Asian Tour Qualifying School 2012

January 27, 2012 · James Blog
Asian Tour School 2012 001

It has certainly been a while since I last wrote a piece on here and for that I apologise. Part of the reason is that The Walker Cup was such an incredible week and I really wanted that to remain as the “cover story”. It will be strange not having that image of the GB&I team celebrating with the trophy greeting me as I enter the site, as it has done for the past four months. However, in golf and indeed in life we are always looking to achieve greater things and create new memories, and I think as you read on you’ll agree that last weeks events are more than worthy of a report.

For those who aren’t sure what I’ve been up to since The Walker Cup, here’s a quick update. I turned professional the following week and made my debut at the Allianz Toulouse Open on the Challenge Tour. A T24 finish represented a solid start to my professional career and I followed that up by making the cut and placing T45 at the Dunhill Links Championship. It would take me ten thousand words to report on that week but let’s just say it included an opening 67 at Kingsbarns, a hole in one followed by an eagle for a 71 at Carnoustie, 72 70 over the weekend at St. Andrews, R&A Chief Executive Peter Dawson as my pro-am partner throughout and Padraig Harrington, Rafa Jacquelin, Tom Lewis and Lorenzo Gagli as my playing partners. A fantastic experience.

The following week was Stage 1 of the European Tour School in Portugal. I struggled throughout, perhaps due to fatigue, and missed the cut by five. At the time I was gutted, but soon realised golf is a long, arduous journey, and for me it had barely even begun. I took a month off, and in November embarked on a six week trip to South East Asia and Australasia. The trip included the Barclays Singapore Open, the Johor Open, the BMW New Zealand Open and the Aussie Masters. I travelled alone which was tough in itself, but in addition I was off form, low in confidence and desperately searching for something resembling my golf game. I did manage to make the cut at the NZ Open but had a poor weekend and failed to contend. In the other three I had a few flirtatious moments with the cut lines, but ended up on the wrong side in all three. I packed up and left for the UK just before Christmas, and needless to say I was bitterly disappointed with how I had performed. As encouraging as Gleneagles, the Walker Cup, Toulouse and the Dunhill had all been, the two months that followed it were equally as disheartening. As Christmas approached I was ready to forget about the end of 2011, enjoy the holidays, and start 2012 afresh.

Asian Tour Q School

Day 1 Imperial Lakeview CC, Days 2-4 Springfield Royal CC

Springfield Royal Country Club

I travelled to Hua Hin, Thailand on January 13 for the Asian Tour Qualifying School, knowing that failure there would leave me with very few options. I would be limited to mini-tours and sponsors invites; a route I was desperate to avoid. It had been a month since my last competitive venture and I knew I would undoubtedly have to deal with a few spots of rust. The pressure was on, and although I’m generally confident in my ability, the doubts were lingering and were extremely hard to shake off.

I made 7 birdies in my opening round and posted a 4-under 68. I drove the ball particularly well – a trait that has characterised my game over the years but often eluded me for much of 2011. 68 was a good score but I wasn’t even inside the top 10. I needed to keep it going. The next day we played in the afternoon, and the wind was up considerably. I finished with a miracle escape-shot birdie on 16, a 10-foot par save on 17 and a 30-foot birdie putt across the green on 18 to shoot a 3-under 69. It appeared to be smooth sailing but was far from the case. I was well positioned at this stage though in 9th place, and turned my attention towards catching the leaders.

With the tournament starting on a Wednesday, Friday became moving day, but for me it was sadly in the wrong direction. On a day where I had hoped to get a few shots clear of the lurking cut line and nearer the lead, I fell back with a 75 and put myself in an horrible position; 2 shots inside the cut, with seemingly nothing to gain and everything to lose. The nerves were there in abundance on Saturday morning, and I reminisced back to the morning of the Amateur Championship final, where I had a very similar sensation. This time it was different though. This time I was playing for more than just a trophy and a ticket for the Open and the Masters; it was my livelihood. I managed to focus myself and began steadily, although I knew if I didn’t make birdies early in the round I’d be walking a tightrope towards the end. Sure enough, my first birdie didn’t come until the 12th hole, a reachable par 5, basically a par 4. I was trying to force matters, which was probably understandable given the situation. My partner, Rahil Gangee, made 8 birdies and an eagle alongside me, and I felt like a 28 handicapper in comparison.

