In Nicks words…..
At the 2018 PGA Tour Series China end of year awards ceremony I was awarded the “Cinderella Story of the Year” award and what a story it has been! I could not have envisioned what has transpired over the past two months in my wildest dreams. Three wins, five top four’s and being genuinely in contention in six straight events. I’m still pinching myself!
As a junior I would imagine and then in practice ‘putt to win the masters’ or ‘hit that magnificent approach shot on 18 with a one shot lead in the British Open’. Recently I have lived out those ‘imagine’ moments – I have holed a putt to win in a playoff, I have eagled the 71st hole on my way to victory and held on to a five shot lead with a talented and determined finishing field chasing me. It’s what all great dreams are made of and I have been absolutely blessed to have experienced this all in my first season as a professional, as a rookie.
One moment that has really stood out and sums up the amazing ride over the past two months perfectly. I was asked during a phone interview “how does it feel to be ‘currently’ among the automatic qualifiers for next years Presidents Cup?” My ears weren’t believing what they were hearing. Last year I graduated college, this year I turned professional, I’ve played 16 events in my rookie year and now I’m being talked about for the Presidents Cup? Unreal.
I‘ve received so many touching messages of support which has been incredibly humbling. I would like to thank each and every one of you for your kind words, encouragement and support. I’m a big believer that we are all products of our own support team and having so many genuine, kind and caring people around me has really shaped me into who I am today. I could not have done any of this without the help of so many people – to you all, thank you very much and I hope that this is the beginning of a long and illustrious career!
There have been a few key things that I have done exceptionally well recently for which I have reaped the rewards. For those interested in the nitty gritty, I would like to shed some light on the following ‘inner workings – a glimpse into my toolbox’.
– Skill and Execution
– Mental Approach
– Support Team
Skill and execution (key areas)
Historically, I have not been the greatest driver of the ball. Over the past few years I have struggled to get the ball in play off the tee – my ‘wasted shots off the tee’ had not been very good (around 1.1 shots a round).
In order to improve this stat, I really attacked my driving from a course management perspective, an attitude perspective, from technical improvements and from detailed statistical analysis. I worked my absolute rear end off between the months May and July and things started to turn around for me in late August. Through my Asian Swing, I averaged 73% on the fairways with only 0.5 of a wasted shot off the tee. Essentially I saved two shots a tournament directly from driving the ball in play and countless more from just being in the short grass more regularly.
Another part of my game that has correlated highly with my scoring average is my putting from 5 to 15 feet. Typically I putt the ball really well inside 5 feet (89% for the 3 to 5 feet range this year) which indicates I have a good stroke and can start the ball on line. However, I have struggled to convert this skill of starting the ball on line to making putts from mid-range. The missing part of this formula has been the ability to match my speed with my line. With a similar amount of hard work and a detailed plan, I was able to get my putting numbers up to PGA Tour standards.
I have found that I play my best golf when I have more of an ‘apprentice’ mindset than a ‘master‘ one. This ‘apprentice’ mindset places more of an emphasis on learning and growing rather than playing perfect. I understand that golf is a very demanding and challenging sport; I can play well enough to get into contention just as easily as I could play poorly and miss the cut. I have accepted that. I have in a way relinquished my need to play well and exchanged that for a perspective more concerned with learning, growing and developing. Therefore, in the heat of battle, I am better equipped to handle adversity, to understand myself and my tendencies, to observe how I handle and react to certain situations, to fully commit to what I am doing without the fear of screwing up and to enjoy myself more.
An example of how this plays out in competition – after seeing myself on top of the leaderboard in Zhuhai I started to tense up. I reverted back to some of my old tendencies and as a result I hit five consecutive shots left (a right handed pull). I reminded myself that poor shots will inevitably happen and that my priority is to learn from the situation rather than to get frustrated. I started to get things back on track and ended up only shooting three over for the day. This was a very powerful lesson for me. Next time I am in that position, on top of the leaderboard with lots of golf still to play, I will be better equipped to handle myself and my emotions. Hopefully this ‘tool’ will allow me to minimise my poor shots and get my game back on track more efficiently. That three over could be reduced to one over and I will still be in position to contend come Sunday.
*It‘s not how many birdies you make. It‘s how many bogeys you don’t make.”
I have started to gain some real clarity on what I need to do to play well. I have my systems in place so that I’m not searching for new pieces to the puzzle; I know what and why I have certain pieces in place and its a matter of putting them all together each week. Below is a list of things that I’m talking about.
- How I approach a new golf course and come up with a strategy
- Going to the gym on the road – the what, when and how hard
- What to take when I travel
- How to handle myself Monday to Wednesday in terms of energy conservation, nutrient requirements etc…
- What to do at night in a foreign and unfamiliar place
- What and when to eat in relation to my tee time
- How to track and interpret my statistics on the course
- When to call my support team or when I should learn things for myself
The list goes on but the point is this – I have systems in place and the awareness as to why they are there. Professional golf, in my opinion, heavily revolves around handling everything off the golf course so that you are better equipped to handle everything on the golf course.
When I talk in interviews and in conversations about my own golf, I like to use the term “we” to illustrate just how important a support team is. I am a direct product of my own support team and there is no doubt that they have had the biggest influence on me and my development. Essentially, I am in a position where I almost do the least amount of work. That may sound contradictory and even selfish but by having everything in place and being taken care of I can just focus on practising and playing golf. When it comes to everything else; filing taxes, booking accomodation, negotiating contracts, making peanut butter sandwiches during a tournament etc... I have this amazing support team around me who are looking out for my best interests. I have more time, am less stressed and can truly be in the moment when I am practicing or playing. I have experienced the dividends of this more than ever recently and will strive to continue to recognise and grow this as one of my greatest assets.
I’ve been back in Ames at Iowa State University for the past week now. It‘s been an incredible run of golf but I am eager to get back to the grindstone and continue in my role as the ‘apprentice’. I tee it up again in 2 weeks time at the New South Wales Open, the Australian Open and then final stage of Qualifying School for the web.com to try and improve my status on this tour for 2019.
Thank you for the opportunities and memories PGA China – onwards and upwards 🏌️♂️ ☀️ 😎