I arrived back to the sunny Gold Coast after the 30-hour trip from St Andrews, Scotland. As I’ve mentioned before it’s the part of professional golf that a lot of people don’t see. Travelling long hours and jumping time zones is tough. I arrived at my house around midday and then had to give the washing machine a work out.
My next event was the QLD Foursomes Championship at Sanctuary Cove, the Palms course. It is played over 36 holes in one day. I was partnering my coach Ben Campbell, the head Professional at Southport Golf club and it’s a day you can be sure there will be some laughs and sledging. Benny must have thought after the first half dozen holes, ‘I can’t believe this guy plays for a living!!’ I hit it right then left, then right again. I just blamed it on the jetlag. I think my playing partners believed me! I came good into the 2nd 9 and we signed for a two-over-par 72, which wasn’t too bad considering where I hit my partner in the first few holes. The 2nd 18 holes, we combined nicely and signed for a 1-over, 71 and finished 7th which wasn’t too bad for a couple of average guys having a crack at life!
I now had five days off before heading to Fiji to defend my Fiji International title. I try to mix these days up with some practice and some time off. Due to my busy schedule, staying fresh was a must.
I flew over Monday afternoon and got a shuttle to the beautiful Intercontinental resort at Natadola, where they put Peter and me up for the week. It was a great feeling returning to Fiji for the first time since I had won. The Fijian people are so nice and my new name was ‘Mr Steve’. Pete certainly didn’t let me forget about the extra attention I was receiving being defending champion. We played a practice round Tuesday, then the Pro-Am Wednesday. I must admit it was a little distracting as everywhere I walked, people would say hello and ask if I was going to win it again. I had to keep my mind in the present, which is difficult when you’re continuously being reminded of winning. But on the other hand, how many times in your professional career do you go back to an event as the defending champion? For us grinders, not very often. So I enjoyed it.
The first day I was off at 7.05am with Nick Cullen and Vijay Singh. The wind was blowing about 50km per hour with gusts up to 70. Vijay looked at me on our 1st hole before we had hit a shot and said “what are we doing here!” The wind was out of control! Pars were going to be a bonus.
I felt like I played very average and signed for a 4-over 76. I made my way into the lunch room after my round and had several guys say, good round mate. I thought to myself, ‘good round?! What are these guys talking about?’ But as the day ended I found myself in a tie for 10th spot so maybe they were right!
The second round was much like the first with unbelievably strong winds. I was off at midday so in the morning, Pete and I just watched the scores getting worse and worse. By the time I teed off I was running about 5th and joked with some other Pros that we should just stay indoors, as it seemed the best way to move up the leaderboard. Once again I felt like I played average and shot 6-over for the day, which had me on 10-over after two days. Now, you might think 10-over isn’t very good. But let me tell you, the conditions were the toughest I had ever played in, added with one of the strongest golf courses in the world, suddenly 10-over’s not that bad! By the way, the cut was 14-over which was nearly a record in professional events around the world.
I really enjoyed my couple of days playing with Vijay. As normal I always try to pick the brains of great players and was able to suck out a little information that will help me in the future. A man who has won three majors and over 35 events worldwide must be doing something right!
The wind was still there in the 3rd round, but had dropped from what it was in the first two. Unfortunately as in the first couple of rounds my game was just a little off. I wasn’t hitting it close enough and wasn’t holing any good length putts. I shot 1-over which had me in 19th position which, for how I felt I had played, wasn’t too bad. A good final round could see me jump up into the top 10 which would mean a good defence of my title.
The magic that I was hoping would turn up the last day didn’t, and I was off to an average start, 3-over after 7 holes. But I didn’t give up. I fought all the way to the end, holing a bunker shot on the 72nd hole for a birdie to get me back to even for the day, and 11-over for the event, tied 18th.
In reflection it was a great week. I played very average and still finished 18th which shows me that my game has improved. Years ago if I had played bad, I would have missed the cut. Also to be treated like a king for a week was pretty cool. When Matt Kuchar putted in on the last for the victory I turned to Pete and said “well I’m not even the defending champion now”. His response was gold, he said never mind mate, they still love you in Rockhampton!!