In this week’s Player Blog presented by Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Peter Hanson reflects on the last time the PGA Championship was held at Kiawah Island, how to deal with expectation versus reality, and returning after injury.
Kiawah is an amazing place, and one I’ll really miss not being able to go back to this year. Back in 2012, when we last were there, it was quite new on the Major calendar, having obviously previously held the Ryder Cup in 1991, but it was a fairly unknown to most of us – as it will be to a lot of players this week.
It’s an amazing setting in South Carolina, and I think there’s a reason why Europeans did so well back in 2012. In a way it’s sort of like a British links course because there are so many holes on the Ocean and the wind can really get up, but just with different turf. Maybe that’s why we all liked it, because it had that European feel. I think the weather probably helped us too that week, because those closing holes are monsters in windy conditions, which is what we had. On the first day it was very playable, then a front came in, the wind got up and it became very difficult. I remember the second day being incredible tough, then we had a weather delay, and I just managed to hang in there until Rory ran away with it on the last day.
I remember being so impressed by Rory, and it was amazing to see what he did when he got the grip of the tournament. He somehow just kept his foot down and did a similar thing to what he did at the U.S. Open the year before at Congressional while the rest of us battled for second place. I remember looking at the leaderboard on the back nine at Congressional thinking ‘Okay’, he kinda just took off and we had no chance.
I think that made it a little sweeter later that year when I beat him in China. At the time he was World Number One, had a year where he won the FedEx Cup and the Race to Dubai, so to be able to play him and beat him head-to-head when he was playing that good will always be a sweet, sweet memory for me.
That week at Kiawah was part of a really great year for me. It was a great Spring, coming close at Augusta, and then I had another couple of good events in the World Golf Championships. I had a little bit of a struggle in the middle then it picked up again towards the end, with Kiawah being one of the tournaments where I felt I was playing pretty good, winning the Dutch Open a couple of weeks before Medinah, and being part of that Ryder Cup team and then winning in China. Obviously, there was some disappointment at places like Augusta because I had the lead and it was the first Major I’d really contended at, but it goes over really quickly in the evening and the next day. You sit and realise it was a great week to build on, and at least you gave yourself a chance.
But Kiawah was also a great PGA Championship for us Europeans coming into Medinah. Rory played well, Ian Poulter played well, Justin Rose played well, I played pretty well, and it meant there were quite a few of the team who were all up there so it was a really nice way to see that bit of form coming into the Ryder Cup.
Medinah was amazing. Individually it wasn’t that great for me with the way I played and sitting out quite a bit, but it was still an amazing thing to be a part of. When I look back now though, I think experiencing that personal disappointment was my mistake. Coming into a Ryder Cup, playing the best golf of my life and feeling really prepared, the only thing I didn’t prepare myself mentally for was not getting to play. I should have had a plan about how to handle myself should I not get to play. Getting into my first Ryder Cup at Celtic Manor was a dream come true, but my expectations were different at my second Ryder Cup, because I was playing well and thought this is going to be great. Then obviously as a team we struggled so badly the first couple of days, which made it even harder to sit on the side-lines because you want to play. Looking back I should have prepared myself better for every situation in a Ryder Cup, and that all comes down to experience. If you talk to Lee Westwood or Ian Poulter, they’ll tell you that you have to be so sharp and prepared for anything that could happen, and I think if I had advice for future players in the Ryder Cup it would definitely be about handling your expectations.
We had great coaches and a great Captain in Olly, and they all tried to help me, but I’ve never been the best listener or that easy to coach, and I just think it was hard when your desire and expectations don’t match. Obviously all of that was long forgotten on Sunday, we all came in and fought hard, but it is something I look back on now as something to learn from and share with new guys.
I was also completely unprepared for my back injury at the start of 2013, because I was at the top of my game and it really came out of nowhere. It was a shock. I really didn’t think it was going to be that bad either, because until then I’d never withdrawn from a tournament or been injured before. Pretty much every part of my game was affected, and it really came down to wear and tear, and maybe swing technique. I also probably pushed myself too hard travel and playing without looking after my body with nutrition and recovery. But I thought I’ll have treatment, do rehab, get back to playing and it will be done – and it didn’t really work out that way. Physically I was in a lot of pain, but mentally it was really tough, and it took me a while to understand what I had and the level I played at was probably going to take a while to get back to, if I ever could. It’s hard to find balance when you go from constantly improving and moving up the rankings to getting an injury and going backwards, because it’s frustrating to accept the level you’re now at is different. And it took me a lot of time, because I always tried to rush back too quickly and then had to start all over again, to realise that I needed to work on strength in my core, and my rehab, and not hit that many balls.
As you get older, I’m turning 44 this year, that idea of expectation is what experience teaches you.
I’m trying to teach the young guys now a lot, and have been working a little bit with the Norwegian national team. There’s a lot of momentum for golf in Norway right now, and we’ve got a few great Swedish coaches helping too that have coached me, so it’s a great team of people. And if I can make them save a year on their performance with advice and help them grow even a year quicker than I did, that’s great.
You go through so many different phases of life as a professional golfer because of how many years you are out here, so those expectations and the decisions you make do change as you mature. For me, the first of those decisions was trying to get the best out of my game. We lived out in America at Lake Nona for a few years, because when you’re trying to play the game at the highest level and trying to beat the top 25 guys in the world, you need to put yourself in a place where you have great facilities every day when you wake up.
Then having kids also changed how we approached decisions. The best years of my life were when we could travel as a family with my wife and kids before they went to school, and it was an amazing time to share those experiences. It felt like living a normal life on the road, and my wife loved it too. But we decided to move back because we wanted to raise our kids in Sweden, so after I didn’t make it into the Olympic team, that’s what we decided to do.
And now, I’m starting to take those little baby steps away from professional golf. It’s just a little bit too far in the future for me to see that I can stay competitive as a professional for another five or six years and wait for the Legends Tour – it’s a little bit long of a gap not to be doing other things too. I’m involved in coaching, but I’m also helping out at a small level on a course in Sweden. This is the first course I’ve done a redesign project on, before that I’ve just done a few little things some practice areas and par three courses where I’ve helped a little bit, so I’m trying to learn a lot more about the fundamentals. My eye for seeing how a golf hole should look and be played I feel confident with, but I’ve still got a lot to learn about irrigation and soils.
But I still love to compete, and I’m really looking forward to playing to see if I have that level this year on the European Tour. I’ve got my starts, and I’m actually swinging the club freely and feel like my game is going the right direction.
My plan was initially to go to Spain earlier in the Spring to practice, but I lost my dad so ended up staying home for a little longer. He was my biggest supporter, we were very close. He taught me to play and was a pro himself for 35 years, so it’s been a big loss. I miss him dearly, and family is important to me, so I decided to wait and instead shake off some of the rust in the Canary Islands Swing. I’ve always been the first one to say if I’m not competitive I’m not going to play, so we’ll see after these 15 starts if I can get up competing then I’ll know I can be there.