Hello again, the European Tour started in earnest today for the majority of the European based players and coaches. If you decided not to compete in South Africa just before Xmas or weren’t exempt for last week’s Volvo Champions in Durban, then the ‘Desert Swing’ is the place to start. Consistent weather, condition of the course, quality of field, practice facilities and not to mention the St Regis Hotel are just a few of this weeks’ perks that make it a ‘no brainer’! It’s always fun to see which players have made equipment or caddy changes over the break. Of course, there was one ‘big money transfer’ that was taking all the headlines! No prizes for guessing who….
Gareth Maybin’s practice schedule would be pretty straightforward this week – continue to refine last weeks’ themes and spend plenty of time round the greens acclimatising to tournament depth rough and quicker greens. Also there was the matter of him testing the new Taylormade drivers. I said it last year and I felt it again – when the world no 1 & 2 are in the field and one of them is called Tiger, there’s an extra buzz. More media, more spectator and more anticipation. I for one was excited about seeing him at close quarters again. Justin Rose was also in the field, a player who came through real adversity at he start of his much publicised career and who has turned into one of the most consistent ball strikers on the PGA Tour. I was keen to watch him play as I have admired how he has developed his swing with the help of Sean Foley.
So on Monday afternoon we headed out to see the course, monitor how the swing refinements were coming along and of course to have our usual wager on the Par 18 etc. It was windy throughout the practice days and it really changed the nature of the course. The challenge became figuring out where you could leave yourself around greens to provide the best possible chance of par and how to navigate the many dog leg holes – just like the Emirates course in Dubai. I was also interested to hear Basile’s comments on Gareth’s basics – an area we spent a lot of time on over the ‘off season’.
Monday evening’s dinner gave me a chance to catch up with Jamie Gough and David McNeilly – two of the ‘Tour’s’ furniture! As always, we got David started with the stories and he thoroughly entertained us. He also told us how an equipment change helped his boss (Matteo Manassero) to win his 3rd career event late last year in Singapore. He described how Matteo got Titleist to create a driver with everything possible geared for distance, as the venue Sentosa would be long and wet, and how Matteo then did the admirable job of ‘steering’ the new weapon straight for the week! Clever Italian thinking.
Tuesday morning in the hotel lobby was an interesting experience for me as within about 5 minutes of one another, Tiger walked passed me to the gym as Rory was leaving! A quick confirmation of time (8.03am) told me that these guys have got where they are not on talent alone. Tiger was flanked by his usual entourage of caddy and agent. However, when Rory breezed in alone he was polite enough to have a quick chat about he Ryder Cup captaincy among other things, but I was keen not to keep him too long as I’m sure his day is filled with such encounters. And anyone who knows me would say that I don’t like to talk much about golf anyway! Not.
So business on Tuesday meant seeing the back 9 in the morning and then a a good quality range session after lunch which included a few specific drills for tempo & basics, and developing a more reliable fade off the tee. After lunch Gareth experimented with some different clubs in the bunkers depending on the length of the shot and we finished another good day with a few putting games. It was good to have the knowledge that we had put in weeks of ‘pre-season’ work and then continued it on and made it more playable last week. This meant that we could be more economical with our time at the tournament venue, only do what was needed and GM could conserve his energy.
After we had finished up and made our arrangements for Wednesday’s final practice day, I stayed on at the course to watch some other players. I watched Rose & Hanson work exclusively with Trackman. I noticed how Ernie took great care to go through all his basics before each shot and only hit about a ball per minute. Very interesting. I again had dinner with some of the caddies & coaches and once more saw a host of the players ‘working out’ in the very plush gym at the St Regis. Standard nowadays it seems.
Wednesday was to be the my last day and probably the easiest one for me, as its during the Tuesday evening / Wednesday morning that I begin to step back as a coach and take on the role of interested observer. Typically if a player isn’t involved in the pro-am, the course may be closed to him and therefore he has to resist the temptation of hitting balls all day off perfect turf in the sunshine. This area of discipline is what separates Gareth out from many I see – he has the ability to plan out his day and stick to it. He knows when he is ready. In this case it was after a quiet range session, some chipping from around the greens and one final putting contest to make sure he recovered all bets from the previous week!
So my final few hours in the Middle East left me the unenviable chore of following Tiger around the course! If you are prepared to travel, then the practice days of these tournaments let you have the best possible opportunity to see him up close. For me, its worth it. From a 3 wood down I feel he’s as good as anyone in the world. The driver however doesn’t always behave and its somewhat relieving to see even the greatest experience a bit if golfing anguish now and again. What struck me about him on this occasion was his body language – he looked completely in control and gave off an air of ‘I’m still the best’. Fascinating to someone like me who loves competitive sport and grew up watching Tiger change the game.
So my Arabian adventure ended with an overnight flight into Dublin and an early morning drive back up North. Not for long though, as I was due to be back in Dublin airport’s terminal 2 again in just 48 hours as I headed off with the Paddy Harrington scholars to their warm weather training week in Portugal.
If you would like to read how it went, check out the next Tour Diary!
Thanks for the interest, Johnny.