The final event of the year took me to Girona, Spain. I had been to the PGA Catalunya Resort twice before, firstly as a caddie for Michael Hoey’s attempt at Q School in 2002 and then playing some social golf with some friends in 2010. It has certainly grown over the years into a world class facility with two testing courses and tremendous practice facilities. The two players that I was helping get prepared were Niall Kearney and Gareth Shaw, both of whom were looking forward to the challenge as they had ‘form’ coming into the event. Niall has had plenty of low scores this year when he has had the opportunity to compete and he sailed through the first 2 stages of Q School. And Gareth has just come of his biggest achievement to date – winning the Alps Tour.
Play was to get underway for real in Spain from Saturday until the following Thursday. This is unusual for normal tournaments but it’s a standard marathon of 6 rounds of golf over both courses with the top 25 (out of a field of 156) players gaining their status for the 2013 European Tour campaign, which begins in early December 2012! It really is a case of ‘the tour moves on’! After I landed on the Tuesday and negotiated the Barcelona traffic, I made the 90 minute journey north to the resort and met up with Gareth who was already on the range and raring to go.
The fact that the tournament is contested over two different courses this week and that Gareth hadn’t played either, meant that we had to try and plan out practice as best we could. Obviously we wanted to strike the balance right between getting familiar with two new courses and not wasting too much energy in practice, as hopefully there would be as many as 144 holes to play if practice is included! So we decided upon a strategy of a different 9 holes per day with some purposeful practice along the way, the sort that Gareth has done all year and helped him win the Alps Tour with a stroke average of 69.9.
So our first day of preparation was 9 holes with short game challenges at each hole, a theme of Gareth’s practice that he has really explored with the help of myGRiPzone. After dinner I was having a browse at the field for this week’s event and was able to count twenty past European Tour winners! It really hit home that professional golf is all about the ‘now’ and the game can easily forget reputations. During the week I let both Niall and Gareth know that in many ways they were coming to this event with a positive wave of energy after having both played some great golf this year and having qualified well. Whereas many were at Q School coming off the disappointment of either losing their European tour card or narrowly missing out through the Challenge Tour. So we all agreed that there was a very good opportunity to adopt a really positive vibe!
Wednesday was again a focused 9 holes of practice with some competitive games and a good study of the course. As in any other beneficial practice round, Gareth would check the yardage book whilst looking at the hole from the tee and begin to plot his strategy from there. He would make his decisions of strategy based on how he feels instinctively and what his shot shape is at the time. So, as we made our way round the course, he gradually figured out landing spots and lines from tees, and where pins were likely to be cut. As he did this, I was on hand to keep an eye on his game and answer any questions.
After lunch we had a really positive session in the fairway practice bunker which was really the bunker beside the chipping green but we played from it out toward the range. It was great for Gareth’s confidence to see how far he had come in this area alone as he had always felt the fairway sand shot was one that he needed to improve. Not anymore, as he put a clinical display of ball striking on which satisfied even my high standards!! There were a few reasons we worked on this shot – firstly, it makes sense to practise this particular shot as it will be encountered at some point; secondly, it does wonders for Gareth’s footwork and transition; and lastly, I knew it would give his confidence a boost.
My last day at the venue saw the arrival of Ross (Gareth’s friend, caddy for the week and fellow pro) and Fergus (Gareth’s performance coach). So, for one day at least the entourage was complete! Again the routine was the same and after the morning 9 holes I had lunch with Niall Kearney and caught up with how he was doing. Niall had been at PGA Catalunya on two previous occasions so it meant that he arrived later on in the week as he felt he didn’t need as much acclimatisation. Again, he was coming in on good form as he had posted some really good scores during stage 1 & 2. In fact during stage 2, just down the coast in Tarragona, his caddie Gordon informed me that he had hit 60/72 greens which I thought was excellent. It meant to me that everything was in good working order and we didn’t feel we had to do anything more on top of the previous weeks’ sessions we had at the JFGA and Carton House. So it really was just a case of ‘keep doing the same stuff & good luck!’
So as I left the left the two lads to get on with the competition, I felt that they had both prepared well in their own way and that no matter the result, they were both making professional progress. And we all know that is the name of the game!
See you again in 2013 folks with Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Portugal in the diary….and that’s only January!!