Last week at The Open I stood in the mixed zone for short periods where a carousel of players were wheeled out after their rounds and, whatever score they shot, they all pretty much shared one thing in common – a slightly haunted look.
Five hours battling the elements and their nerves had taken their toll. There was an air of anxiety in the air, there were little twitches here, caps were constantly adjusted and a variety of clichés were trotted out to speed up the process of getting on with doing something different.
And these were the ones who were doing well.
Even before going out I watched Rory McIlroy wince and grimace his way around the putting green for 20 minutes ahead of his final round.
It’s fair to say there are few better ways to make a living but golf doesn’t half leave its mark mentally.
I play one ‘competition’ a year which is over four rounds and, come the end of this marathon, I will happily be sectioned for a few days to allow my brain and body to decompress. Around three days later I am ready to behave and interact normally and, within two weeks, I will be ready to put bat to ball.
Imagine doing this into your 50s when the nerve ends are fraying. Miguel Angel Jimenez won 21 times on the European Tour and two thirds of them came incredibly after he turned 40. The Spaniard turned 50 at the start of 2014 and he now has two ‘majors’ after his success at St Andrews in the Senior Open.
The record books will show a one-shot victory and there will be pictures of Jimenez smiling, puffing his chest out and chomping on a cigar.
The truth is that any win is very well earned, Jimenez’s putter went very cold on the back nine and he had to dig very deep into the locker to get the job done. It was ballsy rather than brilliant in the end and, once again, proved that anyone who finishes above Bernhard Langer will have a very good chance.
Imagine doing this six days a week, maybe 30 weeks a year, living out of a suitcase, playing for yours and your family’s living, being surrounded by huge chunks of the field who are similarly struggling and on the edge and all in the knowledge that there is a good chance that you’re likely to end your career without ever winning.
You might have been the best in the county growing up or the superstar amateur but these things sometimes don’t translate to the very top table.
When Richard McEvoy turned pro 17 years ago, having won the Lytham Trophy and being part of a record-breaking away win in the 2001 Walker Cup alongside the likes of Luke Donald, Nick Dougherty and Graeme McDowell, he probably hadn’t anticipated a winless run that would last 285 appearances on the European Tour.
He probably also hadn’t envisaged being such a fixture at Qualifying School – from 2012 to 2016 he made it through four times. Otherwise it has been an awful lot of MCs, following the Challenge Tour around and three third-place finishes in 17 years.
And then it happens, a week after winning on the Challenge Tour for just the third time, McEvoy played the weekend with Bryson DeChambeau and holed a 20-footer at the 72nd hole to lift the European Open.
Every now and then a player wins and there is a genuine warmth behind the social media, McEvoy’s victory is one such example.
Played final round Q School in 2016 with @RichardMcEvoy79. His Mrs is a school teacher I believe and they’ve got kids. I’ve got nothing but respect for people like Richie and his wife. Really gutsy performance today. I’ll have a wine for them tonight. ??
— Eddie Pepperell (@PepperellEddie) July 29, 2018
McEvoy plays at the same club, Thorpe Hall in Essex, as Matthew Southgate. He has remained close to the club and is regularly back there helping and supporting. He and Southgate jointly organise and take part in a charity event ‘Hattie’s Heroes’ for Southgate’s niece. In the past three years it has raised £150,000.
McEvoy had never been higher than 266th in the world, now he is projected to leap up to 135. He is 63rd on the Race to Dubai, there won’t be another trip down to Q School and he can probably see a bit more of his family. Well done.