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Early exit but some welcome time off.......

It was disappointing to miss the cutt by one shot in Dubai, but I'd been encouraged by the number of good shots I'd hit during the second round of 71.  It's always a little frustrating when you miss by only one shot as you tend to overanalyse your rounds using the "if only" mentality which doesn't really help you learn or achieve a lot!  Someone once told me that in golf you are never playing as badly as you think you are, and you are also never playing as well as you think, somewhere in the middle ground. It's a nice even thought to keep thru the season.

Bev and I sat down over the weekend and had a look at the rest of the schedule.  We decided that 4 weeks in a row was a little much for me and that we should limit it to 3 events.  As Bev had a few "free" days (she wasn't going to be walking around the course at the weekend) she wanted to get started making my travel plans and getting flights and accommodation booked.  She likes to be organised and get things sorted well in advance, flights and hotels are often cheaper being booked 6 months in advance so she has everything planned out now until September!  I can be a little disorganised so it's a good combination, especially when we fly to random spots with few flights and not many hotels located close to the course! 
Mum and Dad were still here so we did a few touristy things like a dinner cruise on the creek and a fancy steak dinner at the Souk, which we wouldn't normally ever do.  It's nice to have a few days of normal holiday stuff between tournaments and practice - it helps you clear your mind.

We had to spend an extra week in Dubai waiting on my residency visa coming through.  The visa will enable us to set up a more permanent base out there without having to buy a place.  I'm keen to try it over next winter so that I can practice without having to stay in hotels.  The break also gave me a chance to groove my swing in the 25 degree winter weather of the Middle East.  I spent a few days up at the Butch Harman Golf Academy at the Els Club.  Justin Parsons, the head teaching pro at the Butch Harman Academy, was a few years ahead of me at Campbell and very generously let me pop up to do some practice.  The facilities are fantastic.  They have great grass on the range, its cut short just like we have it at tournaments and they use new Titleist Pro V1x balls.  They have lots of targets on the range area and a fantastic chipping area; combined with pure greens its golfing nirvana!  If you had given me these facilities as a 15 year old I would have been ridiculously excited.  Justin watched me practice a little and videoed a few swings, e-mailing them to myself and Jamie Gough my coach.  We also did some 3D swing analysis on their system.  I'd not used it before as I've normally popped to UUJ and use the facility Prof Eric Wallace has down there but the one in Dubai took only 30mins to set up.  I took a lot of positives from the analysis as it showed the swing is definitely on the right track.  Rory has also popped in to see Justin and has used their 3D analysis tool as well; his results are off the charts good!  There are certain key numbers of hip turn, hip thrust speed and body clearance which all the top players have in common.  The golf swing at this level is an athletic move; it's no longer a "fuddy duddy" game which is why so many guys are working hard in the gym and using physio teams.  The analysis can also help direct your gym work, identifying key areas that you can improve flexibility or strength.  Justin and his team prepared a work out for me based on the Titleist TPI program; after looking at some of my restricted areas, in my ageing body!

As we'd rented a car in Dubai for the 2 weeks which was an interestingly scary and crazy experience, I decided to take a trip out of town to visit an old friend from Shandon Park.  Robin Symes and I used to play golf together for Shandon, Ulster and Ireland when we were kids.  Robin figured out early on that playing wasn't his only passion and has become a much respected coach.  He's been living and teaching in Korea for about 7 years and set up his own academy (RNY Golf Institute) about three and a half years ago now.  He has started to run a golf camp for some of his students during January and February in a location around the world.  It snows in Korea during this time that they can't practice.  This year he had chosen a location about an hour and a half outside Dubai in a place the locals call Ras al Khaimah.  The camp was based at the Tower Links Golf Course and so Bev and I headed down the highway to meet up with Robin and his team.  We didn't realise we'd be driving through the fringe of the desert; the sand dunes were huge at the side of the road!  Thankfully there was no wind so conditions for driving were good.  We couldn't get over the difference in the colour of the sand out here; its redder in colour, compared with that in Dubai, this was real Arabia!

Robin has a team of 5 staff and 21 kids with him this year.  The students range in age from 14 to 23 and are away from home living in a hotel for 2 months.  It's a mixed group with more boys than girls this year, which is a little unusual generally Robin has more female students.  The Korean ladies dominate the LPGA Tour at the moment, but the guys are starting to catch them up.  To help them feel more at home the golf course and hotel have been trying to prepare more Korean style food.  They get up at 530 and go for a run then do gym work and have breakfast, then head up to the course.  Robin's day finishes about 8pm as the course has 9 holes and the range which is flood lit.  These kids work hard!  Mostly they spend all day at the course from 8am to 730/8pm!  They don't take a day off and they have access to good quality coaching at all times.  I wouldn't have had the patience or work ethic at their age to practice as they do.  To be honest I still wouldn't spend all day at the course during weeks off.  I like to get up, get the practice session done and spend the afternoon doing something else or else golf just consumes my entire life.  I think the UAE has been a bit of a culture shock for the team but they've also found it better than Florida and Australia for practice and I think Robin would return again next year.  I'm going to spend 2 days with them ahead of my trip to the next event in South Africa to try and toughen me up.  I'll arrive Thursday morning and spend Thursday, Friday and Saturday with them sharpening up my game and maybe take some dirhams off them on the course as they play pretty competitive matches.

We were expecting the residency visa on Thursday afternoon as the weekend is Friday and Saturday out there, when it got to 4pm and we still hadn't received a call to collect it we began to panic.  Our flight to Dublin was booked for 7am Sunday morning and I couldn't travel without my passport and visa.  Eventually we got the call to say it hadn't been issued and that we'd have to change our flight to Monday.  So we spent a few more days hanging around at the Butch Harman academy and going to the cinema, just trying to pass the time.  Sunday lunchtime came and we still hadn't received a call so we started phoning to try and get my passport back, still no joy so at 4pm we went and sat in the office of the guy helping us.  It's amazing how your physical presence on site galvanises people into action!  I had my passport by 530pm and we left the Mall of The Emirates happy people knowing we were going home!  We arrived back at the airport hotel and Bev spotted the rugby match on the big screen outside at The Irish Village pub so we popped down to catch the last 20 minutes.  It wasn't the most inspiring performance and our arrival seemed to induce some strange decisions from the Irish players, still it was nice to get to watch a bit of the game with some many folk from back home! 

It was a very early start on Monday morning - 430am alarm to get the car to the airport at 5.  We turned up handed the passports over and the confused looked on the check in guys face wasn't funny.  I'd called to change our reservation on Friday morning but the helpline had only changed Bev's flight not mine!  I had to run down to the ticketing sales area (pro golfers spend their life doing this) and have them change my ticket.  Unfortunately the queue was 6 long with only one representative and it wasn't moving fast!  Bev called the helpline again from the check in area and got my ticket changed; we got checked in with only 15 minutes to spare, what a result!  I'd hate to have seen the fuss if we hadn't made the flight!  We eventually arrived back into Dublin at 1120 and got lifted by Bev's Dad (our usual driver!) and were home in Templepatrick for lunch!  I'm looking forward to 10 days of wearing warm clothes before heading back to the desert!