This week I was competing on the MENA tour in its first event of the Thailand swing. The venue was Banyan Golf Club in Hua Hin, maybe 2-3 hours drive south of Bangkok. This course is brilliant, a true test of gritty golf with an Asian kick to it. As a previous host on the Asian Tour, it definitely showed its teeth this week as the winning score was only -6 and baring in mind the top two players were Thai natives. I can only imagine the playing conditions are very similar to playing at Augusta but at not such a pristine level. The course is cut out the Hua Hin mountains and shaped into the valley. Very up and down with steep banks to hit from and into. The undulations on the tees, fairways and greens meant you never found a flat lie to hit from. Many of the greens are like upturned saucers with some naughty run off areas to catch you out if you don’t hit it in the right spots. The stimp of the greens this week was 11, but the severe slopes meant that anything downhill or across the greens weren’t for the faint hearted! In addition to the course set up we had to battle with the wind! The club members call it the Banyan wind, theres no general direction to it, they say it swirls and circles off the towering mountains, you could be downwind one shot and then into wind the next, this made shot selections and distance judging super difficult. High winds, fast greens, a long course and 40 degree heat with 90% humidity, what more could you want from a tournament!
Like the last minute person I am, I hadn’t booked any accommodation until the few days before and usually I share with a couple of guys on the tour, but everyone was shared up leaving me on my own. I booked into an Air Bnb just at the bottom of the road from the club, in an elderly Thai couples house, they spoke very little English if any! However they were lovely and looked after me, fed me in the mornings, washed my clothes and drove me to the golf course every day. Cheap and cheerful and probably better than staying in a hotel.
Funny story. So because communication went about as far as Hi, and Kob Kun Ka (thank you), I didnt spend much time at the Air Bnb, instead I hung out with 3 other players who had their own villa for the week a bit closer to the golf club. Adam (who I’m travelling to China with) is a legend, a proper character on the tour and one of my good mates. So his friend has who owns this villa just up the road, let them stay there with two other lads, Oscar the Swede and Karl the Aussie. After the boys dropped me off at about 9:30pm on the Friday at my Air Bnb they went to look for their place. After driving up numerous dirt roads in the dark, they didn’t find it until 10:30pm. Adams friend had left the keys in the complex office because he was away, however the office wasn’t open until 4 days later after the public holiday weekend. So they turned up at the gates and told the guard on duty the house number, “7”. The guard handed the keys over without question and showed them to the villa. The villa was brand new, fully furnished with wifi and TV etc. Anyway 2 days later after the practice round we’re eating lunch outside on the terrace, that Adam cooked, after relaxing in the pool and playing Fifa on the playstation. His friend called and said he hadn’t heard anything from the complex about us picking up the keys and getting into the house, strange? Adam then went on to ask “why there isn’t any clothes or food in the house belonging to his mate”. He replied saying “there there should be wardrobes full and food in the fridge and cupboards??” Strange. His mate then asked “what the house number we were staying in was?”. Adam replied “7”. His mate then replied saying “where the hell are you? I don’t live in number 7, I live in number 59?!” It turned out we were in the completely wrong villa, in the completely wrong complex. We then found a booklet on the kitchen worktop titled, “Welcome new tenants”. Uh Oh! We stayed there 2 days, used the pool, slept in the beds, used the wifi, cooked food in the kitchen?! “Why not stay another night” Adam said. They packed up the next day and found the new villa even further down the round after the first round of the tournament. It was awkwardly mischievous but hilarious at the same time. Adam went on to miss the cut, and wake up under a pool table in a lady boy bar the following morning.
Anyway, back to the golf.
