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Steve Watton has racked up more than 100 competitions a year since 2011. He tells Steve Carroll why he lives to post another tournament score.

Steve Watton

Credit: Getty Images

Steve Watton plays so much golf he could give Donald Trump a run for his money.

Prolific is a word that defines the Enville member’s desire to get out in amateur competitions – he’s played more than 800 of them since 2011.

From midweek medals to multi-day scratch tournaments, Watton’s diary is always full as he travels the country following his passion to tee it up.

But social golf is not on the Stourbridge native’s agenda. He loves the cut and thrust of events and the constant test of trying to beat his handicap.

We sat down with Watton, a panellist on NCG’s England top 100 list, to ask…

 

803 competition rounds in seven years – just how do you do that?

It’s mostly made up of scratch opens, which are 36 holes in a day. I might play two of those a week, on average, from the start of April until the middle of October. That makes up the bulk of the rounds.

I don’t have too many nights away from home and my home club has a midweek medal every Wednesday, which helps.

Believe it or not, I probably only play two or three days a month on a weekend so it’s mostly weekday golf.

I live in Stourbridge, in the West Midlands, so I have a rule for myself which is that I will drive up to two-and-a-half hours, play 36 holes, and then drive home.

I can get to almost anywhere in England and most of Wales, just chopping off the corners. It would be quite difficult to do, if you didn’t live where I live, without having 100 nights away in a hotel a year.

 

I can’t believe you don’t play that many weekends…

I’ve got three kids, Molly, Maisy, Thomas, and a wife, Rachel, that I have to keep happy as well! She’s very understanding and supports me in my passion.

I’m pretty sure if you took into account holidays, I probably only play a couple of weekend days a month.

 

How do you balance family life and all this golf?

I would like to think, although my wife may agree to differ a little bit, it’s not my family that suffers because of it but work. I’m fortunate in that regard in that I have worked hard, have an interest in a few different businesses, which allows me quite a lot of time out in the week as I choose.

 

Do you ever get time to practise?

A little bit. My office is just down the road from where I live, which just happens to be half a mile from Enville and we have fantastic practice facilities there. I do go down and do a bit of chipping and putting but I am not a big practiser of the long game.

I get bored very quickly unless I am working on something specific. I’ll very often leave the range feeling worse than when I got there. Obviously, short game practice is essential for any level of golfer.

golf scorecard

Credit: Getty Images

What’s the best thing about playing hundreds of rounds a year?
I just love the buzz of having a card in my hand and that little extra adrenaline rush you get. I’m kind of addicted to the competing. If I didn’t play golf I’d probably do something else to satisfy that need.

It’s come to the point now that, on the odd occasion when I do play social golf, I just feel flat and I don’t get the same level of excitement at all.

The norm for me is to have a card in my hand.

 

How do you cope during the winter when it’s non-qualifiers? Are you searching around looking for winter opens?
Three or four years ago, I suddenly started playing 20, 30 and 40 more rounds a year and that’s basically because I discovered winter qualifying golf.

In the West Midlands, we’ve probably got four or five clubs that do a monthly winter series so, this winter, I am playing every month at Forest of Arden, The Leicestershire, Sutton Coldfield and Brampton Heath. I will get four a month in like that.

The Finch Tour has also started to run qualifying events through the winter.

 

It takes a certain dedication to try and find qualifiers during the winter months…

It takes a commitment in terms of driving to go anywhere but, as long as its not frosty and it’s not raining, then I’ve come to enjoy winter golf. Before I started this crusade I was probably like a lot of other golfers where I would put my clubs away.

 

How many balls would you go through in a week, or a season?

God knows. I probably use one a round, unless I lose it, and through the winter I won’t buy any. I’ll just use the ones I’ve got left over from the summer.

 

How does your season pan out?

The Mid-Am Tour is really what my season is based around. Next year, from the start of April until October, we’ve got a tournament every week. That will either be a 36-hole in one day or 54-holes over two days.

