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Posted by & filed under Feature Articles, Interviews.

Coming into 2015 Andy Sullivan was best known for winning a trip to space for a hole-in-one in the Netherlands, something he laughed off in typical style.

And no, he won’t be going galactic any time soon – “I have no desire in doing it, it is a fantastic prize but I am nowhere near doing it,” he told National Club Golfer’s Mark Townsend.

Sullivan came on to most people’s radars when he made the Walker Cup team at Royal Aberdeen in 2011, a week which saw GB&I overcome the likes of the Patricks, Cantlay and Rodgers, Russell Henley, Harris English, Peter Uihlein and none other than Jordan Spieth.

Sullivan was our top ranked amateur and went on to finish third at Q School. That was something he had to do again 12 months later after a disappointing rookie season.

Since then, however, it has been a different story.

You would do well to find anyone who plays golf for a living and still laughs as much. This year would have had even the most ground-down of tour pros rolling in the aisles: Sullivan has done what no other player has managed by winning an incredible three times.

He capped it off by chasing Rory McIlroy all the way home in the Tour Championship in Dubai last month and the boy from Nuneaton is now set for a first trip to Augusta in April.

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You’ve had a bit of everything with your wins this season. In your maiden success, in the first event of the year at the South African Open, you were seven behind at the start of the day against Charl Schwartzel?

“I didn’t look at a leaderboard until the 16th and I saw that I was three behind. Being purely honest I was going up 18 thinking I’ve had a pretty good week and I will finish second or third.

“I got in the clubhouse and said to my manager ‘shall we have a beer then?’ and he said let’s wait a couple of holes.

“I felt privileged to be in that play-off, I played well in that last round and it was Charl’s to lose so I thought I was the happier of the two and Charl seemed frustrated to be there.

“Driving down to the play-off my caddy said ‘no regrets’. It was a really good comment, I was more shocked that he came out with something so profound. He’s not known for saying these sort of things.”

 

How nerve-wracking was it to be in a play-off to win your first Tour event compared to other experiences that you’ve had?

“I felt relaxed for first two shots, then my knees were shaking over the final putt. That was probably the most nervous I’ve been, I don’t think I have ever exhaled so much air in my life. It was weird, I was just trying to hit the line that I picked and it hung on, I thought it was going low. It was a massive relief as you could see from the reaction.

“You know you’re not the favourite when you can hear yourself celebrate.”

 

The first two wins came in Johannesburg, the most recent victory, in Portugal, was very different. You led after every round and won by nine?

“It seemed like a long time since those two wins, they were still in the same year but it felt like a long time ago. I think just in terms of winning in Continental Europe is big for me.

“Don’t get me wrong, it was unbelievable to win for the first time in South Africa and I’ll remember it forever. But there are always questions marks: can you do it in Europe? I am just glad to put those question marks to bed now.”

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What is it like going into a Sunday with a five-shot lead?

“A few of those things were in my mind on the Saturday night and I just tried to block it all out and just go out there and play golf and just let it take care of itself.

“If I kept playing to my ability, I thought those things would take care of themselves, or if they didn’t, then I had given it my best shot. For me, it’s just about going out there and trying to play good golf and enjoy it.”

 

What struck you as the main differences between the amateur and professional worlds?

“Going from the amateur game to the European Tour is like a different world – the aura is totally different. As an amateur you are competing against 15 guys, on the Tour anyone can win and it is not just a case of if you can stand up you are guaranteed to do well. It can be very intimidating.

“In my first European Tour event I got within two and was playing without any fear and then I stuck it in reverse and came home in an ambulance. I’m glad it happened as it prompted me to see a psychologist, Lee Crombleholme, and sort things out and since then things got a lot better.

“I hadn’t seen one before, he was able to work with me and allowed me to be myself on the course, I was serious at the right times but, if you can’t enjoy what you’re doing, then I don’t want to do it.”

 

You might have the best record of anyone who has ever been to Q School; two visits, two third-place finishes?

“It is the worst week of the year, just to confirm! It’s terrible. You play four rounds and nothing is in the bag, luckily I have always played well there and not put pressure on myself. I could play my own game rather than try to get myself into position.

“It is hard to keep your card as you don’t get in all the big events. You have got to perform and the second time around I was third in my first event so that took some pressure off as I did well out of the re-rank.

“It’s not nice losing your card, the pressure’s on and it’s unknown territory. Scheduling is massive, you find yourself playing more than you really want to try and make some money.

“Coming to the big events I was a bit burnt out, it’s a fine line on what to do and you can’t predict when you’re going to play well.”

 

Come Dubai this year you were in the marquee group with Rory and Martin Kaymer, as a threeball you were -33 for the first two rounds. Presumably you are now comfortable in these types of situation?

“That’s where you want to be, I was adamant that I was going to enjoy it. You don’t know when you are going to be playing with Rory and Martin again so you make sure you have fun. I stood up, played well and showed to myself that that’s where I want to be.

“For me I perform better in the pressure situations, sometimes I can be found wanting when I am 30th or 40th and I can be a bit lacklustre. I play better when all eyes are on me though I did think they had messed up the draw!”

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How long is Rory?

“At the 3rd I dropped hammer on it, I really went to town on it. And then he hit, and I was watching it in the air, and I’m thinking this is going 50 past me. It was only 40 in the end. He would be 10 yards past you but can then throw one in that is 40-50 yards past you.

