The final round of the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open threw up many conundrums for the viewers yesterday. As disappointed as we might have been that there were no Irish players in the frame, for those who were in contention there was the opportunity to win one of Europe’s most prestigious titles, a two-year playing exemption and a tidy first prize of €200,000.
For many adorning the top of the leaderboard, this would have been a new and exciting experience. For others, like Aaron Rai, Dean Burmester, and John Catlin, already tournament winners, it was yet another chance to grow their portfolio of titles.
Experience would have made them aware of the obvious challenges that lay ahead — a tough Galgorm Castle Course that has demanded accurate driving and a solid putting stroke all week. It remained to be seen if they could mentally cope with what for most was one if not the biggest competitive day of their lives.
A restless Saturday night sleep would have been the first tell-tale sign that Sunday’s round was going to be a little different. With the pressure subconsciously building it can be so hard to calm your mind while your body — the butterflies, the sweaty palms — is playing games with you.
It’s an uneasy feeling as it happens so fast. It is simply your body getting ready for the fierce competition that lies ahead. It happens because it matters so much and for inexperienced leaders it can be very intimidating.
Everything you have ever worked for will do that to you! In reality, it's all part of the coping experience and dealing with it in a positive and constructive manner can go a long way towards determining a final day’s performance good enough to deliver a victory for yourself and your sponsors.
For the late starters yesterday, the early holes were a nervy mix of safe golf which ultimately led to multiple errors. More experienced professionals would certainly have capitalised on those early wedge shots and you always felt that the leaders’ inability to capitalise on them could eventually prove costly.
As time passed, we slowly started to witness those who did and those who did not believe in themselves. In the heat of the battle many looked unsure whether or not they could hit the big shot, so they either didn’t or couldn’t. It had become a self-fulfilling prophecy. They were out of their comfort zone and nothing hurts worse than not showing up when it matters most — not doing what you were supposed to do or giving it all that you had.
A final round will do that to you!
With no separation, it afforded the more proven players like Catlin and Jazz Janewattananond — stars who already had a rich store of past experience, the opportunity to move seamlessly through the field.
Gradually they started to assume greater control of the tournament and you always felt that if they were the first to post a competitive double-digit number, then that would be enough.
Catlin remained positive and committed all day. Unlike his fellow competitors, he had to grind his way into contention coming back from a four-shot deficit, but once there he never flinched once the winning opportunity presented itself. His three wood second shot into the last, after a long wait was a just reward for the man with the strongest will and mind on the day.
As I said after the first round, I have been greatly impressed all week by Catlin. He seems to have a great understanding of himself and how he performs under pressure. Great players know it’s ok to fail. They do not feel threatened by other people’s thoughts or by competition and understand that you can’t ever fully control the outcome of a situation.
As a result, they are more committed to what it is they are trying to achieve and can move more easily with the narrative of the momentum swings that we regularly experience in professional golf. Yesterday Catlin forged his own destiny. He is a worthy winner.
Aaron Rai also deserves tremendous credit for his performance yesterday. Although defending more than attacking for most of the day, his absolute composure kept him competitive and I was impressed that when he was asked to step up he did. The fact that he came up short has nothing is not a failure but another lesson learned. He will be stronger for it next time around.