Ladies European Tour star Meghan MacLaren explains why attitude and adaptability are the golfer’s key traits.
Midway through a recent tournament, one of my playing partners and I realised we were telling the exact same story. The third player in our group had asked a question about golf on links courses, and so we started reminiscing about the British Amateur Championships we would play every year on some of the finest and most historic courses in the UK. Obviously, as a Brit, those championships were often the highlight of the year for me; the one title we all were desperate to add to our résumé.
But the playing partner in question was Canadian, and so the experience for her was more about the spectacle of links golf and the contrasting demands and nuances that brings. Without realising it, we both started talking about one particular instance when Scottish coastal weather does what it sometimes does.
A day of blissful sunshine and calm had quickly descended into darkness, and we were doing all we could just to put one foot in front of the other as the wind blew and the rain hammered down. That back nine at Carnoustie felt as though the world was ending. As we both described this ‘had to be there’ apocalyptic scene, the lightbulb came on. We had in fact both been there, literally. “We played together that day!”
A few weeks later, I went for dinner at the house of the host family of another tournament. They had two other players staying with them, one of whom I had played with just once before – ironically also in another British Amateur Championship.
I didn’t let on how vivid my memory of that particular day still is to me (it probably would have come across a little sociopathic), but it was on another beautiful links course, this time at a point in my amateur career where adding a title as prestigious as the British Amateur was both very much within my sights and more tantalisingly elusive than any other.
In this particular instance, the girl I now found myself having dinner with years later beat me to knock me out of the tournament, at that stage where you’ve developed just enough momentum to think about your route to the final. (It’s fair to say that my ability to stay in the present needed a little work back then).
The British Amateur is obviously a very special title for any elite amateur golfer, but particularly perhaps for the British players. The lists of names on the trophy for both men and women are stellar. I still have a touch of regret that I was never more successful in them, but some of those stories reminded me of a lesson I’m far better at acknowledging these days.
That lesson is of the insignificance of any one tournament in the grand scheme of a career. That might sound a little cut-throat, but the reality of this sport, particularly at the professional level, is that it just keeps on going round. You often don’t have to dig very deep in the back story of a winner on any given week to find a train of missed cuts, a few weeks of soul-searching or coach changes.
Equally, golf can humble any of us incredibly quickly. Winning a British Amateur at 16 won’t guarantee a single professional victory, and nor will being World No.1 by the age of 22 guarantee a career of continued success.
Whichever way you choose to look, the fleeting nature of performance in this sport – both good and bad – is always apparent. I think for young golfers, in particular, it can be hard to either realise or accept this fact. You have less experience of it for one thing, and the path to success is too often painted in a certain structured light.
As an amateur, not being picked for teams or being recruited by a top 20 US college doesn’t mean you can never achieve success at the highest level. Just as bombing out of your first Major or missing eight cuts in a row while feeling OK about your game doesn’t mean you can’t reach the level of consistency you want.
One of the quickest ways of achieving success in this sport is accepting how fickle it is. There is a lot less meaning in each round than it may feel at the time. A par putt lipping out on the last to shoot 72 instead of 71 may make your lunch taste worse, but it won’t determine whether you win a Major or not. Your attitude and your ability to adapt will prove far more pivotal.
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