Playing off scratch without a single lesson. Using golf as an escape after his mother’s death. Competing in The Open with a torn shoulder. Marcus Armitage tells his remarkable story in this week’s Player Blog presented by Enterprise Rent-A-Car.
I’m still not sure how I got in to golf. I lived on a farm growing up – a non-working farm – and although my dad never played golf, he had a rug and carpet business for 40 years and this guy owed him some money. So, he went round to get it but ended up coming back with this guy’s golf clubs because he didn’t have the money to pay my dad. The clubs were just sat in our garage, so I went to get them out and I don’t know how or why I did it, but I just interlocked my grip when I grabbed hold of the club. I remember hitting my first shot; a seven iron off a bit of a rough lie and I just hit it arrow straight. Flush. I can remember that shot like it was yesterday. I can remember where it went in the field and everything. From that shot, I was just like ‘what has just hit me?’
My dad wouldn’t take me to a golf club at first, because my mum was ill, and he didn’t have much spare time. My mum kept telling him to take me to a golf club, but my dad’s image of a golf club wasn’t like you could just walk in and play, it was that you had to be a member and memberships cost thousands. He eventually took me to Oldham Golf Club and when I got there, their Junior Open was on and I think it was £5 to enter. My dad asked if we could just pay and play and explained that we’d never been on a golf course before, but the guy on the desk suggested I should just enter the competition. He asked what my handicap was, and we were like ‘what is a handicap?’. I hit a couple of balls in front of him and he couldn’t believe it. This guy was called John Beverly and he gave me an 18 handicap for that one day and I ended up coming tied first. They had to give the trophy to this other kid because I wasn’t official. After the competition, John Beverley asked me to join the club and offered to pay for my first year’s membership.
In 2001, I lost my mum to cancer. March the tenth, 2001. I stopped going to school. I don’t know how my dad got away without getting a fine because of it. I just stopped going to school. I left at 13 and never went back. The only place that I could go and focus was on the practice ground. In a classroom, I was just sat thinking about my mum dying. On the practice ground, all I was focused on was hitting a golf ball. Golf was an escape for me.
I got to scratch or plus one without even having any lessons. After I started having lessons I played for the county Lancashire in England, and I won the Lancashire Boys competition. After that I had a poor amateur career, let’s get that right. I turned professional and played on mini tours. In 2009 I played on a tour called the Players Tour and I won the Order of Merit by double the money of the guy in second place.
At the start of 2010 I got injured, and that’s when I went off track. Everyone’s probably heard the stories. There’s a big gap between 2010 and 2013 where I didn’t play golf. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t change any part of my life because who I am today has been crafted through everything that has happened. Obviously, I’d not lose my mum if I could, but those three years I had out of the game, I wouldn’t change it because I am who I am now.
I lost my driving licence in 2013, but it was the best thing that happened to me. What my dad did when my mum died was take me to Oldham Golf Club, drop me off at eight o’clock in the morning and pick me up at six o’clock at night, so all I did was practice. So when I lost my licence, my dad started driving me around again. I was really lucky because my dad had stopped working on the markets and had nothing to do. It was just me and my dad again, for a good year or a year-and-a-half. At the end of 2013 I started working with Anthony Sheehy. That’s when I saw things change. I lost a load of weight in the winter of 2013 – I think I lost five stone – and in 2014 I felt like a piece of spaghetti. There was nothing to me.
In 2015 everything really changed. The year before had been a difficult one for me, but in 2015 I won twice on the EuroPro and then I got on the Challenge Tour. I was nowhere and then I got onto the European Tour after winning in China. I went from driving round the UK and winning two EuroPro events to 13 months later playing on the Challenge Tour, then earning a European Tour card. That’s a massive change. I had a rough first year but then I finished second in Ireland and won in China and suddenly I’m on the European Tour. I was like ‘woah, what is going on here?’. It’s like a whirlwind that surrounds you when you get on Tour. If you just do the really simple things and don’t make any noise, then you’ve got more chance of success.