Straight away, there are probably 50 qualifying rounds I can play in.

 

Form is an important thing when you play as many competitions as you do. How do you stay positive when that run of .1s comes along?

I think I’m different to most golfers. I just don’t think I get ‘golfed out’ in the same way other people do. Obviously, if I’ve driven two-and-a-half hours, played 36 holes, shot two rounds in the 80s and then drove home I’m pretty fed up.

But by the time I’ve woken up the next day, I’m mulling over in my brain what it was – I’ve got a bank of about 500 different swing thoughts – convinced myself I know what it was and then I’ll want to get out again the next day and prove myself right or wrong.

I need a day off physically, sometimes, because my back can’t take it but I don’t ever get completely fed up with it. Even this year, where I think I had nine or 10 rounds in a row where I missed the buffer by one shot, which was utterly depressing, I woke up the next day and wanted to try again.

Just recently, I have discovered my form again.

watton

Credit: Getty Images

What’s been the highlight of the last 803 rounds?

When I started my golf crusade, it was to play in Open qualifying, which was at Enville. I missed out but, finally getting down to scratch, I was able to play it at Little Aston. That was my goal from the outset and the most gratifying moment.

I played with Scott Drummond, who won what is now the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth some years back, and that gave me a good sense of achievement.

In golf, as we all know, there’s always the next step or the next shot off the handicap.

By the numbers: Steve Watton

Handicap:

Lowest: 0.0
Highest: 3.7

Competitions by year:

2017: 122 (100 away, 22 at home)
2016: 142 (123 away, 19 at home)
2015: 140 (120 away, 20 at home)
2014: 110 (92 away, 18 at home)
2013: 100 (77 away, 23 at home)
2012: 98 (56 away, 42 at home)
2011: 91 (61 away, 30 at home)

Total: 803 (629 away, 174 at home)

Do you know someone who plays more golf than Steve? Let us know in the comments below, or you can get involved in the conversation on Twitter and Facebook.

 

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In Talking Point, Danny Willett’s physio Paul Farquharson tells Mark Townsend why we shouldn’t get ahead of ourselves about Tiger Woods.

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Credit: Getty Images

All everyone wanted was for Tiger Woods to get through 72 holes unscathed; to walk relatively fluently, to swing without a grimace while the odd birdie would be nice.

What we got was something else – a driving exhibition, smiles, TWO front nines of 31, topping the leaderboard and some explosive long iron and fairway wood approaches from around 260 yards.

Now the question is when will we get to see him again? Tiger himself was giving little away, though to be fair he had probably surprised himself with how good large chunks of his game had been and this latest comeback has always been all about baby steps.

“We’re going to sit down, we’ll figure it out, where I’m going to start, how much I’m going to play, rest periods, training cycles, the whole nine yards,” Woods said after his closing 68, a round that could have been something very impressive.

The clever money is that he will play Torrey Pines on January 25, then Riviera three weeks later, maybe the Honda Classic the week after and Bay Hill in the middle of March. Then on to Augusta.

In between there will be some money games at home with the likes of Justin Thomas.

Danny Willett is another major champion who has battled back problems through the years, having to miss half a dozen tournaments a year through injury. Willett began working with physio Paul Farquharson four years ago and, in April 2016, the Yorkshireman burst through to win the Masters.

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Credit: Getty Images

Farquharson was a PE instructor with the RAF before qualifying at as a physio at Bristol University in 1997. He joined the army and worked as a major responsible for a rehabilitation unit at Catterick.

So who better to pick the brains of as to what Tiger has been through and what the near future holds for someone who has had four back operations, the most recent, in April, involving spinal fusion surgery?

“With most players, like Rory, I will know people who work with them and what is going on but I don’t know any of his team so I don’t know exactly what he’s doing,” Farquharson told NCG.

