2016 Portugal Masters
Another one of our very enjoyable weeks of the year, we all look forward to this tournament for a variety of reasons. Firstly, the weather is generally always good, the location is excellent, with the beautiful Vilamoura Marina on our doorstep, meaning there is no shortage of restaurants or watering holes, and the course never changes from year to year.
As Paul was in the pro-am on Wednesday, I flew out on Tuesday morning. My flight was early... very early. 6.30am, thus a 4am alarm call was most unwelcome. The upside of this was that I was in my rented apartment by midday, sitting on the balcony with an ice cream from the Hagendaas shop next door, looking over the Marina. Sometimes the job isn't too bad. The pro-am was only nine holes this year, with each team getting a new pro for the second nine holes. It's a great idea, and hopefully we'll see more of it in 2017. As in previous years, we had Chippie's "Barmy Army" supporting us.... namely, Audrey & Brian Morrison, Val & Alan Reid, and of course, Paul's wife Marian.
Our playing partners for the two rounds were Pedro Oriol, stepping in as a late replacement for Thomas Bjorn who had pulled out injured, & Scott Jamieson, who was just inside the mark for keeping his card, and needed to make the cut to safeguard his playing rights for the following year. Fortunately, Paul and Scott get on well, and my best mate on tour , Ritchie, caddies for Scott, so it helped relax the atmosphere, and as a result both of them played well. After two rounds, Paul was ten under and Scott just behind at nine under. This put us just inside the top ten going into the weekend. With no wind, receptive greens and very little rough, the scoring was very good.
Saturday was a little bit trickier, with a decent breeze blowing, and although Paul got off to a slow start, the putter warmed up on the back nine, and a 6 under 65 was a very good days work. Not that Chippie's Barmy Army thought so. On the 11th, after a nine iron to about 12 feet, there was no applause from our gang....."That was a good shot. Why are they not clapping?" " Nae idea" was my reply. Walking to the next tee the disgruntled Chipmaster pulled them aside and enquired as to their lack of appraisal. Purely tongue in cheek of course, but it gives you an insight of the psyche of the tour golfer. I just chuckled my way to the 12th tee, having heard it all before. On the twelfth green, Paul holed a lovely 35ft putt for eagle, and this time they all went nuts, although I'm sure it was more to make a point!!
Onto Sunday, and we were in the second last group with Andy Sullivan and Chris Paisley. We knew to have a chance of winning we'd need another 65 at least. Again Paul got off to a slow start, but rallied again on the back 9, returning a 67 and a total of 20 under par, which was good enough for 5th place and our best finish of the year. We ended up 3 shots behind eventual winner, Padraig Harrington. It had been a lovely week, and a great way to finish the year. Time to look back on the year, get in the gym, and come back fitter and stronger next year. Well , that's my plan. We'll see how it works out.
2016 Italian Open
I had a very welcome week off after Switzerland, and flew on Monday from Edinburgh to Malpensa airport in Milan. Even though Glasgow airport is less than 30 minutes from my home, I've found myself using Edinburgh more often due to better flight options and frequency. Easyjet was the airline of choice, and the very civilised flight time of 2pm was just perfect. On arrival I hitched a lift with Ritchie Ramsay to the hotel, arriving just in time for dinner. They even gave me a complimentary beer at check.... Now that's service.!!
Paul wasn't flying until Tuesday , so it gave me time to get a look at the course, which was a new venue for both of us. It was very tree lined, not too long, and fairly soft, so scoring was going to be good. The Wednesday pro-am passed without incident, which is always good, and we we're ready for our early tee time on Thursday, playing with Romain Wattell, and our old Friend, Robert Karlsson. Our tee time was meant to be early on Thursday, but thunderstorms and heavy rain put paid to that. We eventually got started though, after a long delay which meant lots of coffee drinking and even more story telling about players and caddies, past and present.
Paul got off to a flying start, birdieing two of the first three holes, but faltered slightly on the homeward stretch, ending up on level par. As scoring was good, the cut was going to be under par, probably 3 or 4 under.
More thunderstorms and heavy rain on Friday meant we didn't get to start our second round until Saturday morning. A good round was required, but nothing is impossible, and Chippie came out the traps like a greyhound. Flawless golf for the first 15 holes got us to 5 under par for the round and the tournament, and inside the cut line. Internally, I was thinking we could get to six or seven under , but I should've known better. As soon as you start thinking that way, something usually goes wrong..... And it did. A loose iron shot at the 16th and a pulled drive at the seventeenth, meant we had to birdie the last to make the cut. The putt slipped by the edge of the hole, and all of a sudden we were going home. It was a bitter pill to swallow having been going so well, but that's golf. I packed the bag, loaded it on to the van for the trip to Germany the following week and went back to the hotel with my tail between my legs, sulking and looking for a beer. Back at the hotel there were a few caddies in the same boat as me, so we sat on the terrace, played some good tunes, listened to the football results, and topped it all off with a few beers and even more laughs..... Life on tour isn't always so bad!!
