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Snow joke for competitors at Crans Montana

Crans Montana in Switzerland is definitely the nicest place in terms of scenery that we visit all year.  It's a bit of a trip though, taking approximately 3 hours from Geneva airport on the train and then switching to a courtesy car to get up the mountain.  The village is at 1500m so it takes about half an hour going up the windy road with lots of hairpin turns, not for those who don't like heights!

We flew from London early on Monday to get the journey over as it takes all day.  It also meant we could get the apartment stocked up with breakfast goodies before the shops shut and that I'd be ready to start practice early on Tuesday morning. 

The hotels are all very expensive and cater primarily for the ski season during the winter.  The rooms aren't very big and the furnishings aren't very modern and are a little worn, but they still charge over £200 a night without breakfast.  It's a really expensive week to miss the cut!  Bev and I have rented the same apartment for the last 3 years.  It's small and basic but is reasonably close to the course and is really quiet.  Most importantly it's cheap.  It's a great week to have your own food, to be able to come back from the course and not have to go out to one of the really busy restaurants is fantastic!  We were able to chill out and watch some TV or read our books.  I'm reading the Bear Grylls autobiography at the minute, can't put it down, it's so inspiring.  Everest Base Camp here I come, Bev keeps laughing saying I'd need an army of Sherpa's to take the food I'd need up the mountain.  A lot of the caddies complain about the price of things this week, but I think the view more than makes up for the expense.

The course has stood up well to the changes in equipment.  It's been around for over 50 years and was redesigned by Seve about 15 years ago.  He made it a lot tougher.  The greens all look like upturned saucers, with big run offs.  A shot which doesn't travel into the middle of the green, or one with too much spin is thrown off down the sides.  Chipping back is tough as it's easy to end up over the other side.  Lots of players get frustrated during the week.  You fool yourself into believing you should shoot 5 under everyday as the course is so short and one or two of the par 4s are reachable from the tee and there are eagle chances on the par 5s.  Unfortunately golf doesn't work that way and on this course you can find big trouble really easily!  One of the other factors making it a difficult week is the altitude.  1500m means the ball travels about 10% further than normal.  I tend to use the meters book for the course, as there is a 10% difference between yards and meters, it saves for trying to remember to convert out on the course in the heat of the tournament.  Unfortunately early in the morning, when it's really cold the ball doesn't go very far, and as your round progresses and the heat builds it travels further.  It explains some of the "mysteries" you sometimes see on TV.  You basically have to gauge the temperature, the altitude and the shot as you go along. 

The European Tour normally follows the sun, but this year the weather Gods seem to have sent us wind and rain.  This week we had snow!  This is a co-sanctioned event with the Asian Tour, so 20 lads had flown in from almost tropical conditions to winter ones.  They were not happy, and it only added to the frustration showing in the locker room!  The weather forecast at the start of the week was terrible.  It was predicting snow and fog for Friday and Saturday with really low temperatures.  Not the usual weather we experience in Crans, normally it's in the mid 20s.

Tuesday and Wednesday were nice and warm and sunny.  I got my practice done in the sun on Tuesday and played the Pro-am on Wednesday.  I played with 2 Italians, a father and daughter, and a Spanish gent.  They have homes in both their home country and also one in Switzerland, in Crans and were all members of the golf course.  They were super rich!  Crans isn't really like other ski resorts; it seems to be one for the really rich.  There all the designer shops here, Louis Vuitton, Hermes, Prada and the jewelry shops are amazing (or so Bev tells me).  I've yet to take the plunge and purchase anything but a lot of the guys do as it's a very popular event to bring your wife or girlfriend too.  I had a great time at the Pro-am, think we finished quite high up the order but unfortunately I played my best golf of the week during it.  I started with an eagle and made another 4 birdies.  I always seem a little more relaxed during the Pro-am and I'm working on taking the mindset into the tournament proper.  It hasn't worked yet though!
One of the guys I played with owns a shipping company with offices around the world.  He's also involved in sponsoring the DP World Championships in Dubai.  It's amazing who you can be paired with at these events and what can come from keeping up some correspondence with the business men.  Several of the players have received sponsorship from being sociable on the day.  It's also a huge part of Tour life and basic human decency to be polite to the Pro-am partners; many of the golfers aren't and not only is it unprofessional but it can hurt the Tour financially especially in this financial climate.