“His clutch putting doesn’t get much credit. From 12 feet he is brilliant, people get sucked into him hitting it miles but his short game is much better than people talk about.”

 

This year brought a first appearance in the WGC Cadillac Match Play. How did you find coming up against Patrick Reed?

“He was absolutely fine. I was expecting a bit of needle but there were no fist pumps which I probably helped by putting terribly and not holing anything so he was quite comfortable.

“I think he got a bit of a bad deal at the Ryder Cup. If a European did the same it would have been seen very differently, the Americans are getting humped so what do you expect him to do? Lie down? He’s going to want to win. You get caught up in the moment and that’s fine.

“You can see why he’s won WGCs. His short game was really good and, like Rory, he probably doesn’t get enough credit for that.”

 

You played Jordan Spieth in the Walker Cup singles, what do you remember of that?

“He is a great lad and really frustrating to play against. I played really well, I would knock it in to 10 feet and he would be 30 feet away and he would hole and I would miss.

“It was a rollercoaster of a match, he was four up after eight, I then birdied the next four and he birdied the next three. You could just tell that he was going to be something special. I threw everything that I had at him and he just kept coming back at me. I’m not surprised he is the No 1. A guy who can hole out from 25 feet a lot of the time knows he has to just keep the ball in play.

 

Did he look at the hole on short putts then?

“To be honest I didn’t notice, all I noticed was his backside as he repeatedly kept picking the ball out of the hole!

“It is easy to say now but four guys stood out – Patrick Cantlay was No 1 in the world but maybe didn’t shine as much as he could.

“The four who stood out for me were Russell Henley, Jordan Spieth, Harris English and Peter Uihlein. I played them all and they were special. Under pressure they could perform.”

 

How was Nigel Edwards as a captain?

“Great, very motivational. All week we were doing press and it was how many they were going to beat us by and he was having none of that. The biggest thing was that a lot of us knew we were going to be in that team so morale was massive and that’s where we did them. We were so much more of a team than they were. We annihilated them in the foursomes (6.5/8) and that was obviously key.”

 

You turned pro at 25 which is later than most?

“I had goals that I wanted to achieve, I wanted to win things and I think it is important to springboard yourself when you turn pro.

“My handicap was low but I didn’t win much worldwide until my last couple of years as an amateur. I always wanted to play Walker Cup too.”

 

One common theme of the three wins is the red trousers – why?

“I think that is my Sunday outfit, red and white for Liverpool. The first time I wore them they worked so I thought I’d try them again. I may as well keep doing it, it is almost Tiger-esque.”

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Posted by & filed under Competitions, Golf Equipment, Partners.

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Q: To the nearest full gram, what’s the maximum mass of a regulation golf ball, according to the rules of golf?

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Posted by & filed under Competitions, Golf Equipment, Partners.

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Q: Which course is the traditional home of the Masters?

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Posted by & filed under Debates.

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It’s certainly a talking point in the clubhouse. But should it even be a discussion?

Surely we should be encouraging youngsters to take up the game and doing everything we can to make them feel welcome in the golf club environment?

However some adult members think their club competitions should be for adult members only and would get quite annoyed at junior walking away with one of the top prizes.

Members of the team at National Club Golfer give their views…

 

Mark Townsend: It’s so long ago that I can’t actually remember what was going on in the mid 80s at my club. I seem to recall single-figure juniors being able to enter the ‘board’ competitions which seems about right. I would let any junior play in any competition but would probably draw the line at letting someone whose handicap is no reflection of their ability win the ‘big ones’.

 

Dan Murphy: If juniors are playing off the same tees and using the same handicapping system then they can play in any comp they want just like anyone else as far as I’m concerned. If they win a couple of big ones and get pulled then good luck to them and they will soon have a much lower handicap. The last thing we should be doing is making it difficult for kids to make the transition from playing with their mates to becoming fully fledged long-term club members and hopefully representing the club with distinction over the coming years and decades. I can’t abide the whinging that goes on from certain sections of golf club memberships about things like this.

 

Tom Irwin: Juniors at golf clubs should be treated like royalty. Free lessons, discounted memberships, full playing rights, proper off course facilities, discounted kit. What possible reason is there to stop a junior playing in a men’s comp? If they win because they are improving quickly then brilliant, what an amazing boost for them, and who is it annoying? Some small-minded minority who cannot see past the end of their collection of bad crystal? I will take giving the juniors a reason to get hooked any day.

 

Tom Lenton: It’s easy to see why a junior off 36 with a real handicap of 15 winning a board comp can upset people though? The adults are paying over a grand and retention and increasing these membership numbers is a golf clubs main priority.

 

Tom Irwin: In what world is declining participation ever attributed to ‘too many juniors winning competitions’? – That is not a thing.

If you are going to make a participation argument relevant to this debate, it is attitudes like ‘no juniors in club comps’ that is the participation problem. People think golf is played by smaller minded, pompous people and if that is a prevalent view then unfortunately they are correct.

 

Tom Lenton: Whether it is right or wrong, priority will always be with adult seven-day members, fact. Initiatives where an adult joins and they get a junior membership free is the way to go. Juniors can play in all board competitions, but they aren’t competing for the board prize, they get the junior prize within that competition. They are still part of a great day’s competition at the club and a good is had by all.

 

Mark Townsend: What about the scratch prize? Don’t suppose anyone could have any problem with juniors winning that.

 

Tom Lenton: If you’re good enough, you’re old enough.