“But basically they have stopped the two vertebrae moving against each other, bone on bone. The vertebrae sit on top of each other with a disc between them like a jam doughnut. This prolapsed a long time ago and that causes nerve pain and sciatica. Spinal fusion is pretty much a drastic operation and would be a last resort.

“I have got a patient at the moment who is a runner with a history of lower back problems and he has been round the houses with physios and consultants and a fusion was suggested.

“He’s doing alright, he’s got no back pain but then you are sometimes left with tight muscles around the back and quite often nerve-type pain where the nerve is still chronically irritated by the poor movement from when you had the back pain.”

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Credit: Getty Images

So what will Woods have been doing pre- and post-round to get himself ready for his first rounds in 301 days?

“The good thing was that he pretty much had a year off and came back a lot slower than before. He will have had lots of physio to strengthen his core, pelvis and glutes and those muscles can now fire properly as he isn’t getting the pain.

“Before the round there will be lots of stretching with a good hour of physio and core stability and then some muscle activation. After he will likely have had some corrective work so that everything is in the right place and he isn’t getting pulled in the wrong directions after playing 18 holes.

“I thought he looked really good, it was great to see him hit a variety of different shots and shapes and with different speeds and it was also great just to see him being able to pick up the tee and just walk off rather than struggle. He could flex fully and effectively touch his toes.”

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Credit: Getty Images

The one small negative over Woods’ return was his greenside chipping. Part of the problem might have been the tightly-cut, grainy and slopey surrounds. Other players commented on similar concerns, or it might just have been a bit of ring rust.

One other possibility is how his body is still recovering. The general cliché is that Woods will have been able to practise his chipping and putting well before hitting full shots but the opposite might be the case.

“When you have these muscle inhibitions the short game struggles. You are more aware of the pain when making a slow controlled movement rather than anything at speed.”

As for the coming months? While most of us can’t wait for the next episode of Tiger: The Final Chapter, the likelihood is that he will continue to take it step-by-step.

“I think it will be a slow watchful process. With sportsmen, once they do something well, they get over confident and start to do more than their body will allow them to do and golf is one of the worst sports out there for the back. You can’t just keep loading it up, we’re not machines.

“Somewhere along the line he might have developed a poor movement pattern which might have come about as he got bigger and stronger and then made some swing changes. You then get some pain and treat it with physio and paper over the cracks – play-treat, play-treat, play-treat and then it all falls apart. I really hope that he’s now got a movement pattern that suits his body and that he doesn’t overdo it.”

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Rory McIlroy’s 2017 was one to forget with no wins. But he has already planned a fast and furious start to next year with one eye, as ever, on Augusta.

Rory-1320x743

Credit: Getty Images

It won’t be too long before we can all start talking about our favourite subject in the game: Rory McIlroy and the Masters.

While we might not yet be in the realms of Phil Mickelson and his annual quest to win the US Open, and complete his career Grand Slam, this will be McIlroy’s 10th trip to Augusta National and he still hasn’t contested well into the back nine on Sunday.

In 2011, of course, he actually led when standing on the 10th tee but a triple bogey there and four putts at 12 meant he was done for, scorewise and moreover mentally.

“The second shot to the 1st hole on Sunday was the first time I felt defensive all week. I said to myself, ‘Don’t go left.’ From the 10th green to 14th tee it was all was a bit of a blur, everything that could go wrong did go wrong. The whole situation got to me.

“I got on the phone to my mum the next morning and that’s when it hit me – and I actually cried.”

rory

Credit: Getty Images

Less than two months later he won the US Open, and his first major, by eight shots.

In 2014 he added the Open Championship – and a second PGA – to leave him just hanging, in terms of the Grand Slam, on the Masters.

Who would have thought Augusta would be the only blank on McIlroy’s major CV? All those high, towering tee shots and approaches. The four par 5s to get his teeth into. The knowledge that he was four clear going into that Sunday six years ago and without even putting that well. Surely it’s made for him?

