Brabazon Trophy

The Road to Alwoodley – Week 8: And relax

It's week 8 so you know what that means – the Brabazon Trophy is here. So how did our man get on? Let's find out

I have always wanted to play in the English Men’s Open Amateur Stroke Play Championship – the Brabazon Trophy to you and me – and now I have done it.

It took place at my home club, Alwoodley, and I could not pass up the chance to take part.

This diary kept track of my attempts to prepare – bearing in mind that I had to fit it in around my wife, two toddler boys, trying to run a company, and having to write this. So I hope you have enjoyed it.

Before I go into detail about how I got on, here are some people you’ll hear about in the blog and some other notables…

Hardware sponsor: Ping

Apparel sponsor: Wolsey

Fitness coach: Rachael Tibbs

Swing coach: Jack Backhouse

Short game and putting coach: Gary Nicol

Pyschologist: Karl Morris

Caddie: Jack Backhouse

Also thanks to Swing Plane Perfector, Garmin, Sky Trak, Arccos and my wife, Justine.

If you enjoyed any of this nonsense then please feel free to follow me on Twitter.

Preparing for the Brabazon Trophy: Week  8

Tuesday May 28

I’m sort of spinning round in circles. I don’t want to do too much, but don’t want to waste preparation time. Have taken to listening to the first six tracks of Heathen Chemistry to try and get an ego going. Have to build confidence. Go the golf club but it is raining so just sort of hang around like some kind of weird groupie. Go and see Jack for a pointless lesson, he does not want to say anything technical, I recognise that so we bash balls and blame the Trackman when a pitching test doesn’t go very well.

Wednesday May 29

Go to the gym before I am due to play. This is a good idea. Expend many nervous energies, am also moving fabulously (I realise ‘moving’ is hardly a triumph but I am a 42-year-old man with a bulging disc so allow me this).

Jack is coming to caddie, we are having a dry run for our burgeoning relationship. We have set out some ground rules:

Rule 1: He is to always be positive
Rule 2: He is doing zapping
Rule 3: He is doing his weird green reading thing

On the range we affect a relaxed disposition, few stretches, flick a few, chat, laugh too much, flick a few more. Jacks says, “Do you think you are the worst player in the field?” and rule one is broken.

We arrive for our 9.30 tee time to discover it is a 9.50 tee time. So we play a quick game of Par 18, I win. Then we arrive for our 9.50 tee time to find there are eight people trying to play. We have a small but good-natured discussion with the patrons of the Moroccan Golf Association and agree that we can go first. I am very, very flustered.

The 1st-tee strategy is hybrid, there is no room to do my pre-shot routine due to the massive white hoardings, I hit a rank toe hook out of bounds and ask Jack for my driver. Same result. We move on.

This is now all I can think about. The rest of the practice round is sort of a daze. All I can think about is that 1st tee shot and those toe hooks. It goes OK though, I play with Ben Firth from Wyke and Max Berrisford from Skipton. They seem very relaxed, when we get to the greens they put pegs in where they think the holes will be, so we do that too. Ben and I play out to 7 and back in. Athletes need to stay fresh.

On the 16th Sam Done runs over from the 3rd tee, he is like an enthusiastic puppy, bouncing about, happy to be here. I am terrified at this attitude. He has just driven the 2nd with a 3-wood. Over lunch Ben runs me through the stats that he keeps, I am bewildered by these people. I go to the office to do some work.

This evening Sam is at my house. I assume he will want to carbo-load so we have spaghetti bolognese – with brown pasta, obviously – and I sneakily drink most of a bottle of red wine. I go to bed. No actual sleep occurs. Instead I run through ever conceivable way of making a mess of the 1st tee shot. I work through each clubbing strategy and get as far down the bag as a fat 6-iron before nodding off at about 3am.

Thursday May 30

I am teeing off at 11.50 but decide I need to keep moving so leave for the gym at 7. I do all of my movement work, then shower and eat at the gym. I get to the golf club as planned at 10am.

I am starting to feel a bit better. After the horrors of the 1st my golf was pretty good in the practice round. Crucially, I was in the same hectare as my partners off the tee. Giving up distance is a huge insecurity so I was pleased that was not a problem.

Jack and I identified that when I get nervous I stand over the ball for ages – “running through every single golf lesson I have ever had” as Jack puts it – and swing it shorter, so we have worked on a long practice swing and being quicker over the ball and it feels good.

Being around all this youthful positivity was rubbing off and I was starting to enjoy the scene. We go to the putting green and Jack makes me putt on to a towel as a speed drill, this is quite calming. I chat to my mum and dad, introduce them to my friends from the golf club, and my friends from work. I do my putting-to-nothing drill before heading to the tee. This is lovely. I start to feel an overwhelming sense of happiness, pride, gratitude and other good feels. Then I hit it 325 yards down the middle. I want to run around high fiving everyone there, I want to scream, I really want to go home. I have done it. I have got it off the 1st tee.

