• Facebook
  • Twitter

Enjoying some home comforts but focus remains firmly on the golf

My week off was spent doing a bit of media and getting organized for the week at Galgorm.  I has a few interviews with local journalists for the papers on Monday, UTV on Tuesday, BBC on Friday and BBC Radio Ulster on Saturday.  It's more media than I normally do!  It's always good to catch up with the guys as I generally only get to see them at the Irish Open!
It feels weird sleeping in your own bed for a tournament, it never happens on Tour.   You never get to stay at home even when playing the Irish Open.  It's a nice honour to be the tournament ambassador again.  I'm really pleased to be able to help bring attention to the Provence for positive reasons and to help generate income.  The golf tourism industry is huge here and the NI Open gets worldwide coverage through the Challenge Tour highlights programme.
It's really hard to qualify now for Tour, even for the Challenge Tour.  This is shown by the fact that Northern Ireland only have one representative on the Challenge Tour, Gareth Shaw.  Everyone knows how well Rory, Graeme, Darren and Padraig have done over the past twenty years on the European and PGA Tours but there is a massive shortage of guys with full time playing privileges on the second tier of European golf.  I think this is where the future Northern Irish stars will come from.  The tournament at Galgorm gives a lot of the local guys a chance to get invites into other Challenge Tour events, supplementing their personal playing privileges.  Basically the federations all host an event and then trade invites with the other nations, so enabling the lads from each country to play on the Tour even if they missed a spot through Q school.
I had four full years on Challenge and finished in the Top 10 once and Top 30 once.  I know how important the Challenge Tour can be to some professional careers.  I'm really pleased to be able to give something back to the Tour and to help make sure the next generation get the same chances I did to get started. 
The event this year has added a food festival so local producers can showcase the best of their produce.  I'm really interested in seeing this as I love food, unfortunately I can't cook.  Chris Bell (Head Chef of the Eagle Restaurant at Galgorm Golf Club) gave me a lesson a few months back and he'll vouch for my incompetence in the kitchen!  I was really surprised by how hot his working environment was, I'm not sure I'd like it and I now see why tempers fray!  I'll definitely be sampling the wares at the stalls, most likely on Friday after my round so please say hello.  I'm lucky that I have a fast metabolism and can eat pretty much what I want, something Bev is a little jealous of!
Last year wasn't a great performance from me.  I missed the cut and I felt I got a little too much attention.  I'm used to being the underdog not the outright favourite.  I called a two shot penalty on myself during my second round and missed the cut comfortably.  This year I've taken a more relaxed approach, no lambo for one thing and press all done largely last week just leaving this week to concentrate on the golf!
It's also a chance for me to catch up with some of the lads I haven't seen in a while.  I was talking to Oliver Wilson on Monday.  He really enjoyed the event last year and came back again this year.  He played Ryder Cup 6 years ago and lost his playing privileges on European Tour two seasons ago.  He says its tough going back to Challenge Tour.  There's little monetary difference between finishing 40th or 50th on Challenge Tour as the prize funds are quite small, but there can be a big difference on the main Tour so it's more beneficial to grind out a result.  This makes me feel fortunate to be playing my golf on the main Tour, especially with a family to support now!  I'm also looking forward to seeing Philip Price, another former Ryder Cupper, Rhys Davies, Ross McGowan and Michael McGeady.  Michael and his wife Lisa have just had another little baby and I'm hoping to pick up a few parenting tips from them this week!
It's getting towards the end of the season on Challenge Tour and the Top 15 guys come the end of Grand Final will be handed full European Tour playing privileges next season.  It's a huge incentive as you avoid a trip to Qualifying School and you also have a better category, so gaining more starts in the 2015 European Tour schedule.  There are only 7 events after this, some of which are big money events for the Challenge Tour rankings in China, Kazakhstan, Oman and Dubai so it's a hugely important part of the season.
This week I've had a session at Greenacres with Johnny Foster and Justin Parsons.  We were concentrating on generating more width in my swing as the default one I return to time and again is the lazyman's narrow swing.   I also played the Greenacres course for the first time and there are some good driving holes!
I played the course at Galgorm on Monday afternoon when it was quiet, even though it was wet and blowing a gale I enjoyed it.  The greens are in fantastic condition, probably 11 on the stimp and running true.  The green staff deserve huge praise, the course is probably in as good condition as many of the courses I play on European Tour.  Hopefully the weather improves a little and we have a decent event.  I think free tickets are still available if you register on-line at www.niopen.co.uk so come along and bring the family!
I've only played one week in the last six due to my foot injury so I'm a little rusty and I'm just hoping for a solid week, more than anything.  I've five out of the next six weeks; the only one I'm not playing is Ryder Cup.  It's a really important part of the season for me and is key to making sure I qualify for the Race to Dubai final series.  A little like the Challenge Tour end of season, main Tour end of season is hugely financially rewarding!  I just have to concentrate once I get back onto the main Tour in Crans as any prize money I should win at Galgorm doesn't help me in the Race to Dubai standings so I'm effectively losing ground by not playing in Italy this week.