But here we are in the middle of one of sport’s great anomalies, like Tony McCoy not winning the Grand National until his 15th attempt or Jimmy White not winning the World Championship at all.

The usual cod psychology will be upon us before we know it – does he putt well enough, they’ll all be saying, if things aren’t going his way? Is he putting too much pressure on himself? Does he want it too much? Is he over-thinking it? Is he over-preparing? Last year he played over 100 holes in preparation in a bid to make it feel like his home course and was then 3-over after just eight holes.

He’s said it’s the only opening tee shot on a Thursday that makes him nervous – why is he getting so spooked by the whole thing?

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Credit: Getty Images

This year at least things will be a bit different. It will be his first Masters as a married man and it will also be his first with his best man Harry Diamond by his side.

It seems Diamond has got the gig for the foreseeable future on maybe the hottest bag in the game. The pair got together for seven events following the split with JP Fitzgerald and, while they missed out on the Tour Championship on the PGA Tour, there was enough to suggest that it might work. A fifth place at the Bridgestone, a second at Close House – maybe McIlroy was now in a better place, maybe he was feeling in less pain.

Maybe, maybe, maybe.

“I was just getting increasingly frustrated and frustrated for the wrong reasons,” McIlroy said at TPC Boston. “I think having Harry on the bag, I’ve been happier and more jovial out there and not getting as hard on myself. It can only help, if I hit a bad shot, forget about it and talk about something else. Just try and keep going.”

Which, you might think, would be the perfect outlook for Augusta. Or anywhere for that matter.

The pal-on-the-bag route has worked wonders for Tommy Fleetwood and Tyrrell Hatton while Jason Day and Phil Mickelson will be hoping for some of the same success.

Which is just as well because McIlroy, who missed chunks of a winless 2017 with a rib injury, will be leaving no stones unturned in terms of tournament starts early next year.

swing

Credit: Getty Images

Having not been fit enough to tee it up at the Tour Championship in Dubai, the four-time major winner has already pencilled in seven starts before Augusta.

First up will be Abu Dhabi, as usual, followed by Dubai the week after which, given Omega sponsor the event and McIlroy, was also a banker. Two weeks later he will make his Pebble Beach debut before making his way to Riviera and then the Honda Classic, scene of a previous win in 2012, a play-off loss two years later and that spot of ‘toothache’ in between, to make it three weeks on the trot.

In March there are two guaranteed stops at the Valspar at Copperhead and then Bay Hill the week after. What have yet to be added to the diary, and which may depend on his fitness and form or they might not be part of his plans at all, are the two WGCs, in Mexico and the Match Play, that bookend the March tournaments.

McIlroy began 2017 as the World No. 2, he is projected to finish it outside the top 10 for the first time since 2008.

He has stated that he wants to use this enforced break to get the second part of his career going. And, as we all know, that means getting his major numbers up – nobody could have predicted after winning two big ones in three weeks in 2014 that would be it for now.

“I’m not getting any younger. These three months off could give me the foundation to have the next 10 years be even better than the 10 years I’ve just had. Hopefully, that turns a great career into one of the greatest careers.”

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As winter approaches and the weather turns colder, our minds invariably turn back to review the year. Most of all though, what sticks in the brain during the long winter months are the best golf courses you visited. So, we asked you which were your biggest highlights – and you didn’t disappoint!

Our three best answers will be receiving a dozen Srixon balls in the post.

 

*Nigel* – Star Answer

Los Moriscos, near Motril in southern Spain.

Why? Because it is almost universally sunny, located under the Sierra Nevada mountains which are snow-capped for 8 months a year, and the clubhouse is on the beach! What more could you want?

best course

Image credit: Club de Golf Los Moriscos

 

The Los Moriscos website describes it as a course ‘with more than 300 days of sunshine a year’ – which certainly sounds like paradise to us! We recently asked you all to recommend the best places to play golf abroad, and we can imagine this course could have easily popped up on that list as well!