During my first season on Tour I lost my card but I did qualify for The Open – it was just a shame I had to play with a torn shoulder! Ten days before The Open, I had decided to go indoor skydiving. It was quite pointless really because I’ve already done a tandem skydive from 12,000 feet, so I don’t know why I went in a wind tunnel. I ripped my shoulder clean out of the socket and it was out for two hours. I went to see Poora Singh, one of the physios on the Challenge Tour, and he said, ‘you’re not playing in The Open next week’ and I responded, ‘yes I am, you watch me. I’ll go with half a swing’. And that’s exactly what I did. I played The Open with half a swing and missed the cut. I shot 69 on the second day with half a swing. I was gutted. I played a nine-hole practice round with Tommy Fleetwood. I’ve known Tommy since we were juniors; me, Tommy, Jack Senior, Matt Baldwin, Matt Nixon, we’re all Lancashire lads. Tommy thought I was winding him up on the first tee when I gave it the half a swing with the driver. I played a few holes with Rory and Erik van Rooyen and I was just gutted. I was gutted because I thought it had taken me so long to qualify for such a great event and I’ve done this. I was gutted. At the time, I wasn’t in the mindset that I am now. I was thinking it’s one Open, this is it for the rest of your life. That’s absolute madness.
I had a poor 2019 with no sponsors, no money, and I left my coach. I just had a mental, bashing year on the Challenge Tour. It was a rollercoaster year and I was playing on and living off credit cards. I had just bought a house with my fiancé Lucy, so she’s been brilliant. We’ve had a crazy journey together where she almost moved to Costa Rica before we got together but I told her how I felt and she decided to stay and we’ve been together ever since. It was a tough year for her last year. Halfway through the year I got back together with Anthony and he sorted me out. Within five shots I was back to hitting it fantastically again. But it wasn’t complete. The game was there, but my mind wasn’t right. It was smashed because I had no credit and no help. I was going it alone. Life put me in certain situations and I honestly believed I was going back to the EuroPro.
For Qualifying School I went and got my old caddie Gary Edwards back. I also started working with a mental coach Duncan McCarthy. Duncan and I have been working on and off for ten years and he and Anthony have been so important in my career. I knew if I had Gary and Duncan back I had a chance. I was proved right as I went and got my card back. Relief. I’ve just stripped everything back and doing it the right way. After Leopard Creek, I went back home and met a couple of guys who are going to help me out and give me a bit of sponsorship. I can just go out and play golf purely for the enjoyment of it. I don’t have to worry about money, I don’t have to worry about the house. It’s unbelievable how much it helps you live your life. Your worries will always jump to other things but you just have to remind yourself what really matters.
When I first got on Tour, I had the mindset of ‘you’re only here once so you better enjoy it’. This time I’m thinking, unless something happens to me physically, I’m still going to be here in 30 years trying to make it. If I don’t make it this year, I’m going to be trying for the next 20 or 30 years. It’s what I do. I think this time, I’m not scared of doing what I want to do. I’m not waiting around for people for practice rounds, not waiting around for people for food, I’m just focused on what’s best for me. If friends are on the tee when I want to play, of course I’ll play with them, but I’m doing what’s best for me. If someone says they might join me for a practice round but I’m ready before them, I’ll play on my own. I’m playing when I’m ready. I have no problem with that. That is something I learned from Matt Nixon. When he was on Tour, he always used to do what he wanted to do. It’s a maturity thing. Whether you hit ten balls or 500 balls like Vijay Singh, it doesn’t matter. You just have to know what you’re doing and what works for you, but I think you need a bit of time on Tour to work that out. It’s tough for young kids coming through because they might not have got to that point in their lives yet, but they will.
This year, my goal is to win a small European Tour event so that gives me full status and I can play what I want next year. I’d like to win a small event, get into the top 50 in the Race to Dubai and get into the DP World Tour Championship at the end of the year. It would be nice to have a win under my belt, that would be a dream year.