Asian Tour Q School Recap & Plans Ahead

March 6, 2014 · James Blog
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Despite successfully negotiating the Asian Tour Qualifying School in both 2012 and 2013, unfortunately this year I wasn’t able to pass the test. I use the word “unfortunately” sparingly, as I generally don’t believe in luck, but on this occasion it’s fair to say I was drawn the short straw (I’ll get to the incident later). Overall, there’s not many positives to be taken from the week, other than a good run of holes in the 2nd round that nearly saw me through the cut, but ultimately I just wasn’t good enough over the 36 holes. It’s a setback that makes my ascent through the professional game certainly more challenging, but it’s not a debilitating one. Sure, I would have loved another chance to play on the Asian Tour and improve on my previous results, but there are still plenty of options available to me and I’m still looking forward to the season ahead. And besides, it’s often the long, arduous climb that offers the greatest reward once the summit is reached. The guy who enjoys a smooth ride in a chopper might get there quicker, but he doesn’t feel much satisfaction when he lands, and he doesn’t learn anything about himself on the way. This particular nudge back down the slope hasn’t caused me to lose sight of my goals, it just means achieving them will feel that much better.

I wasn’t particularly nervous going into the tournament, but an inexplicable shot on the 2nd hole put me immediately behind the 8 ball. I recovered well with a couple of birdies at 3 and 5, and was facing a putt for a 3rd birdie on the 6th hole to complete the bounce-back. The putt was nearly impossible to leave stone dead, requiring about 10 feet of break and a precise enough touch for the ball to race up a steep diagonal slope but to only trickle down the other side, falling left to the hole (think 18 at Valhalla). I judged it perfectly, and the ball reached its apex with almost no speed, before making a quick left turn and slowly feeding down towards the hole. I knew it had a chance to go in, but with about 5 feet to go, I, along with my playing partners, suddenly realised there was a problem. The pin was still in the cup. My caddie was a young woman in her late 20s and from my past experiences with Springfield caddies, I assumed she would be proficient with the rules. I couldn’t have been more wrong. As it was, I may have drawn the only caddie in the whole of Thailand, never mind Springfield, who didn’t know that the pin needs to be removed if tended. And sure enough, as the ball inevitably found the cup, she raised her right arm in an ironic celebration, whilst the other clutched the pin that had just cost me 2 shots. A perfect putt, and with it another birdie and a great bounce back, struck off and replaced by a momentum sapping bogey. The other caddies informed her of her error, she apologized, and I accepted it with a forced laugh, before trying my best to clear my head and get on with it. I stuck in the rest of the way, but finished with a 4-over 75 which left me requiring a 67 in the second round to make the cut. It was a tall order, but the next day when I birdied the 11th to reach 4-under for the round, I’d given myself a good chance. Going into the closing stretch, I needed one more birdie, which was frustrating as I knew without the penalty I’d instead be inside the cut by one and able to play safely coming in. As it stood, I pushed for a further birdie on my 17th hole, going for a par 5 with an island green in two shots, didn’t pull it off, and my ball along with my spirited comeback sank to the bottom of the lake.

On reflection, it’s easy to blame the caddie and it was certainly an incident that was tough to shake mentally, but ultimately it was my job to play well enough to make the penalty irrelevant. I compare the situation to football managers, who repeatedly point to refereeing decisions to justify their team’s failings. Just last week, Arsene Wenger bemoaned Arsenal’s bad luck in conceding a soft penalty to Stoke in a game they would go on to lose 1-0 (to my dismay), even though they played terribly. Against a team like Stoke, a decent performance would have been a 3 or 4-1 win and the penalty incident would have gone unmentioned. And similarly, had I put in a good performance and shot 15-under, the couple of shots lost to “bad luck” would have soon been forgotten.

Looking ahead to this season, my number one priority, as always, is to play better golf. I’ve always been a believer that in sport, progress must be measured by performance rather than results. Process rather than outcome. Results in golf depend on too many uncontrollable factors, such as the form of other players, favourable draws, and if you’re in Asia, untrained caddies. This year I’m taking a slightly different approach to my practice, focusing far more on the mental side, and a bit less on the physical side. I’ll touch on that in further depth in another blog. In terms of which tours I want to play this season, I have a number of options, and at the moment I’m leaning towards staying in Asia. As I post this I’m currently in Kota Kinabalu in East Malaysia playing One Asia Q school, which is a strong tour that boasts $1m+ prize funds and competes with the Asian Tour. So hopefully by the end of the week I’ll be able to add those events to my schedule. Aside from that, I’m fully exempt on the ADT after winning last year, and those events have the draw of world ranking points. I have considered Mondays and mini tours in the States, but expenses are sky high and there’s no promotion for the best players. In Europe, the EuroPro and Pro Golf Tours are both viable options, but no more attractive than One Asia or ADT and more expensive to play.

Wherever it is I end up playing this year, whether it’s for $1m each week or $60k, the goal remains the same, and that’s to keep a positive outlook and learn and improve. If I can do that, I believe I’ll get to the summit eventually, regardless of how many times my crampons might slip. There’s no shortcuts in this game, and even if there were, I’d probably prefer the scenic route.

Till next time.