Andy Sullivan: On three wins in 2015 and the Walker Cup
Coming into 2015 Andy Sullivan was best known for winning a trip to space for a hole-in-one in the Netherlands, something he laughed off in typical style.
And no, he won’t be going galactic any time soon – “I have no desire in doing it, it is a fantastic prize but I am nowhere near doing it.”
Sullivan came on to most people’s radars when he made the Walker Cup team at Royal Aberdeen in 2011, a week which saw GB&I overcome the likes of the Patricks, Cantlay and Rodgers, Russell Henley, Harris English, Peter Uihlein and none other than Jordan Spieth.
Sullivan was our top ranked amateur and went on to finish third at Q School. That was something he had to do again 12 months later after a disappointing rookie season.
Since then, however, it has been a different story.
You would do well to find anyone who plays golf for a living and still laughs as much. This year would have had even the most ground-down of tour pros rolling in the aisles: Sullivan has done what no other player has managed by winning an incredible three times.
He capped it off by chasing Rory McIlroy all the way home in the Tour Championship in Dubai last month and the boy from Nuneaton is now set for a first trip to Augusta in April.
You’ve had a bit of everything with your wins this season. In your maiden success, in the first event of the year at the South African Open, you were seven behind at the start of the day against Charl Schwartzel?
I didn’t look at a leaderboard until the 16th and I saw that I was three behind. Being purely honest I was going up 18 thinking I’ve had a pretty good week and I will finish second or third.
I got in the clubhouse and said to my manager ’shall we have a beer then?’ and he said let’s wait a couple of holes.
I felt privileged to be in that play-off, I played well in that last round and it was Charl’s to lose so I thought I was the happier of the two and Charl seemed frustrated to be there.
Driving down to the play-off my caddy said ’no regrets’. It was a really good comment, I was more shocked that he came out with something so profound. He’s not known for saying these sort of things.
How nerve-wracking was it to be in a play-off to win your first Tour event compared to other experiences that you’ve had?
I felt relaxed for first two shots, then my knees were shaking over the final putt. That was probably the most nervous I’ve been, I don’t think I have ever exhaled so much air in my life. It was weird, I was just trying to hit the line that I picked and it hung on, I thought it was going low. It was a massive relief as you could see from the reaction.
You know you’re not the favourite when you can hear yourself celebrate.
The first two wins came in Johannesburg, the most recent victory, in Portugal, was very different. You led after every round and won by nine?
It seemed like a long time since those two wins, they were still in the same year but it felt like a long time ago. I think just in terms of winning in Continental Europe is big for me.
Don’t get me wrong, it was unbelievable to win for the first time in South Africa and I’ll remember it forever. But there are always questions marks: can you do it in Europe? I am just glad to put those question marks to bed now.
What is it like going into a Sunday with a five-shot lead?
A few of those things were in my mind on the Saturday night and I just tried to block it all out and just go out there and play golf and just let it take care of itself.
If I kept playing to my ability, I thought those things would take care of themselves, or if they didn’t, then I had given it my best shot. For me, it’s just about going out there and trying to play good golf and enjoy it.
What struck you as the main differences between the amateur and professional worlds?
Going from the amateur game to the European Tour is like a different world – the aura is totally different. As an amateur you are competing against 15 guys, on the Tour anyone can win and it is not just a case of if you can stand up you are guaranteed to do well. It can be very intimidating.
In my first European Tour event I got within two and was playing without any fear and then I stuck it in reverse and come home in an ambulance. I’m glad it happened as it prompted me to see a psychologist, Lee Crombleholme, and sort things out and since then things got a lot better.
I hadn’t seen one before, he was able to work with me and allowed me to be myself on the course, I was serious at the right times but, if you can’t enjoy what you’re doing, then I don’t want to do it.
You might have the best record of anyone who has ever been to Q School; two visits, two third-place finishes?