I like early tee times and 8:10 was perfect especially to get out early and finish the round before the peak of the heat, humidity and wind. I’d played solid in the practice rounds and was striking the ball well. The warmup to the first round was super strange. The range was very narrow and like a sun trap with no wind, you could only hit balls for 10 minutes before being covered head to toe in sweat. I was fluffing my routine pitch shots, shanking irons shots and topping my 3 wood, 30 minutes before I was about to tee off! Im not one to get worried during my warm up if I don’t hit every shot perfect, its funny, the worse I hit it during warming up the better I play on the course. I shrugged it off as the sweatiness and slippiness from the humidity. 6 holes in I’m not hitting it much better but I’m 3 under par, I was quite beside myself, a little in self doubt as to how this was happening. In the back of my mind the shanks from the warm up were always there and it was inevitable. On the 7th hole from the middle of the fairway I piped a 9 iron straight into the bushes on the right, lost ball. I dropped another and got up and down for a good bogey. The rest of the round didn’t go much better after that. I dropped a few more shots and gained a few more back with out of the blue birdies. Level par for the round was OK. I didn’t play good but got it round and was only 5 shots off the lead. Afterwards I was trying to figure out why I had hit the ball so bad. Then it hit me. There was a reason I felt a foot taller, and so loose and supple. A valuable lesson was learned that afternoon. Never have a Thai massage the day before a tournament.
After Round 1’s mishaps I had grooved it out on the range in the blistering heat and found my swing. I like the flight the ball neutral, as a natural drawer of the golf ball, I have to feel like I’m fading it to balance out the ball flight. I was flushing it in the warmup, rhythm, tempo and flare boosted confidence heading to the 1st tee. Today I was teeing off at 12:30 (after an early draw your usually drawn in the afternoon the following day). The wind was up! Gusting hard! I’d seen a few scores from the earlier tee times and they were similar to the previous day, so I had the mindset anything under par would get me back in the tournament. We started on the back 9, I was playing with former England Cricketer Craig Kieswetter, who started out on fire! Par Birdie Birdie Birdie Hole in 1! I was 2 over at the turn after a silly mistake on the green of 16, playing solid though with plenty of chances still out there. I came off the golf course finished at +2 for the tournament and 8 shots back of the leader. 9 pars on my back 9 in what can only be described as being in the ring with Mike Tyson for 12 rounds. The wind picked up and started gusting like mad. On the 2nd hole, 180 yard par 3, I hit 8 iron short of the green where as Craig hit his 8 iron over the green, the wind was all over the shop! The shortest putt I had for birdie must have been 30ft, it was so difficult to get the ball near to the hole so I opted to play defensively and play to the middle of the greens in the hope my pace putting was suffice. It was, and my holing out even better. I knew it would be a grind and that other players would be falling away in the windy conditions so I hung in there and ground it, ready to go again and attack the following day!
Another early tee time and I was out with a Local Thai player by the nickname, Ken. He wore trousers with flames printed on them, and ironically he was literally on fire at one point in the round! Today I was flushing it, I had sorted my driver out with a few adjustments to loft and weight transfers, which meant I was carrying the ball higher and further. I was -2 after 11 holes a silly 3 putt from 15 feet on the par 5 12th knocked all my momentum out the window. A bogey up the next due to a rather naughty pin placement (I was in the middle of the fairway, 100 yards from the flag but had to slice a gap wedge to even get the ball anywhere near the green, yeah, don’t ask). A birdie back on 15 got me under par again but the 210 yard par 3 17th hole caught me out. Frustration kicked in on 18 when I hit pitching wedge 190 yards, long of the green. I chipped up and holed the 8ft par putt, after burying my wedge into the rough. How I hadn’t shot under par in this tournament I’ll never know but anyway its done. Lessons learnt and onto the next one.
To finish +2 and Tied for 26th place was a little disappointed because I know where I should be. I don’t just turn up to tournaments now to play and see how I get on, my mindset has changed and now every time I tee it up, I play to win. Even though my games not firing on all cylinders I still believe I can win with my B game. 6 under won the tournament, the simplify it thats just -2 each day…
At the minute I’m back in a hotel in Bangkok hanging out before waiting to catch a flight to China early Saturday morning. The airline is called Lucky Air, so fingers crossed I get there safe haha. Next week I’m competing in China Tour Qualifying School, in a place called Kunming. Ive never been to China and heard good things about it, especially the Tour, I’m really looking forward to it as its a new place, a new tour! I like putting myself out of my comfort zone and the challenge of the unknown so bring it on. If you want to find any information about the tour here is the link (You can’t search it on google because China has blocked google):
Hope you all have a great weekend!
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