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Quality time with family and friends

The traffic on the M3 was terrible as we left Ascot on our way to Gatwick on Monday morning.  Rush hour traffic has normally cleared by 10am but there had been an accident and that snarls everything up.  We always leave a bit of extra time for the 45 minute drive down to Gatwick to allow for the roads in England as you just never know what they'll be like.   Thankfully we arrived with tons of time and as we dropped of our bags Bev was "bumped" to Business by BA.  This rarely happens but she's been given the pleasure twice recently!   It always makes the other players and caddys a little jealous to know you've got a freebie!

We'd 2 choices to get to Turin, spend a lot of money and fly Gatwick to Turin, and have a 20 minute drive to the course the other end or get a cheaper flight to Milan and drive for 2 hours.  In the end we decided the times of the flights to Turin were better and just paid the extra.  We flew on Monday as there is only one direct flight a day and it doesn't arrive until 430pm, so flying on Tuesday would have given me no preparation time.  I don't really know the course in Italy all that well.  I've only played it once and last time I played the pro-am was cancelled as the course was water logged. 
We'd rented an apartment near the course for the week as traffic in Turin can be horrific.  I remembered the hotels the Tour had used previously hadn't been fantastic, they'd been in the middle of nowhere with few facilities and travel time to the course had been horrendous!  The food in Italy is great when you're on holiday, but it's not the sort of stuff that maximises my on course performance.  That was Bev's role for the week, she was chief chef!  My coach, Jamie Gough, also stayed with us.  It was an ideal situation for him as he works 12-14 hour days at the course, generally from 6am to around 8pm depending on our tee-times.

The field for the event this year was really strong, with 3 Ryder Cup players and 2 Ryder Cup Captains in the field.  I've been surprised how much Olazabal has played in the run-up to the Ryder Cup in Chicago; he's been at the last 4 events.  He must be an organised man!  I guess Kaymer, Colsartes and Francesco were all looking to put the final touches to their games ahead of the event in the US.  Unfortunately the course wasn't in great condition and I'm sure it didn't offer them much preparation.  This summer has been really hot in Turin.  They had 3 months at over 40⁰C, whilst all of Northern Europe was dealing with rain.  The extreme temperatures had prevented growth; the fairways and rough were all burnt out.  We actually had preferred lies as the fairways were so burnt and scraggly.  The greens were fine though as the Tour green keeping staff had been over helping out prior to the tournament.  They also kept the grass long for Thursday and Fridays rounds to help protect them more.

I played 9 holes on Tuesday morning with Thornbjorn Olsen and Joel Schlojbm.  Thornbjorn looks like he's going to another great player - he's still only 23 and he swings it great.  I think a lot of people expect great things from him in the future.  I was hitting it better and enjoying their company.  I've been working on teeing the ball low when I'm using Driver.  It helps me "cover" the ball, basically it forces my chest/shoulder over it and I get the left to right flight I've been working on. When I revert to my old habits the hook swing results in a "fat" shot, so i just cant do this with the low tee.  The new swing feels great and the tee-ing has definitely helped my driving accuracy.  I hit a lot more fairways this week again.  I actually discovered this when analysing shots I hit with driver from the deck, like on the 14th at St Andrews last year in the Dunhill Links Championship.  I tend to flush those shots straight and I've been trying to recreate it from the tee.  I finished practice with a lot of putting.  I've been trying to improve this area of my game a lot and have recently adopted a claw grip with my right hand.   I feel it takes the right hand out of the putting stroke and its helping me achieve a looser stroke.  I've been practising it a lot both at the Wisley and then at home on my indoor green.  It was the first week I'd tried it in competition though so it's always a little nerve wracking.  The journalists were asking a lot of questions about it too which was interesting! 
I had a really late Pro-am time on Wednesday, 230 is unusually late for us to start and it felt like I was hanging about all day until my warm-up started at 130.  I played with 3 nice folk.  The lady was involved with the sponsorship function at Juventus FC and had been invited by Cartsi.  I thought of asking for a ticket to the Chelsea game this week as she was attending but I realised we'd be home in Belfast by then.  We've a road trip planned as I've 2 weeks off before the Dunhill and I thought I'd get some links practice in.  The team didn't do any good at the Pro-Am as only birdies counted.  11 under doesn't cut it at these events!  We didn't get finished until 730pm and it was straight home, gobble some food and into bed.   It worked out well as I'd a late tee-time on Thursday as well.  Occasionally you have a late pro-am tee-time and then an early one to start on Thursday which isn't ideal.  I'd a few pictures taken by one of the Irish photographers during the Pro-am, he went back into the media centre to upload them but when we went to the bathroom someone snatched all his gear.  It's the second time in 3 months that Fran has lost his equipment and he cut a funny sight walking around with borrowed gear for the tournament.  Nightmare for him.