By all accounts very flat to play, there’s 63 bunkers to avoid and plenty of water hazards to keep an eye on. Well, you wouldn’t want it to be too easy…

 

*Neil* – Star Answer

Lincoln Golf Club, Torksey, Lincolnshire.

Couldn’t wait to try out the clubs I received as a present last Christmas, so I played this course in January & February. It was perfect – drained well, proper greens and a good price at that time of the year.

best course

Image credit: Lincoln Golf Club

 

From the Tropical Coast of Granada to a small village in the depths of Lincolnshire – there’s amazing courses to be found all over the world!

As Neil says, one of the best maintained courses around, with greens you could iron on! With the River Trent running past the course, you can be sure it’ll be well irrigated all times of the year– meaning even in January and February when he played, it’s still in excellent nick. With very affordable tee times, it’s well worth a round if you’re passing…

 

*Tony* – Star Answer

I recently went on holiday to Dorset and was able to play Bridport Golf Course. I’d heard it was a great course and was not disappointed!

The fairways were like carpets and the greens were expertly manicured. Although I did need some lead in my shoes to keep me from being blown off the cliff on the 5th hole!

As for my greatest course highlight of 2017 – it has to be the 6th hole there. A 90ft drop from the tee to the green, absolutely stunning – can’t wait to play it again.

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Image credit: Bridport Golf Club

 

The 6th at Bridport is well known for being one of the UK’s most stunning holes of golf, and while we haven’t played it ourselves, we have to say – the pictures look amazing!

The whole course itself also comes highly recommended, and thankfully the cliff landslide back in June doesn’t seem to have done any lasting damage – despite 2,000 tonnes of rocks suddenly disappearing from the side of the 15th hole. That’s the price to pay for a cliff-edge course, after all!

 

Which golf course was your highlight of 2017? Share with us @TheGolfersClub and on Facebook!

 

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The irons arrived at the same time as the new Apex MB.

callaway forged

Image credit: Callaway Golf

 

They both look sensational, but after putting them both into the address position it was clear the X Forged were the most appealing. It just looks like there’s a bit more golf club, so they aren’t anywhere near as intimidating.

The finish on the X Forged is also superb it’s more off a brushed chrome effect compared to the mirror-like Apex MB. This is a model that many players have loved over the years – Phil Mickelson has been using the 2013 X Forged model for some time now.

 

Callaway X Forged irons review – The technology

The X Forged will offer a bit more forgiveness than the Apex MB thanks to its cavity-back design. Think of it as the CB to the Titleist 718 MB or the SC to the Mizuno MP-18 blade.

But I feel the X Forged has wider appeal than those models and can work for the low-mid handicap golfer with no problem at all. Like with the Apex MB the enhanced feel comes from Callaway’s triple net forging process.

The design of the new X Forged should also offer improved turf interaction and more spin from the 20v precision grooves.

 

Callaway X Forged irons review – The results

There’s a lovely crisp sound and feel off the face with these and they aren’t difficult to hit. They do feel a lot more playable than the Apex MB and they seem to perform slightly better on off-centre hits.

But like with the Apex MB, I was noticing a bit of a drop in distance from what I would expect from the ‘game-improvement’ irons I am used to. The lofts are a factor. The 7-iron in the X Forged set has 33˚ whereas I’m more used to 30˚.

And they don’t quite have the same ‘bouncy’ feel off the face as say the Steelhead XR, Titleist AP1 or Ping G400. These are precision clubs rather than distance clubs and players with similar swings speeds to me might notice a drop in distance if they are used to more ‘helpful’ irons.

callaway forged

Image credit: Callaway Golf

 

Callaway X Forged irons review – The verdict

If you’re a mid-handicapper looking to improve then irons like these may be a wise move. You’ll get more feedback on where you are striking the ball and you’ll be able to work the ball both ways with a bit more ease.