2016 British Masters
Having done a fair bit of travelling on planes over the previous few weeks, it was nice to be able to drive to work, albeit a long one. We were heading to The Grove, just outside Watford, and I headed off on Monday evening at around 5pm, hoping to avoid the motorway traffic on the M6. It was fine for most of the way until a broken down lorry just outside Manchester, and a junction closer on the M1 added over an hour onto my journey. I got to my hotel at 11.15.... Torture. Another new venue for the third week in a row, so I met Paul on Tuesday morning, and we had a quick nine holes with Simon Khan, then spent the afternoon doing some testing with some new Wilson Irons.
Our pro-am on Wednesday was a jocular affair, playing with Dave Jones, who presents the football on Sky Sports. Poor David didn't have the best day, and after around twelve holes, we had to give him some golf balls as he had ran out. He took it in good spirits though, Paul played nicely, which set us up well for our afternoon tee time on Thursday. Playing with Rikard Karlberg of Sweden and South Africa's Trevor Immelmann, it was a very civilised 3 ball. Paul played steadily for the first 15 holes, and and at level par, it wasn't a bad effort as it had been windy in the afternoon. However, bogeys at 16 & 17 meant we needed to be four under on Friday to make the cut. Even though the conditions were tricky, the greens were pure, and scoring was still very good. After a tricky start, the Chipster moved up a gear or two, reeling off a few birdies to give us a chance. We needed one more birdie in the last three holes to make the mark, but the birdie putt on the final hole failed to drop, and it wasn't to be. I waited until the following morning before driving home. I'd had enough late night journeys on the M6 for one week. We had one more regular week left for our season, the Portugal Masters in Vilamoura... Let's hope it's a good one
2016 Porsche European Open
I had managed to get home early on Sunday from Milan, which was a bonus, and wasn't flying to Munich until Tuesday, so I had a nice couple of days at home. For the second week in a row, we were playing at a new venue, The Hartle Resort in Bad Griesbach, which is a two hour drive from Munich airport. My flight landed at the same time as Paul's, which was very handy, as he had a courtesy car arranged to pick him up ( Caddies don't get this service, so it was handy to hitch a lift for a long journey) Naturally, as the tournament was sponsored by Porsche, we had a lovely Porsche Cayenne 4x4 for the journey. I even got dropped off first at my hotel. Lovely.
I unpacked the bag and headed straight down to the restaurant for schnitzel and chips( which I ate every night) The tournament was going to be very different from a normal event. Due to record rain and flooding over the weekend, the course had been under water for two days. This meant all practice on Tuesday was cancelled, and even the Wednesday pro-am had to be called off. This meant no one was able to play the course before the tournament started. We were allowed to walk round, but not on the greens. It was doubtful that the tournament would even start on Thursday, but the green staff did the most remarkable job, and by Thursday morning, you would almost never know how much water had been through the course. The one thing that did give it away was on certain holes, there was the smell of rotting flesh from all the worms which had come up due to the rain...Not pleasant!!
Unfortunately, just like the previous week in Italy, we had more delays, but this time it was due to fog. We managed to start after a three hour delay, and Paul played steadily, shooting 2 under par. More fog delays on Friday meant we didn't play at all, so we just hit some balls and headed back to the hotel. On Saturday, we had fog for the third day in a row, and the tournament was now going to be reduced to 54 holes. We played our second round on Saturday afternoon, and were going along nicely, inside the cut line with 4 holes to go. Similar to Italy the week before, two bogeys at our 15th and 16th left us needing to birdie one of the last two holes to make the cut. The par five 8th looked to be our saviour, but a par was the best we could do, needing us to birdie the 9th to make the cut. After splitting the fairway with a three wood, Paul hit a big 8 iron to a front pin over water to about 20 feet and rolled the putt into the centre of the hole. Bingo. It was nice to make a putt when it was needed. Our third and final round on Sunday went on schedule, and Chippie breezed round in 5 under, holing a few nice putts on the way. Our journey from Munich earlier in the week had been in some style, in the sponsors highest spec car. Our journey back to the UK was even better. Due to Paul being vice- captain at the Ryder Cup in Minnesota the following week, we had to be in London on Sunday evening to catch the Monday morning charter flight to the states. There was no commercial flights guaranteed to get us there in time, so the promoters of the European Open very kindly put on a private jet for those who had to get to London. And It was a cracker. A 15 seater, with only 8 of us on it. We were even able to take our Mcdonalds takeaway onto the plane. The perks of the job.... sometimes all the travel isn't too bad.