Weeks break before a hectic period begins
When I was leaving Shanghai late Sunday night I was still fourth
reserve for the WGC HSBC Champions event in Shenzhen. I only
had a single entry visa for China and didn't think anything of it
as I got on the plane to Bangkok ready to meet Bev. She flew
out from London on Saturday afternoon and was in an airport hotel
waiting for me to arrive in the very early hours of the
morning. We were then flying up to Chiang Mai in Northern
Thailand for a few days rest and a little golf before heading to
Singapore. We'd visited the beaches before and had decided to
have a bit more of a cultural break this time. Chiang
Mai is a little cooler and much quieter than Bangkok or the beaches
so many Thai families visit on their holidays. We were
definitely in the minority in the hotel!
As we were sat in the airport, having already checked in our bags,
I got a call from the European Tour. I was now second reserve
but the first reserve wasn't going to travel. The question
was do I travel back to China to see if I got into the field.
I remember Ross McGowan went one year and sat in Shanghai for a
week watching everyone else play. It's an expensive week as
you don't get paid but you've still got to pay for your flights,
hotels, food and caddy. I would have had to travel via Hong
Kong to try and get another business visa. Getting the visa
is a long tortuous process, taking about 6 hours at the
airport. I knew the chances of anyone pulling out were
minimal as the prize fund is huge and you are guaranteed about
$25000 if you finish all four rounds. I stuck with my
original plans and stayed in Northern Thailand. It was
a good idea that I hadn't traveled to the HSBC in China as I had
predicted nobody withdrew.
We planned on visiting some of the temples and to rest up for the
3 weeks ahead - Singapore, Hong Kong and Dubai. I didn't want
to go home as I wouldn't have recovered from the jet lag before I
had to head back out this way. I get why some of the guys
travel back for the week, especially the ones with young families
but it's still easier for me to stay out here while I can.
I was really tired after the week in China and spent 2 days by the
pool. The hotel was about 30 minutes from Chiang Mai in the
hills, completely surrounded by lush green vegetation. It was
so quiet and just what the Doctor had ordered. All I did was
sleep, eat and read my book (Lee Child - The Visitor). It
still takes a lot out of me being included in the TV groups and
playing with the best players, I burn through a lot of mental
energy, I'm still not used to playing in those groups. The
walk this week was also long, so I'd burned through a lot of
physical energy when the adrenaline was pumping. I was
knackered so it was nice to be so quiet away from the sweltering
streets and pollution of a Thai city.
The Western food in the hotel was limited so I just stuck to the
local stuff, it's generally safer and you tend not to end up with a
sore tummy (or worse!). I stuck to the curries and had only
one western meal all week, spaghetti Bolognese, when we visited a
more upmarket venue in town.
We eventually ventured out and into town on Thursday visiting some
of the many Wats in central Chiang Mai. There are so many -
you could easily spend an entire day going around them all.
My favourite was the Wat Chedi Luang with ancient ruins of a Lanna
chedi dating from the 1441. We managed to spend most of the
day in town and finally got a "taxi" home in time for tea glad the
fumes and the driving hadn't killed us. The open sorng-taa-ou
take some getting used to, especially the smell of the diesel
fumes. They are great for a trip in town but I wouldn't
recommend them for the 30 minutes we had back to the hotel!
I'd heard about a really famous temple on the outskirts of Chiang
Mai before we got there, the Wat Phra Si Ratana. It is
revered by Buddhists for its golden chedi and the relics contained
within. People make pilgrimages from all over Thailand to see
it. I'm glad we made the effort to go and visit. The
temple and the views were amazing! We saw lots of Buddhists
monks walking around in their orange robes, it seems an amazing way
to live but I'm sure it's a tough lifestyle and not suited for
everyone. Before we headed home, via the airport, as none of
the central taxi drivers knew where our hotel was. We managed
to fit in a massage on the way to a really lovely dinner, a little
place we'd found the day before behind one of the other temples,
and a quick visit to the night market.
I didn't watch any of the golf; they didn't have the channel in
the hotel and I don't have a slingbox yet! But I did get to
see most of the premiership games, sometimes several times.
Thais seem totally obsessed with English football. I did
manage to watch the highlights of the golf every evening on the
Internet and spent most days popping into Wi-Fi zones to check on
the scores. I was really impressed by Shane Lowry's scores
over the first two day, it was a shame he fell away towards the end
but he's had an amazing few weeks.
I played the course in 2007 at the World Cup with Gareth
Maybin. It's not an easy track but the guys were still
tearing it apart - 60, 61 to get around it is great shooting!
If you give pro golfers 5 reachable par 5s they are going to go
low! The standard is so high now in the top echelons of the
game it's really moved to another level. I thought Louis had
it all sown up on Friday evening with his 5 shot lead, even though
he hadn't putted that well when I played with him the week before
in Shanghai. It was very impressive to see Poulter come from
that far back to win on Sunday but he's in form as the Ryder Cup
showed and is always a threat.
Apparently the tournament is going to be included in the Fedex Cup
next year, I'm not sure how the dates will work but I hope to be
back playing in it. It's a great event and it returns to the
course I played last year in Shanghai on a permanent basis.
I've read some articles or quotes from the top players saying the
European Tour is in trouble as everyone has decided to go and play
in America. I hope we fare ok even in the tough economic
climate it would be a shame for the Tour to fail now when it's been
about so long. Maybe it's time the Tour should ban appearance
monies and just have a higher prize fund the way they do in
America, it might attract more guys back from overseas to play.