By the time I reached the 17th tee, I was 4 under par for the tournament. The tightrope was right in front of me. My gut feeling suggested that the cut would be around 4 under, but could potentially go to 5. With no projected cut line on the scoreboards, I had no idea. I flew a 6 iron over the green, fluffed a chip and 2 putted for a bogey. Back to 3 under. Oh dear…

The par 5 18th hole at Springfield Royal is a sharp dog leg left from the tee, that leaves a long iron approach to an island green for the 2nd, or alternatively a lay up and a wedge. After at least a 20 minute wait on the tee, I chose an aggressive line up the left, and caught it a fraction out of the toe with a little too much draw. The landing area is blocked by trees, so I anxiously waited, along with a dozen people around the tee box, to see what colour flag would be raised. Red for OB, Yellow for hazard, Green for fairway/findable. There was no hazard where I hit it, so like some sort of cruel game show, my qualification now rested on the raising of a red or green flag. The little old spotter lady on the corner got to her feet, looked around for a while, had a cup of tea and eventually raised a flag. It was red. Game over.

I reloaded another ball, split the fairway, and tried to accept what had just happened. After three testing months with barely a birdie to cheer about, I struggled to come to grips with the fact that I was about to be kicked in the teeth once again. As I turned the corner, however, about twenty people came into view on the left, searching among the trees, bushes and rough. I was confused, but it soon dawned on me that perhaps the little old spotter lady on the corner had made a mistake. Just as I was about to enquire, she started yelling from about forty yards ahead, in the first cut of rough. I was sceptical, so without getting too excited, I slowly walked over and checked the markings. Titleist 2, red dot, that’s me! I resisted the urge to drop to my knees and thank the golfing gods, and tried to focus on the shot at hand.

The lie had a hint of flyer about it, but equally looked thick enough to make the ball snag. I had just 159 yards to the front and about 190 to the back. The pin was tucked in the back left corner, surrounded by water short and left. The wind was blowing hard down and from the left, and holding the ball on the island green was going to be very tricky. I strongly considered the lay up, but knowing I needed a birdie, decided it was now or never. I pulled an 8 iron, committed to the flyer and aimed for the middle of the green. My hands were shaking so bad I half expected to let the club fly mid-swing, but luckily the ball took off right where I aimed it. Then it started drawing. Normally in this situation, I would be screaming at the ball to fly, cut, bite, go, whatever it may be, but on this occasion my mind was incredibly quiet. The ball was completely at the mercy of the wind, and I knew any instructions from my end would fall on deaf dimples (sometimes the ball does listen, just ask Sergio). Despite the fade wind, the ball continued to draw, and as it started it’s descent it’s line was barely right of the pin. The landing area on this line was tiny.

To my astonishment, the ball landed barely over the wooden surround, raced over the green and settled in the back fringe, just a few paces from the water at the back, as if it were a 747 trying to land on an aircraft carrier. I had been fighting a state of panic just a hole earlier, but now I was overcome with calm. 2 putts from 20 feet would be enough; it was almost over.

In the back of my mind, though, I wanted the eagle, just to be 100% safe. Stranger things have happened in qualifying schools than a cut line to dramatically change at the last second. Inevitably, I missed on the right side and left myself around 6 feet coming back. Disaster loomed, but I repeatedly reminded myself what an easy putt it was. 6 feet, uphill, straight – a piece of cake. I knocked it in and gave probably my first fist pump since the Sunday afternoon of the Walker Cup.

As I stumbled off the green, mentally exhausted, a spectator asked me, “What did you finish on?” “Four under”, I anxiously replied. “Congratulations”, he said, “and good luck this year.”

And so the Asian Tour looms. I officially have a job! I’ve spent this past week in Singapore to save a long journey home and head to Myanmar tomorrow for my first event. Earlier in the week we celebrated Chinese New Year, the Year of the Dragon, one of twelve animals in the Chinese Zodiac. Having been born a ‘Dragon’, I wear a gold chain with a dragon pendant, so perhaps 2012 will be a year to celebrate.

I’ll try to post again before another four months pass, hopefully after Myanmar. Until then, have a good one.

James Byrne Audio Interviews – Asian Tour School