I had a good draw for the event - Major Champion, Rich Beem and the legendary Colin Montgomery.  I'd played with Colin a few times but had never played with Rich, I was excited as I'd read his book previously and wanted to ask him about his earlier career.  Thursday was a perfect morning, which was a nice change to the rest of the season.  I've played so many Pro-ams this year in perfect conditions and the tournament in horrendous ones!  The guys with early tee-times were tearing the course apart.  I must have inspired Joel on Tuesday as he took the early lead at 8 under.  The course was playing straightforward but you still have to get the ball in the hole and do all the right things!  I followed the usual routine, physio warm up 2 hours before my tee-time, good warm-up on the range and putting then attack the bag of sandwiches Bev makes and head to the first tee.  I had a good start and was 1 under after 3 but short sided myself on 6 for a silly bogey.  Monty on the other hand made a clumsy bogey on the 2nd and another on the 7th, both with short irons in his hand.  He didn't speak much after that!  Rich birdied 6, 7 & 8 to really get it going.  We got to the 9th green, right by the clubhouse and Monty decided he'd had enough, he told us he could hardly walk and he walked in.  We talked Ryder Cup before he walked in, and Monty thinks it'll be a rowdy one.  He's covering it for Sky and has to be up at 4am in Chicago to do all the previews for the UK coverage.  I don't think he was looking forward to those alarms!

I hit good putts but the greens were bumpy in the afternoon and the putts kept lipping out.  I finished on one under, tied 80th and a little frustrated with the performance!  I think Gareth Maybin had the best score in the afternoon; he was on the leader board at 6 under and looking great for the week.  I was grabbed by the drug testing guy as I was completing my scorecard.  They don't come to many of the events but you'll get tested once every so often.  Unfortunately I'd gone to the loo on the way down the 18th and 2 big bottles of water and an hour later I finally managed the sample he needed.  He was an interesting guy and covers all the other sports, mainly the tennis, and had some good stories to keep me entertained as we waited.  I'd planned to practice my putting after the round but James and Bev had decided to call it a day at 730 as the light was fading and the practice green was really bumpy.  We headed home to some cold take away pizza and fish, salad and gnocchi, then straight to bed.

Playing in a 2 ball when everyone else is playing in 3s is difficult; you end up waiting around a lot but I still managed 8 birdies and 3 bogies on Friday.  The putts finally dropped and I got to capitalise on the improvements in my swing.  Rich couldn't get anything going but we had good craic.  He was telling me stories about the US Tour; he's definitely had a lot of fun over the years.  His book - Blood, sweat and tees is definitely worth a read!  I think the golf used to get in the way of the partying a few years back!  I think he's enjoying his trip to Europe, says it's much more friendly than US Tour. 

James and I practiced putting after the round again.  I'm currently €15 up.  I give him a one shot lead, we play 9 holes and the winner gets €5.  It's a bit of fun and always good to introduce an element of competition to practice sessions instead of working on drills all the time!  The Players' lounge hasn't been great this week, it's a small area trying to cater for 156 players and their partners buffet style.  So it's great if you're there when the fresh food comes out but not if you're 155 in the queue!  We just went home and Bev fixed up some food, and I had a little swim and a siesta.  I was 16th when I finished playing, but ended up tied 36th at the end of the day.  It's another cut made!  The cut ended up being -4; I think the lowest of the year so far.  The standard out here is pretty good and it's hard to make money!

I played at 10am on Saturday with Damian McGraine.   Damian is a straight talking guy from Meath and is a very under rated player.  I frequently play practice rounds with him and Peter Lawrie and was expecting to have a lot of fun.  Unfortunately we dragged each other down!  Thankfully I managed to sink a few putts on the back 9 to shoot level which is never a disaster but felt like it on Saturday when folk were shooting 8 under par.  Damian was playing well but misjudged 2 wedges into 2 of the par 5s, ending up in the water on both occasions.  We finished 55th and knew there would be a chance we'd be playing together early on Sunday morning.  I knew I'd have to play well to get any OWR points and enough money to break even for the week. 

We were up early on Sunday morning for the 830 tee-time.  In one way it was great as we'd definitely make the return flight at 1730 to Gatwick, on the other as a player you want to be playing in the last group and in with a real chance of winning!  What a difference a day makes.  Damian and I pushed each other all the way constantly leapfrogging each other; it would have made a great match play event!  I birdied 1,5,8,9,11,13,17 and 18 but bogeyed 6.  Damian birdied 5,6,8,9,14 and 15.  We both left a few shots on the course and could have had really great scores, but I was happy with 7 under.  I moved from 54th to 6th position.  Unfortunately I dropped to 22nd by the time everyone else had played.  -24 is a fantastic score! To average 6 under through 4 rounds is some serious golf.  As I finished I was telling everyone that Colsartes was going to finish it off.  He hits the ball so far!  He turned the Par 5 8th into driver, 8 iron this week - I was hitting driver and rescue.  That's a massive difference!  Matteo shot two 65s at the weekend to keep the locals happy and they were very happy to see Edwardo Molinari return to competition after wrist surgery earlier in the year!
This bit of the season is always interesting as players are coming under pressure to secure their jobs for next season.  Garth Mulroy finished second this week and secured his European Tour card for next year.  He's a member of 3 tours (US PGA, European and Sunshine).  It's difficult to perform consistently well on 1 never mind 3! Especially when you consider the number of miles he has to travel to fulfil the quota of tournaments each of the Tours require!

I finished in good time for the 1730 back to Gatwick; those boys based in the South East of England have no idea how good they have the travel.  Graeme Storm was on the flight and then had a 5 hour drive back up north.  He wasn't sure he'd make the connection and really wanted to get home to see his kids before he headed off again for a few days corporate stuff. 

Gareth Maybin had told me Sunday morning on the putting green before my round about Nevin Spence and the tragedy at his family farm.  I didn't know Nevin and I can't imagine how his family are trying to come to terms with what has happened, I'm not sure how you would deal with something like that.  It certainly gave me a lot to think of besides golf as Damian and I were playing on Sunday morning.  My thoughts are with the family.