The weather changed on Wednesday night and I could feel the chill in the air as I walked home for the course after physio.  Several times this season we've had great weather on Tuesday and Wednesday only for it to change on the day of the event.   I put my waterproofs on from the start to try and keep the heat in early on Thursday morning.  I played solidly.  I made only one mistake, a 3 putt on 10 for bogey.  Both my birdie putts on 17 and 18 hung over the hole.  It could easily have been a 68 but it was a one under 70 that I signed for instead.  It was a solid start.  You have to be so accepting in golf.  You can hit the perfect putt, which might do something weird just before the hole and miss; it can mean a lot of money when you play professionally.  It can be stressful when you think how many bills and costs you have for the game never mind your family responsibilities.  You just have to keep believing that sooner or later things are going to go your way!

Some of those good things happened during my round on Friday.  A couple of putts dropped at the end of the round when it was almost snowing on us.  I carded a nice 68 to get to 12th place and was well positioned for the weekend.  This was the first event I'd ever played at Crans where it was this cold.  The ball was actually travelling about 15% less that the metres distance so we were doing a lot of math on each shot.  This is where team work with your caddy really helps!  It's also important to have a very clear number in your head when you're selecting the club and visualizing the shot.

Saturday was a really long day.  I teed off with Oliver Fisher and Michael Jonzon at 10am and had played 2 holes in just under an hour when play was suspended.  As we'd walked to the 2nd tee box the course had been engulfed by fog, it then lifted a little and we played the second for the same thing to happen on the 3rd tee box.  Jaco Van Zyl had stood on the 1st tee for 15 minutes before play was suspended.  Play resumed about 2 hours later and unfortunately it turned out to be one of those days when I just couldn't get anything going.  I missed 3 greens on the short side, and on the 9th I had too much spin the ball, it pitched by the pin but travelled the length of the green back onto the fairway - about 40 yards.  I didn't play the Par 5s very well; I couldn't get the ball up and down for birdies which puts you under pressure.  But c'est la vie!  The stats for the week said I hit a lot of fairways, a huge improvement from the start of July; you have to take the positives!   It was a 10 hour day at the course on Saturday.  A huge part of pro golf is time management or filling and the ability to think about something else, or nothing at all especially during weather delays!

We had another u-draw on Sunday.  The leaders and last placed tee off last from the 1st and 10th tees, those on in-between scores go earlier.  Play is usually slower in this format, partly because we tend to play in 3s and partly because there are so many players on the course.  Play is particularly slow in Crans where so many of the Par 5s are reachable in 2.  It does mean that play gets finished in time for the TV coverage which is hugely important for the sponsor, promoter and the Tour.  It also meant we could catch an earlier train to Zermatt for a few days rest and relaxation!  I played some good golf, hitting lots of fairways again and was 1 under early in the round.  Unfortunately I misjudged a chip on the par 5 15th and lost the momentum I'd built.  I ended up in a stony bunker on 17 and couldn't get a clean contact with the ball and it just killed the round.  Its little things like that which make the difference at this level.  Richie Ramsay and the leaders were making birdies from everywhere, but that generally happens when it's your week! 

Bev and I got packed up and almost made a very early train, unfortunately we left one bag at the apartment through a mix up and a one hour round trip back up the hill to collect it delayed us a little.  We were on the train up the other side of the valley to Zermatt as Richie was picking up the trophy.  I played with him when he won his first event at Pearl Valley in South Africa back in 2010.   At least my cheque pays for this week, it's better than nothing but not where I want to be finishing.  I'll take the positives into Italy in 2 weeks' time and enjoy a few days walking up the mountains here in Zermatt.