Sahara Kuwait Golf Championship & MENA Tour Final Championship *Double Blog*

Hey everyone!

Apologies I didn’t get chance to blog last week.  I played in the tours penultimate event at my old stomping ground in Kuwait.  Last year I broke through here and achieved my first tour win so I was exited to be coming back.  The vague memories came flooding back and it felt good to be competing as defending champion!

The tournament however, did not go as a I had planned.  I shot 3 deflating scores of 72 68 & 70 for a level par total and a 30th place finish.  How could you possibly go from shooting great scores one year to below average the next you may ask?  Lets start with how I played…

Round 1 was a slow and weak struggle with poorly executed shots and a mix of bad decisions.   A lack of momentum and birdies on a day when scoring was very good across the field left me scratching my head afterwards.  Round 2, I was fired up, and keen to get off to a fast start, opening with 3 birdies in the first 5 holes.  Again, momentum was killed after the poor shots kept creeping back in.  I finished with 7 birdies with a couple of double bogeys to slap me in the face.  Afterwards, I was so exhausted, more drained than I had been in any previous tournament, maybe it was the 6 weeks on the road catching up to me, maybe it was me trying to force things to happen, who knows.  When all I had was good memories of the good shots I had played last year, followed up by below average shots it was very frustrating.   The 3rd round was a bit of a blur,  I felt extremely tired and lethargic, my motivation and effort levels were scraping the bottom of the barrel and I was surprised I managed to shoot a level par after coming off the 18th green.  14 shots behind the leader, and week I will try to forget.  So what went so wrong??  The answer became so clear upon reflection.

After a sit down chat with The MENA Tours most prolific player Zane Scotland, I picked his brains on how I’ve felt over the past year since my win and how it affected my season and more surprisingly that week.  The main cause was the expectations I had put on my self.  Once you gain a taste of victory, thats all you see yourself as achieving.  I expected to be challenging to win every week, even if my game hadn’t been as sharp as it should have been.  I was living in the past constantly comparing my game to when I was playing my best last year.  Every tournament has been a case of trying to find the magic I had previous, constantly looking for that quick fix.  Trying to force things to happen and when they didn’t, frustration kicked back into gear and the downward spiral was off again.  Before I used to go to sleep, when I was playing my best, I’d close my eyes and envision every shot I had played that day, any bad shot and I would replay it with a good shot.  I would then see in my mind what I would do the following day, how I felt, where I would hit shots, what it would be like to hole putts etc.  That all flowed naturally, it all came to me without effort whereas this year I was constantly trying to repeat the feelings.  I would lose concentration after envisioning a few shots or holes and constantly struggle to get back to painting the picture in the mind.  I tried to force it, it didn’t come to me with flow…

Ok, so how do we change that?  ZERO expectations, Zane told me when he won 5 times in one year, he said he was just happy to make the cut and then see what would happen, he didn’t expect to win each week.  When I played my best, last year I had no expectations, i’d just come back from a 4 month injury, if anything I expected to do worse, never mind win!!  The concept of giving up control to gain control is hard to grasp but that is the key, thats the secret.  Practice and prepare as best as you can and then go to play with no expectations, be happy with whatever the result may be.  You may play well, you may play bad, you can’t control the outcome, the only thing you can control is your yourself; your emotions, your preparations, your process.  Do that as best as you can and outcome will take care of itself…  This is why golf is the greatest sport on earth, its essentially the game of life…

Final Leaderboard

Tour Champs

Tour Champs is the final event on the MENA tour schedule and its an interesting one as theres a lot on the line for every player as its double money.  Players can shoot up and down the order of merit in the blink of an eye, and with so many things to play for; playing rights for 2018, asian tour and sunshine tour qualifying spots, a sunshine tour card, european tour invites, world ranking, and PGA tour start! It kept everybody fixated on their phones looking at the leaderboards and who’s doing what and where.  I on the other hand didn’t pay any attention that, only when the tournament had concluded then I would see what the outcome would be.  My plan and mindset had changed since Kuwait, and I felt so much more relaxed.  I didn’t practice on the few days in between the two tournaments. I decided to go in with the mindset of ‘go and have fun and my score will take care of itself’.

This was the tours first 4 round tournament which is a great way to end a season.  The venue was Al Zorah Golf club, in Ajman, Dubai.  The course is fairly new, its shaped into the mangroves so there was plenty of wildlife and nice scenery.  The cool thing about it was that the mangrove tide would come in and out at certain times of the day, so some holes with water hazards would be completely dry maybe in the morning and wet in the afternoon.  Its still a young course but give it a few years to mature and it will definitely be a gem of the middle east.  It has a links feel to it, with firm and fast undulating greens.  We had no course planner this week, so i made sure to map the greens in a little notepad.  I say it had greens within greens, which meant you needed it hit it into certain places so you don’t leave yourself with some smelly putts.

After a very rocky first round I was over the moon to shoot under par!  I had very little control of where I hit the golf ball,  I had the pulls and pull draws! Not a nice feeling when its quite windy and theres a lot of danger on the left side of holes.  My short game was the saviour and I putted great.  The greens suited me as felt I could read the grain quite comfortably, thats also a great feeling, being able to see the line the ball rolls confidently.  I knew I had my work cut out if I hit it like I did that day for the rest of the week so I headed to the range afterwards and again thanked Zane for some swing advice.  He spotted my fault straight away and in lehmans terms said I wasn’t swinging with any body connection, my shoulders arms and hands were disconnected from my body (swinging like Mr Tickle, from Mr. Men).  I began hitting it straighter and flighting the ball with much more control.

