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Hill walking helps me chill out

It can be tough to fill your off time as a pro golfer if you don't have other interests.  For many years I'd been entirely golf centered - my hobby had become my job - and I had no balance to life.  Something else is necessary to take your mind away from the bad times just like with any other job.  Over the past 2 years I've started to read and hike and over the last year I've started in the gym.  Bev insists I learn to cook as well but we haven't progressed much beyond poached eggs and spaghetti Bolognese yet!


During the 2 week break I have between the Spanish Open and the BMW at Wentworth I was planning on keeping busy with practice and gym and 4 days of hiking.  After the poor performance at the Spanish Open it was obvious that I had work to do on my swing.  My coach Jamie had given me drills to help me achieve a more consistent left to right ball flight.  So I spent Sunday and Monday at the Wisley on the range in the rain, but we made the most of it.  My wife Bev helped me with my drills standing behind me and poking my knee with a club handle to help it stay flexed, videoing swings to send to Jamie and getting me buckets of balls.  She gets friendly slagging from the other pros for helping, and takes it all in good fun.  Colin Montgomery was at the very edge of the range working away when we arrived, he was back working with coach Dennis Pugh, following a break of a few years.  Dennis and I talked about how un-Spanish the weather had been in Seville and Bev and I passed on our congratulations to Francesco Molinari, another client, who had won the event in Spain.


A few months ago I had arranged for Johnny Foster, Paul Cutler and Andrew Snoody to come over from Belfast for a few days golf and to see my base here in England.  We rarely have friends over from Belfast as it takes a long time to co-ordinate diaries but the boys made it.  Johnny is working with Paul and thought it might help Paul to see how much Tour Players practice and the sort of facilities they use.  The Wisley has an exceptional short game area and a great range, it was one of the main reasons I decided to join as my short game really needs some work.  We played Walton Heath the first day, all 36 holes as I have a US Open Qualifier there over both courses on the 28th May, the Monday after Wentworth.  It was good for me to see the course.  Paul swings the club really well, it's a nice simple swing, and he hits the ball great.  I was really impressed when we played together on the final day of the Irish Open last year in Killarney.  Johnny has helped him understand his swing and has structured his practice sessions to get the most out of his time.  At this stage Paul just needs to stay patient and work on chipping and putting, everything will come together for him.  It has taken me 10 years to get onto Tour, so time is definitely on his side.  We spent Wednesday at the Wisley but the rain delayed our game and Johnny kept us entertained.  He has a great sense of humour and a serious passion for the game making him one of the leading coaches in Ireland.  I'm not sure the boys were prepared for camping out in our house; it's a little small to have all of us in it so Andrew and Paul ended up on airbeds on the floor!  I'm not sure it was a great example of the glamorous side of the game.  I did take them out for a spin in the new car though, I just couldn't help showing off!  I'm still taken by the noise.


Bev and I left for Geneva as the boys headed back to Belfast.  We were going to Zermatt, on the Italian border for a four day hiking holiday.  I find that sitting around a pool is boring and I get lazy.  I also have too much time to think and invent problems that don't really exist.  I really enjoyed my first hiking trip last year so we went back to Zermatt even though the walking season hasn't started yet.  Hiking is great fun, you get lots of exercise and it's rejuvenating all at the same time.  Zermatt, at the foot of the Matterhorn, is arguably one of the nicest places on earth.  Complete with hiking poles, boots, and fully loaded backpacks (pictures on Facebook) we ascended from 1600m to 2500m in five hours on the first day.  All the mountain cafes are shut in May as it's between ski season and walking season so we had to carry our own food and water - I eat a lot so the bags were really heavy! It's mentally and physically challenging but the breathtaking views of the Matterhorn, the fresh air and the absolute peace make it so rewarding. 


I wore a heart rate monitor one day, it also calculates calories consumed, and analyses your heart rate.  I found it interesting that as much as I felt I was pushing myself there was room for more.   I was slightly discouraged to find that walking up the mountains for 7 hours only burnt 1600 kcals; I can eat more than that at breakfast!  I've been learning a lot about training and diet this year and have been feeling better as a result so was interested in my little experiment.  


3 days later our bodies were sore and we were ready to stop.  We flew back to a lovely evening in the South of England, hopeful for a week of sunny weather to practice in before Wentworth.  I watched the final few holes of The Players Championship from Sawgrass when we arrived home in Ascot, but missed the exciting finish to the Premiership.  One of the bars in Zermatt had shown the golf all week so unusually I'd seen a lot of the coverage.  I was surprised that Rory and Graeme seemed to struggle.  The course looks very tough.  What a hole the 17th is, how I'd love to be there playing next year.


Typically though as I got out of bed on Monday morning the rain had started.  It didn't stop John Terry turning up to play 18 holes and spend a sometime on the range.


There is a big weekend of sport coming up and we have a full house of friends arriving starting on Thursday as we live 30 minutes from Twickenham on the train.  I have my Ulster shirt out and ready and am hoping they can do the business - what a weekend that would be! SUFTUM!