It is the worst week of the year, just to confirm! It’s terrible. You play four rounds and nothing is in the bag, luckily I have always played well there and not put pressure on myself. I could play my own game rather than try to get myself into position.
It is hard to keep your card as you don’t get in all the big events. You have got to perform and the second time around I was third in my first event so that took some pressure off as I did well out of the re-rank.
It’s not nice losing your card, the pressure’s on and it’s unknown territory. Scheduling is massive, you find yourself playing more than you really want to try and make some money.
Coming to the big events I was a bit burnt out, it’s a fine line on what to do and you can’t predict when you’re going to play well.
We were so much more of a team than they were. We annihilated them in the foursomes” Come Dubai this year you were in the marquee group with Rory and Martin Kaymer, as a threeball you were -33 for the first two rounds. Presumably you are now comfortable in these types of situation?
That’s where you want to be, I was adamant that I was going to enjoy it. You don’t know when you are going to be playing with Rory and Martin again so you make sure you have fun. I stood up, played well and showed to myself that that’s where I want to be.
For me I perform better in the pressure situations, sometimes I can be found wanting when I am 30th or 40th and I can be a bit lacklustre. I play better when all eyes are on me though I did think they had messed up the draw!
How long is Rory?
At the 3rd I dropped hammer on it, I really went to town on it. And then he hit, and I was watching it in the air, and I’m thinking this is going 50 past me. It was only 40 in the end. He would be 10 yards past you but can then throw one in that is 40-50 yards past you.
His clutch putting doesn’t get much credit. From 12 feet he is brilliant, people get sucked into him hitting it miles but his short game is much better than people talk about.
This year brought a first appearance in the WGC Cadillac Match Play. How did you find coming up against Patrick Reed?
He was absolutely fine. I was expecting a bit of needle but there were no fist pumps which I probably helped by putting terribly and not holing anything so he was quite comfortable.
I think he got a bit of a bad deal at the Ryder Cup. If a European did the same it would have been seen very differently, the Americans are getting humped so what do you expect him to do? Lie down? He’s going to want to win. You get caught up in the moment and that’s fine.
You can see why he’s won WGCs. His short game was really good and, like Rory, he probably doesn’t get enough credit for that.
You played Jordan Spieth in the Walker Cup singles, what do you remember of that?
He is a great lad and really frustrating to play against. I played really well, I would knock it in to 10 feet and he would be 30 feet away and he would hole and I would miss.
It was a rollercoaster of a match, he was four up after eight, I then birdied the next four and he birdied the next three. You could just tell that he was going to be something special. I threw everything that I had at him and he just kept coming back at me. I’m not surprised he is the No 1. A guy who can hole out from 25 feet a lot of the time knows he has to just keep the ball in play.
Did he look at the hole on short putts then?
To be honest I didn’t notice, all I noticed was his backside as he repeatedly kept picking the ball out of the hole!
It is easy to say now but four guys stood out – Patrick Cantlay was No 1 in the world but maybe didn’t shine as much as he could.
The four who stood out for me were Russell Henley, Jordan Spieth, Harris English and Peter Uihlein. I played them all and they were special. Under pressure they could perform.
How was Nigel Edwards as a captain?
Great, very motivational. All week we were doing press and it was how many they were going to beat us by and he was having none of that. The biggest thing was that a lot of us knew we were going to be in that team so morale was massive and that’s where we did them. We were so much more of a team than they were. We annihilated them in the foursomes (6.5/8) and that was obviously key.
You turned pro at 25 which is later than most?
I had goals that I wanted to achieve, I wanted to win things and I think it is important to springboard yourself when you turn pro.
My handicap was low but I didn’t win much worldwide until my last couple of years as an amateur. I always wanted to play Walker Cup too.
One common theme of the three wins is the red trousers – why?
I think that is my Sunday outfit, red and white for Liverpool. The first time I wore them they worked so I thought I’d try them again. I may as well keep doing it, it is almost Tiger-esque.
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