Tyrrell Hatton is enjoying the best year of his golf career, winning his maiden PGA Tour title at the Arnold Palmer invitaional and the European Tour’s flasghip BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth to move into the world’s top 10. But little over a year ago the Ryder Cup star was struggling with injury and mental demons. We sat down with the Englishman at the start of 2020 to find out how he turned the corner.
Tyrrell Hatton was all set to write off 2019 long before he won the Turkish Airlines Open at the end of November.
Injuries and inconsistencies had taken their toll, and he was frustrated and fed up after failing to make it to the second stage of the FedEx Cup Playoffs on the PGA Tour. He took the next five weeks off and would have taken even longer had his place at The Masters not been under threat.
“I played two rounds of golf in four weeks, but I wouldn’t have played if I hadn’t been asked,” he says candidly. “If I’m honest, I could have happily pressed reset and not touched a club again for another five weeks.”
Except, he didn’t. With World Ranking and Ryder Cup points on the line, he returned to action in the middle of September and played through the pain not once, but four times. He not only found a way to compete, but he found a way to win.
It was a long time coming and not just because it was his first win in two years and fourth on the European Tour. The Rolex Series event in Turkey finished so late that it ended under floodlights, nearly seven hours after he started his final round.
“I actually can’t believe that I won. It’s been quite a difficult year in terms of things happening off course and I feel like I really found my game again. I said to a few people on my team that if I was lucky enough to win again then I would definitely savour the moment, because I think it’s quite easy to take it for granted. Sport’s great when it’s going well, but when it’s not going well, it kind of hits home, so I’m absolutely thrilled.”
He is even happier now, though not for the reason you might expect. He finally had keyhole surgery to resolve a painful wrist injury which has been affecting him since his Masters debut.
“I know it’s not normal to feel excited about an operation, but it’s such a relief to get to the bottom of what has been a very worrying problem.”
Hatton can still remember the moment he was making his way back to the Augusta clubhouse in 2017 following the cancellation of the Par 3 Contest due to safety fears when he lost his footing on some pine straw and collided with a metal bar.
“I slipped on the side of a slope and put my hand out to break my fall. It didn’t affect me during the tournament and then I took four days off. When I came back on the fifth day, I couldn’t hit a 20-yard wedge shot, it was so painful. That is how it has been ever since.”
The freak accident required steroid injections every six months up until this summer, which was when he started taking regular painkillers and seeing the European Tour doctor just to nurse him through every round. Things got so bad that when we met him in October at Harleyford Golf Club in Buckinghamshire, he could barely hit a gentle pitching wedge without wincing in pain.
He now hopes to be playing painfree for the first time in three years at the Abu Dhabi Championship in January, though you sense he won’t be rushing his recovery out of fear of the injury returning. He’s got too much riding on next season in any case, including the Olympics and Ryder Cup.
“Emily, my fiancée, would love me to get to the Olympics because she loves Japan. So, that would be pretty cool. But I’d like to think in the next year I can make the Ryder Cup team again. Now the points have started, that’s definitely a goal of mine because I would like to prove to myself that it wasn’t a one off.”
Now back up to 32nd in the world, he is already assured of playing in the two World Golf Championships at the start of the year, as well as the Masters in April.
“That’s really exciting,” adds the 28-year-old from High Wycombe. “I can’t wait to get that Masters invite through the post again. It’s a special feeling, and obviously just a bonus that comes with doing well.”
He credits a change of grip and new Ping iron shafts for his return to form, and jokes that he is now trying to embrace his image as a “negative, miserable person.” He is more serious when the conversation turns to the Ryder Cup, and the difficulty he’s had in handling the pressure and expectation since making his debut at Le Golf National.
“Mentally I’ve always been a little sensitive, shall we say, and I feel like I have struggled a bit since the Ryder Cup. I’ve found it difficult. I won’t say who, but I’ve asked a few guys who’ve played numerous Ryder Cups how they stay motivated when things aren’t going their way because this is still new for me.”
The comedown from golf’s greatest stage was unexpected, and the consensus is that it hit Hatton harder than most. In his first start back, he stood on the first tee craving the same buzz and excitement. But he never got it. It was a feeling that wouldn’t go away, and coincided with a run of just three top 10s in his next 26 strokeplay events. It left him lacking in motivation as he tried to arrest a slide down the World Rankings that pushed him close to breaking point.
“I think it’s easy to lose a bit of love when things aren’t going great. When I’ve played myself out of contention on Thursday or Friday, I’ve sort of struggled to stay focused and maybe haven’t given myself the best chance to finish as high up the leaderboard as possible. In previous years, I’ve had a fighting mentality and maybe that’s disappeared a little bit this year.”
One thing that remains unchanged is his intensity on the course, which even he admits can be hard to watch at times. He once graded his mental game a three out of 10, and recently dubbed himself ‘Headcase Hatton’. Whether he was joking or not, he is first to concede that his emotions can get the better of him.
“Golf is such an important part of my life and it means a lot. Do I care too much? Possibly. But I don’t think it’s a bad thing. It just shows how passionate I am. Look, I’ve always been easily frustrated and a bit of a hothead on the golf course and of course, everyone knows that. And if I start affecting my playing partners and costing myself shots, then it’s a problem.
