China Tour Qualifying School

Hello guys!

Hope your all well and having a great week!

This week I was in China, near Kunming City at a golf course called Wind Valley, trying to qualify to play on the China Tour.  The Tour is relatively new and it was linked with the PGA tour last year.  Purses of up to $500,000 arn’t the main attractions as there is a European tour card up for grabs and Asian Tour Co-Sanction events to play for.  The course lived up to its name as it was definitely in set in a valley (more on the side of a mountain) and it was definitely very windy!  36 holes carved out of the side of the Kunming Mountains it was probably one of the best looking golf courses I have ever played.  Designed by Jack Nicklaus, it played exactly the way I imagined he liked to play his golf, left to right fades off the tees, tricked up greens and sluggishly long par 3s!

After a 1 hour flight from Bangkok in the middle of the night we landed at Kunming Airport very early morning, half zombie half human.  The airport was super clean and modern and my first impression was off to a good start!  The taxi driver drove us 50 minutes to the golf club through the winding roads up and around the valleys of Kunming.  Driving up there it felt like we were driving back in time, into the 60s.  Looking out the window it seemed old fashioned, run down and very poor.  The Chinese people looked unhappy, rough and rugged as the farmlands and the huge power plant towered over the local villages.  On the journey we passed car crashes, dodged buffalo and carriages and saw the beauty of the vast Chinese landscape.

The hotel was located on the golf course and was great, just what we needed.  I don’t usually like being cooped up in a hotel on a golf course especially when the local city was 40 minutes drive away but we just had to make do.  Ok, the food. The food was interesting, I was told to keep an open mind when visiting china and thats what I did.  We had a buffet for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  A variety of food that didn’t look pleasant on the eye wasn’t actually that bad.  I stayed away from the pork flesh and the odd smelling soups and broths and did fine.  Surprisingly stayed away from the loo the whole week!

The setup for the tournament was superb.  The China Tour is a proper tour, not that the other tours I’ve played aren’t, its just China is just bigger and better in every way.  The organisation, the structure and the staff made it feel like an elite, elite competition.  They had a live electronic leaderboard, live scoring every 3 holes, ball spotters, rules officials, we had local caddies, a super detailed yardage booklet, Titleist gave me 2 dozen Pro V 1s and 3 Players gloves before the tournament like they do on the Main Tour.  The quality of the course conditions were great, as if the course had been manicured for weeks earlier just for this tournament.  I felt like a mini-celebrity as the local Chinese people and staff constantly asked me for autographs and pictures, maybe it was the Tommy Fleetwood lookalike gig I’ll never know.  I felt like a proper tour player and as if I should be here, its just what I imagined being on tour would be like and I loved it.

However…

There isn’t much I can say about my performance this week.  To sum it up, it was shit.

Its been my worst scoring tournament since turning pro and I’m still coming to terms and understanding how it went so wrong, why and where I go from here.

With 4 rounds and no cut, the Top 15 players gained full status on the tour and an additional 8 players gained conditional status, meaning they get in most of the events.

I carded rounds of 74 75 77 and 76 for +14.  Embarrassingly I finished T33rd out of a field of 50 players.  No status on the tour.  I don’t really know what to say about how I played. Surprisingly i felt like I hit the ball the best I’ve been hitting it recently.  We were high up and with the Altitude the ball was flying a long way.  I was hitting my 8 iron 200 yards carry, usually its 166 yards.  With the severe undulations and sloping fairways I found it super difficult controlling the distance the ball went.  All 4 days I was outdriving my competitors by at least 40 yards but as I quickly found out, I couldn’t overpower the golf course, it wasn’t set up to be overpowered.  I hit the ball too close to some greens which left me smelly pitch shots, whereas a fuller shot in with more spin would have been the better option.