The looks, sound and feel of these clubs is fantastic – you’ll really enjoy using them and look forward to playing golf with a set of these in the bag.

For me personally, I’m not quite ready to give up that distance and help I get from my current irons but if I could improve the consistency of my ball-striking I’d be delighted to put these into play.

 

Details

SRP: £1,049 (7 irons)

Available: 3-PW

On sale: January 26, 2018

More information can be found on the Callaway website.

 

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Here we go again, the never-ending topic of slow play. Next year’s Austrian Open will be called the Shot Clock Masters and we will get to see a player penalised for taking too long to hit a shot.

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If you were of a cynical nature, which I am, your/my immediate reaction to the prospect of a shot clock being put in place at a European Tour event might be one of raised eyebrows to go alongside a stifled yawn.

The topic of slow play is seemingly never far away and on Thursday June 7 at next year’s Austrian Open we will get the latest experiment to try and get golf moving forward at a more reasonable pace.

They are even calling the tournament the Shot Clock Masters.

The players will have 50 seconds to hit their shot if they are the first player in any given group, then subsequent players will get 40 seconds. A referee will follow every group and, should you not get your shot away in time, you will receive a one-shot penalty and these will be shown as a red card against their name on the leaderboard.

Each player will have the right to call two ‘time-outs’ during a round which will permit them twice the usually allotted time to play the shot.

European Tour chief Keith Pelley said: “The 2018 Shot Clock Masters will be a fascinating addition to our schedule next year. Not only will it help us combat slow play and reduce round times, it is also further evidence of our desire to embrace innovation.”

Lee Westwood told the Daily Mail: “What a brilliant idea, and long overdue.”

His Ryder Cup teammate Andy Sullivan was equally enthusiastic: “It underlines how long 40 seconds is to play a shot and how ridiculous it is that rounds take so long. The sooner it’s introduced on Tour, the better.”

Though David Howell, part of the tournament committee, sounded more of a cautious tone.

“You won’t have time to work out shots like that if you’ve only got 40 seconds, which is a big negative. We’re not suggesting this is how professional golf should be in the future.”

Just out of interest the Tiger Woods chip-in at the 16th at Augusta took one minute 26 seconds from when he first stood over the shot to when his lob wedge met the ball.

So is it all a bit of a publicity stunt in a low-key week or are the European Tour finally going to throw penalty shots at the great and good, some of which might determine the winner of the tournament?

What we do know is that the bulk of the players are keen to speed things up. At the Dunhill last week, a one-off pro-am, granted, rounds were taking six hours.

They are also tired of the same old culprits not moving with the times. Columnist James Morrison, another member of the players’ committee said this a year ago: “One of my wishes would be to tackle the same old problem that has been talked about from what seems like the beginning of time – slow play.

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“It’s getting painful as a player so what it must be like to watch I don’t know. There was some optimism at the start of the year but, with everything else going on, it feels like it has been pushed aside.

“Players are still so stuck in their routines and can’t get out of it. The only way to identify slow play is if a group is out of position but, if everyone is slow, then things will never change. A couple of guys were fined this year but that changes nothing.

“If you were docked shots and that doubled each time then things would soon pick up.”

Of course we had the 40-second limit at the GolfSixes team event in May where only Paul Peterson was hit with a penalty.

So there are some positive signs and though the cynic in me/you might wonder if this will ever be cracked, as Bill Haas alluded to in an interview with the Associated Press this year.

“My dad has said it’s been talked about in player meetings since he was a rookie,” he said. Jay Haas was a rookie in 1977.

As for the PGA Tour following suit, don’t hold your breath. At the Zurich Classic in April Miguel Angel Carballo and Brian Campbell were penalised a shot after taking longer than 40 seconds to play a shot twice. Before that you have to go back to Glen Day and the Honda Classic in 1995.