I check my heart rate. It is 148. One hundred and forty-eight. I am obsessing about this. I walk down the 1st constantly looking at my watch, breathing, trying to get my heart rate down but it won’t drop. Everything is elevated. It is like being high.

What I can tell you is that when you are high, physical exertion, like whacking a golf ball, is not a problem. Precision activities, requiring feel, like putting, are impossible. What occurs with my putter over the next six holes will stay with me forever. Three of the limpest putts in the world on the 1st, bogey from 80 yards. Hole a six-footer for par at the 2nd that I think would have gone eight feet past. Have an eight footer for birdie at the 3rd and walk off with bogey. Miss a three footer for a bogey at the 4th, three-putt the 5th from 20 feet and the 6th from 40. I am 6-over through 6 and have had 16 putts.

I am in a proper blind panic. I ask Jack to help me, to tell me what to do. I suggest we walk in. This is the worst I have ever felt on a golf course. Jack says: “Why have you put so much effort into getting here and now we are here it is like you are playing speed golf? Please slow down.”

We make a regulation 3 at 7. We hit a great tee shot off 8 and a 4-iron to the middle of the green, and a two-putt birdie gets us back to +5. Middle of the green at 9, two more putts and we are out in 41. Play some thoroughly decent golf and am in the middle of the 15th fairway on the same score.

Then I start to think ahead. I can par in from here, get it in 75 or 76 and that would be great. Heart rate is going up again, I basically sprint to hit my 2nd, pull it in an unplayable lie a yard off the green. Double. Same score at the next, par at 17 and then a horror show at the last involving getting it in the bank bunker on 18, knifing the bunker shot, fatting the ensuing pitch and two putts for another bogey, and an 84.

The remainder of the day is a bit of a blur. I have a pint and a couple of glasses of wine. I swap notes with Sam. I hit more greens than him. This is not much solace. He shot 72. People are treating me like I have been through some kind of traumatic life experience, not just had a bad round of golf. I am just glad it is over, tomorrow is another day. I sleep like a baby.

Friday May 31

We are first out at 7am and the atmosphere could not be more different. It is low key and calm, and so am I. Slightly dulled by an 84 and the Rioja, golf feels easy. I dribble the odd shot away and turn what should have been a comfortable 69 or 70 into 74. I am so pleased that I have got it around in an acceptable number. I am not last. I am possibly 12th from last and I have in some way shown that I can do it. I spend the rest of the afternoon with a couple of old friends who are there to watch and go and have a look at some proper golfers. I don’t want to leave really, I like the scene, I don’t want it to be over.

The whole experience has been fascinating for me. I think nerves and confidence are a very strange thing. I am a 4-handicapper in disguise, I have no back catalogue of scratch trophies or elite coaching programs to fall back on, so my overriding feeling in events like this is that I am about to be found out.

My peers this week all look and act like they belong here. The feeling of being out of my depth is where the nerves came from, worrying that I was the only person in the field that was capable of fats and thins, missed greens and missed putts.

What I have learned though is of course I am not. All of the players I have met or played with this week are in some way better than me BUT they are are all capable of mistakes, and embarrassing moments, and bogies and duffs. Just like the rest of us. They just don’t allow one wobble to ruin their entire round, they manage their errors and move on.

So, from a golfing point of view my single biggest take away is that I don’t think I will ever be nervous again on a golf course, my experience on Thursday was so elevated that I feel like a balloon of anxiety has been burst. I am looking forward to the rest of my competitive season being able to just go and play golf and enjoy it and be unconcerned with the outcome. It is a great feeling.

Personally my experiences this week have been uplifting, I have had messages of support from all over the world, from people I would never have expected to hear from, strangers, acquaintances and friends. My mum and dad came to watch me play golf for the first time ever, and even my miserable friend Dan turned up to watch me fat a 9-iron from the middle of the 16th fairway.

Also thanks to everyone for reading this blog and England Golf for the opportunity, but mainly to my wife for putting up with me.

Well done to Ben Schmidt. He’s 16.

And to my new elite amateur friends, see you at Open qualifying.

If you’d like to read the excruciating build-up to the Brabazon Trophy, you can do so by starting on the next page…

Pages: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8

Tom Irwin

Tom Irwin

Tom is a lifetime golfer, now over 30 years playing the game. 2023 marks 10 years in golf publishing and he is still holding down a + handicap at Alwoodley in Leeds. He has played over 600 golf courses, and has been a member of at least four including his first love Louth, in Lincolnshire. Tom likes unbranded clothing, natural fibres, and pencil bags. Seacroft in Lincolnshire is where it starts and ends.

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