I fell into a learned helplessness state after round 2.  I had played good both days and was +5, a shank from 60 yards on day 2 leading to a treble bogey didn’t help and left me fighting a serious uphill battle.  I couldn’t do anything right, I hit fairways, I hit greens, I hit shots that I wanted to hit and putts on lines that I thought were correct but the ball just didn’t want to go in the hole.

An example of the type of golf course it was; The 3rd hole was a long uphill Par 5, the green sat on top of a raised mound, it was heavily protected by run offs and bunkers, of which had recently been filled with brand new sand, again another difficult obstacle.  Ok so all 4 days, I had maximum of a 5 iron in my hands into to the green for the second shot.  All my playing partners couldn’t reach the green even with a 3 wood so they all played up to the right of the hole which allowed for an easy pitch into the green.  Im not the guy to lay up especially with an iron in my hand and all 4 days I landed the ball on the green.  Day 1 the ball rolled back off the green 60 yards back into a deep bunker.  Day 2 and 3 the ball bounced right over the green leaving a chip that could quite easily roll off the front of the green into the back into the bunker from day 1.  Day 4 I decided to hit a low running shot up the front of the green to take the spin off but again the false front took the ball back away into the dreading bunker same as day 1.  With my length off the tee I should be expecting to make at least birdie on this hole every day, yet I was struggling to make 4 pars.  Thats the type of golf course it was.  I was becoming frustrated because I felt I was being penalised for hitting good shots.  My playing partners, none of which were on the same ball striking level as me were poking it round and making birdies like it was nothing?!  Again unlike me during a round I let silly little things get to me and I was constantly feeling hard done by.  I always say theres no luck in golf, you make your own luck, but this week I felt the golfing gods were punishing me a little too harshly.

After the 3rd round I had played my way out of the tournament, or so that was my mindset.  I knew I could come back and shoot a low one and at least gain a conditional card but my motivation was at its lowest.  I was so upset and annoyed with myself during my last round, I was playing like I didn’t care.  Everything Ive worked for, all the hours Ive put into improving my game had felt like its all been for nothing.  Im a true grinder and thats the first time in a tournament I didn’t battle on until the end, I hate to say it but I gave up.

Anyway, yesterday was a long day and after a few hours of sheer disappointment and the gut wrenching feeling of failure, theres only one remedy.  Pick yourself up, learn from it and get on with it.  Its up there as probably the worst disappointments I’ve had in golf but such is life, I’ve had worse things happen to me and in retrospect theres a lot more people worse off than me so time to man up and move on.

What have I learnt from this week?  Well from the 3  Q schools I’ve been to I’ve definitely realised my mindset is different to that from a normal tour event.  I’m almost too defensive in the hope that a 1 good round will get me through.  Heading into the event I believed I was the best player there and I could come top 15 even by playing my worst.  I think that attitude with the notion of trying too hard got my stuck in the mud with no help to escape.  Expectation can work both ways and I think this week it closed the door to success and securely locked it.  Tentative putts, chips pitches and long shots followed suit and all in all the realisation of it afterwards becomes quite clear.  I’ve learnt to never expect to just play good or expect to win because I may or may not be the best player there.  When I won in Kuwait I never expected to win, I believed I could win, but I never expected it would happen.  Thats the simple lesson I’ve learnt from this week, to go out there and just let what happens, happen.

Results: http://www.cgatour.com.cn/en/golf/gamestation_results.do?id=53

So whats next?

Another painful night flight back to Bangkok, a rental pickup truck and an hour drive down to Pattana Golf Resort 30 minutes drive from Pattaya, I’m rearing to go again.  Back on the Mena Tour for its last event on the Thailand swing and were back in it.  Im playing good and feeling more confident in my game, especially after playing the trickster of Wind Valley golf Course.  The tournament starts on Tuesday.  In regards to China, they have the option to Monday Qualify before each event, I will be definitely considering this option after I hear back from them regarding Tournament Invitations.  Because of my World Ranking I can apply for tournament invites, so, fingers crossed!

Hope you all have a great weekend and speak to you again soon

Joe