“But if I’m just irritated and moaning, that’s kind of what I do. It’s not something I would look at changing. Of course, the last thing I would want to do is put anyone off because that’s not fair. And there have been times in the past when I’ve gone over the top and I’ve apologised to the guys at the end. But I’ve learned from that and I’m trying not to let that happen again.”
Nevertheless, he is currently seeking help to improve his on-course temperament and image, which he would probably agree is a lot closer to his childhood idols, Colin Montgomerie and Tiger Woods, than perhaps intended. So, does he think he is misunderstood?
“Possibly. People only see the person I am on the golf course. I wouldn’t say I had too many friends when I first came out on Tour. I found Tour life quite cliquey. It’s like school and you’ve got your groups. People maybe didn’t take the time to get to know me because I’m completely different off the course. But then, you’re not there to make friends. You’re there to compete and win.”
It’s a philosophy which is straight out of the Tiger Woods playbook, and was ingrained into Hatton’s psyche at an early age. One of his earliest memories is winning his first Green Jacket at the High Wycombe Junior Masters on the par-3 course.
He was only five years old at the time, but by the age of six he was already beating his dad, Jeff, who now happens to be his coach. That early promise convinced Hatton Snr to start taking coaching courses and to set up his own business, Hatton Golf, in the family garage in Marlow, Buckinghamshire, after he was made redundant for a third time. Both of them have benefited ever since.
“Golf has always been a huge part of my life and because of my parents, I was in the back garden at 18 months old playing with plastic clubs. When I was three, my dad actually made a 5-wood, a 6-iron and a putter for me. He was sawing things off, cutting them down and what not. The actual face of the 6-iron was cut in half so it was light enough for me to swing.”
Hatton Snr now operates out of an indoor golf studio, which is equipped with a launch monitor and clubfitting equipment, while the younger Hatton holds memberships on both the PGA Tour and European Tour. It’s a juggling act, which means they often end up sending swing videos to each other from halfway across the world.
“When I’m back in Europe and at home in the UK, it’s easy to have the constant check-ups which help to keep the swing in a decent place. But when I’m playing in the States it’s tough because if my dad comes, he is effectively losing a week’s work because he has to shut his business. It’s difficult for him.
“I think in the three months I was in the States this year (2019), he was with me for less than two weeks. It’s not ideal, but he’s coached me since I was 10 or 11 years old and we got to number 13 in the world last year. It shows that what we’ve done in the past works so there’s no reason for me to change.”
That loyalty also extends to Harleyford Golf Club, where he has been a member since the age of 10 and has his own car parking space. He remains grateful to the members at Harleyford, 30 of whom threw £250 each into a pot to finance his forays on the EuroPro Tour and latterly the Challenge Tour, and is now trying to give back to the next generation by hosting the Tyrrell Hatton Junior Masters.
“There’s no Green Jacket,” he says, laughing, “but I’ve been a member here since the age of 10 and it feels like home. It’s been running for three years now and we get about 60 kids. There’s no entry fee and they get food when they come in. I would hate for kids to miss out because they can’t afford to come out for the day.”
It’s that kind of generosity which is far removed from the bad-tempered image that has earned him the nickname ‘Mr Angry’. He is naturally modest and polite, and doesn’t believe he’s done enough in the game to warrant being the host of the British Masters. For now, at least, he’s still trying to prove himself on the PGA Tour and would relish the chance to play the pantomime villain at next year’s Ryder Cup.
“I’ve been in the top 50 for three years now, and I’m not taking that for granted,” says Hatton. “I would love to be in the Ryder Cup team again at Whistling Straits, but I’m up against some incredible players. I probably need to ease off and give myself some credit that I’m not actually doing a bad job. I’ve always been too hard on myself and I need to appreciate when things are going well because you certainly miss those times when you are struggling.”
From the European Tour to the Ryder Cup… Tyrrell Hatton’s golf career highlights so far
➤ July 2010: Made his Open debut as an amateur at St andrews, but missed the cut by nine shots on 11-over.
➤ September 2011: Won his first event as a professional on the Jamega tour.
➤ September 2011: Named Rookie of the Year on the EuroPro tour after winning twice.
➤ November 2013: Finished 10th on the challenge tour rankings to earn his european tour card for the first time. Brooks Koepka was third.
➤ October 2016: Cruised to a four-shot victory at the Dunhill links to claim his maiden european tour title.
➤ October 2017: Defended his Dunhill links trophy and won the Italian Open a week later.
➤ March 2018: Rose to a career-high 13th in the World Rankings after tying for third at the Wgc-Mexico
➤ September 2018: Qualified for his first Ryder cup and contributed one point from three to help europe win by 171⁄2 points to 101⁄2.
➤ August 2019: Advanced to the Fedex cup Playoffs for the second time in as many seasons. he missed just three cuts in 17 starts, with three top-10s.
➤ November 2019: Ended a 25-month wait for a victory by winning a six-man play-off at the Turkish Airlines Open.
➤ March 2020: Won his maiden PGA Tour title with victory over a world-class field at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
➤ October 2020: Won the European Tour’s flagship event, the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth, for his third Rolex Series victory and, with it, moved into the top 10 of the world rankings for the first time, becoming only the 10th Englishman to achieve the feat.