Round 2 got off to a better start and I was hitting the ball much better, I was in full control but didn’t really get the momentum I was looking for.  Flirting with 1 or 2 under par for the majority of the round I was just happy to be hitting it well.  I had thoughts that the lefts would come back at any time so I managed myself well and wasn’t aggressive at the tight pins, hitting it to safe spots and giving myself chances.  The big left came on the 14th tee shot, water all up the left side and a strong wind into and from the right side didn’t help my confidence on the tee.  I lashed hard at ball and i knew instantly it was a gonner.  My club flung out of my hand and I stood there with my hands on my hips in bafflement as my ball splashed into the middle of the lake.  I laughed it off and continue to make a TREBLE BOGEY!! ARGHHH!  I finished the round +1 over, happy with my improvements but also annoyed at another backwards day on the leaderboard.  Its funny I hit it horrendous the previous day and scored 2 shots better.  Thats golf for you!

A few days earlier to the tournament, I saw the very sad news that my friend and fellow MENA Tour player had passed away.  Billy was from the States and we played together a couple of years ago.  He was a great character and also a great golfer.  His cause of death is still unknown but its so tragic that his life had been cut short at such an early age.  The players decided it would be nice to wear red, white and blue (the american flag colours) on the third round in remembrance of Billy.  RIP mate x

I stuck to my game plan, to just go have fun and expect nothing.  Round 3, your boy was back!  I was in control, I drove it well, I hit close approach shots, I recovered well and holed a lot of putts.  Riding the wave of confidence and picking up momentum I reached -3 through the turn.  When I get to -3 in rounds I feel like I can kick on, birdies will come!  I managed my self well and kept composed.  My playing focus for the day was to ‘Think slow, Play fast’.  I had noticed I had been rushing my Pre-shot routine the previous days.  I was pro-active in slowing it down.  Slowing my eyes down,  seeing the ball flight through the air at my intended target and landing softly in my landing spots.  It felt like I was playing super slow but my playing partner said the opposite.  Confidence was back and I was -6 on the 17th tee, a par birdie finish was on the cards.  I missed the green at 17 and played a great chip shot to 5 feet, I read the greens great all day and was super confident in my read, unfortunately it didnt take the break and hit the lip to miss out.  I then missed a 6 footer on the last for birdie to finish -5 for the day.  I was over the moon again with progress, but the sour taste of missing a good opportunity to shoot up the leaderboard.  Its funny, if I would have made that put on 17 I guarantee I would have holed the birdie putt on the last for -7.  When I talk about momentum, thats exactly what it is right there.

Round 4, the decider!  I was playing with my good mate, Luke Joy and we had great fun on the course and I think that benefited our golf.  I played much like the previous day, very good!  We made birdie after birdie and kept the snowball going!  A couple of great par saves and fist bumps between us kept us right in it. .  We both had a lot to play for so it was nice that we took the pressure off for each other.  Henrik Sturehead was demolishing the field, he made it impossible to catch him  (finishing on -21, 9 shots clear of 2nd place).  The highlight of my tournament was my last shot.  I was -3 with one hole to play and a good chance to creep up the leaderboard with a late final 2 day charge.  I hit a wayward approach shot into the reachable par 5 and left myself with a smelly pitch into the flag.  I played a bump and run from a sticky lie in the rough and it bumbled up to about 12ft.  I wanted to hole that putt so much.  2 weeks previous in Jordan I had a 5ft putt on the last unknowingly at the time to get into the playoff, I slacked off and didn’t give it my full attention and missed out on a great opportunity to win the tournament.  This was different but I just wanted to prove myself, to avenge my wrong doings!  Luke had made birdie to shoot -4, -9 total which meant I had to also birdie it to tie him.  That wasn’t my motivator, my motivation was my previous failures.  I started the putt on my intended line and it didn’t take the break I read.  I felt like it was in slow motion, as it began to turn towards the hole at the last second.  It caught the lip and dropped in the hole, and I gave it big fist pump!! A huge relief that I did it, I proved to my self I could do it!

I shot -4 and finished -9 total, Tied 5th place.  If someone told me I would finish 5th after my first 2 rounds I would have told them to piss off, no chance haha.  Double money baby!! I didn’t expect to do anything this week and I finished 5th in our strongest field.  What a way to finish the MENA tour for 2017,  happy was an understatement.

Final Leaderboard

Order of Merit (still to be finalised)

To make things better, I made it into the top 15 on the Order of Merit! An achievement in itself as I had played half the events a lot of the boys above me had played.  Top 15 means I secured Sunshine Tour Final qualifying again for next year which Im super happy about.  Also I have retained my Titleist contract with balls and gloves for the next year which saves me a lot of dollar!!  To top it off I earned some more world ranking points from my top 5 finish which could sneak me into the Top 1000 in the World.

A few people I just want to say thank you to as they have supported me selflessly this year.  Neil, Fletch, Noel, Donovan, Juanita, Andy, Lina, Al, Carl, Uncle Paul, John, Arild, Whits, Peter, Laurie, Ron, Mum and most importantly my Dad and Janice.  Thank you to everyone that I haven’t mentioned that has followed me and supported me through this up and down year.  I can’t do what I do without you guys and thats comes from the heart.  The hard work will continue and the only way is up, we’ll get there eventually, its not a matter of if, its a matter of when…

Also, a big thanks to Ornella Parigi for taking some great pictures!

Whats next for me?  Next week I’m caddying in the Ladies European Tour event for my friend Linda Wessberg, at Saadiyat Beach golf Club.  Last year we missed the cut by 1 so were out for revenge this year.  Now my scheduled season has finished, I’ll only be playing in the odd event here and there over the off season, and they’ll be last minute entries.  My next event is the King Hamad Trophy in Bahrain from the 16th-18th November.  Until then I will keep you posted…

Hope you all have a great week

Joe


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