saudi and do well again.
I had never gamed at all prior to buying this PC. I was absolutely shocking at any means of gaming – PC, PlayStation, even mobile games on my phone. The only thing I really got into was Candy Crush. During lockdown I actually bought the gaming PC to play the TrackMan and play some of the golf courses, but when the golf courses reopened in South Africa I deleted all the software and downloaded Call of Duty so whenever I travel I can just plug it in and start playing with my mates. It’s quite surreal as it makes me feel like I’m sitting at home and playing with the boys. It’s so interactive and you are part of a team. You get to vent some frustrations on a game which you might have wanted to do on the course, or to your caddie, so it’s a great way to decompress.
The world is so connected these days, which really helps in the current situation. If the pandemic had happened 25 years ago, I think there would have been a lot more guys sitting in a dark corner hitting their heads against the wall. We live in an age when technology has afforded us the opportunity to speak and communicate with our loved ones on a daily basis via FaceTime or WhatsApp. Once I go to work at a tournament, I usually tend to remove myself from my friends, so previously I wouldn’t talk to them that much during events, because it is work.
Now I find myself communicating with those friends a lot more. During lockdown, you miss them and that camaraderie. You miss the energy you get from them because you have handpicked them to be your closest inner circle. So, I’ve been speaking to them a lot more and my wife a lot more. Sometimes I would go two or three days not speaking to her before because you spend so much time practising and then you go to dinner, to the gym and then to bed. There was no time to communicate with anyone. Now, I will spend 30-40 minutes each night speaking to my wife. She loves it and obviously I love to speaking to her as much as I can. It has evolved our relationship. So there are positives and negatives in the current situation. Would I love to go to our sports bar now and watch Man United v Liverpool? Of course I would. Is that a reality in February 2021? No. So it is important you adapt. You have to come to terms with it, whether its playing Call of Duty, or watching Netflix, or doing Yoga in your room. Who ever adapts the best, does the best.
You have to make peace with the bubble, because it is not going away anytime soon. This pandemic will not define my career. Whether this goes on for the rest of 2021, or into 2022 or 2023, this will not define my career because my career will go on longer than that. So I am going to make the most out of whatever comes my way. I feel very lucky that I can still leave my hotel room, walk on to my holy grail which is a golf course and do what I love on a daily basis. There are some people who are not in that fortunate position. They’ve lost their jobs because of the economic crisis. They’ve lost their jobs to this virus and they’ve lost loved ones to this virus. If I’m ever feeling down, I remind myself about the position of privilege I’m in right now. Last week I won €350,000 doing something I love, in a time when thousands of people are losing their jobs, so if you go home and you aren’t content with that, there is something fundamentally wrong with you and you need to take a long hard look in the mirror. The first thing I had to come to terms with is how privileged we are. So I won’t let the pandemic, or the bubble, define my career, I will choose how to define what it means to me. You can learn a lot about yourself from how you respond to a situation like this.
If 2020 taught me anything, it is different mechanisms for dealing with things when they go wrong. We are dealing with things all the time at the moment coming from South Africa, whether it is travel issues, passport issues, visa issues. Things have happened in the last 18 months that have never happened for centuries, so you simply have to adapt and get on with it. It’s a bit like golf itself. If you let two or three bogeys define a tournament, I’m sorry but you are not going to be consistent or performing at the top because every single player on the planet goes through a rough patch.
Last week in Dubai, I was three over through five holes on Thursday. I was three over through six in the final round on Sunday when in contention to win the tournament and I finished solo second. Your bad things don’t determine the outlook of a tournament, or anything else, it is how you deal with it. I think I had adapted the best I could. Last year I had the most top 20s I’ve ever had in a season. This year, I’m the highest I’ve been on the Race to Dubai at the end of January. You take that and build from that position.
We might not be celebrating a victory this evening, but we sure are celebrating a successful week 😁 🇦🇪 Super proud of our performance this week, one we will build on for the rest of the season. Onto Saudi Arabia week go ... pic.twitter.com/jpFGN3SgT3— Brandon Stone (@BrandonMStone) January 31, 2021
I have managed to convince one of my best friends, Teagan Moore, to come out of ‘retirement’ to caddie for me. He caddied for me in 2018, when I had my best year by far on Tour. I won the Scottish Open, which is a Rolex Series event and had a few other top tens, including a Major, and I finished the Race to Dubai in 25th position. I sat down with him at the end of that season and said: “There are two sides to my emotion right now. Firstly, I believe you are the best caddie in the world for me. You know what to say to me and when not to say anything to me. But on the other side of the spectrum, I know your dream is to play professional golf yourself. As a friend I cannot make that decision for you. I need you to spend the next two weeks deciding and whatever you decide, I will support you, but one half of me will be happy, and one half will be upset.” So he sat down with his family, took those two weeks, and came to the conclusion he had the finances to give himself the opportunity to live his dream. So one side of me was delighted for him, and one side was gutted I didn’t have my soul mate caddie with me. He went and played Sunshine Tour Qualifying and MENA Tour and it just didn’t pan out. Come the latter part of 2020, he was stuck in South Africa, COVID had taken away the MENA Tour and he didn’t know what he wanted to do.
My caddie at the time was approached by a different player which fitted him better, so I sent him my best and so I mentioned to Teagan about caddying for me at the South African events and DP World Tour Championship. So we did those four and it was like we’d never skipped a beat. Cycles were in sync and it was like we were two years prior. So he has made the decision to join me full time and I think he is a better caddie now for having played professionally himself. Teagan’s strengths are short game and putting, whereas mine are ball striking and driving. So he drills me in practice on what he is good at because that’s where he gets his energy, and now I’m doing more short game and last week in Dubai I was in the top 20 in strokes gained around the green, which is the first time I’ve ever had that, so we’re hoping to keep building on that success.
South African golf is in a great place at the moment. There was massive shift about five or six years ago with the GOLF RSA programme. The success at amateur level they’ve seen is ridiculous. So when I’m asked the question, do you think there will be a few players coming through in the next couple of years, my answer is no, I see tonnes. I’m 27 now and I see these 16 year olds and think I need to make some money before you guys are out there. There are so many good young players already on Tour as well. The community within the South African boys is amazing. You have guys like Ernie Els, Charl Schwartzel, Louis Oosthuizen have always been these father figures to guys coming up and now I feel my role shifting. I was that young guy and I see guys like Garrick Higgo and Wilco Nienaber gravitating to me in that role. So I’m trying to set an example to them. It’s such a nice group of boys out here and it has obviously been different with COVID but when that passes we will be so strong because we have been longing for that interaction. You want to be around your people. There will be a lot more boys coming through in the next few years and competing on the global stage, competing for Majors, and the sky is the limit. That pushes you.
I played with Garrick the first two rounds at Wentworth last year and thinking that’s probably the most mature player I’ve seen at that age in a long time. The way he conducted himself, the way he played the course and assessed everything. And that was his first season out. I thought, this boy can play and he is here to dominate, and that is motivating as I can’t let him pass me. I’ve got a target on my back as these young guys have been watching me play on Tour and win tournaments and now they want to beat me. It’s so refreshing because I remember looking at Charl, Louis, Branden Grace, Richard Sterne in that manner. Competition breeds excellence. It will either make or break you.