Winners Aren’t Always ‘The Best’ – Analysing a Champion

Last week saw the start of the 2021 European Tour season at the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship, a Rolex Series event with a huge prize purse to play for. As always, the event attracted big names from all corners of the globe; Rory Mcilroy, Tommy Fleetwood, Justin Rose to name a few. Come Sunday, it seemed a three horse race between Mcilroy, Fleetwood and the up and coming Tyrrell Hatton. On paper, this was between two of them. Impeccable ball striking, unrivalled accuracy and tremendous distance from two of the best long game players on the planet. Serious pressure on Sunday with the world watching and over €1 million on the line, surely their experience gave them a huge advantage. Nope, Tyrrell beat them by 6 & 7 shots respectively, giving hope to us all.

Tyrrell shot a bogey free, 6 under par 66 in what looked like a flawless performance, but was it? The 29 year old stands at 5’8″ with a normal physique, he averages just under 300 yards off the tee and has by no means a textbook golf swing, someone that we can all relate to (apart from the distance). It’s what Tyrrell has inside that stands him out from the rest, and what I think made him dominate last week. To outwill – “to demonstrate a greater will than”. Let’s look at his physical game first.

Source: @europeantour Instagram

If you aren’t familiar with ‘strokes gained’ statistics, they are a much more accurate way of measuring a players performance vs the rest of the field than traditional stats. From the graphic above you can see Tyrrell was very strong playing to the green and around the greens, ranking 1st in strokes gained tee to green (all shots taken away from the putting surface) and 2nd in strokes gained approach (approach to green shots) which could be seen by the many brilliant iron shots he hit. His short game was solid but not spectacular and he drove it well (not shown in the statistics, narrow fairways meant even good drives were punished). Watching the highlights back, you will see his performance really wasn’t special for the first few holes, many wayward shots saved by his handy short game. Playing in the final group with Mcilroy made his front 9 look really unimpressive, yet there he was in the lead and slowly building momentum. A poor drive on 10 was followed up by holing a lengthy birdie putt and from that point onwards he was never going to lose. Regarding physical performance, his biggest attribute was never getting in any real trouble, playing smart and missing greens in the right places resulting in a clean card. His performance down the stretch, especially mentally, is what I was really impressed by.

Personality wise, Hatton is well known for having a temper, as shown in the ‘Angry Golfers’ video released the day before the tournament (if you haven’t watched it, you should). This comes from his gritty, determined attitude and huge desire to win. Having these attributes, formed from an early age meant it was only a matter of time until his swing matched up to the task. He has now won 4 times in the last 14 months. Tyrrell is a winner. He does whatever it takes to win, embraces the challenge head on and wont back down. We are seeing this week on week now. As a result of time and patience, the ability to deal with nerves and pressure gets easier but they are just part of being in contention on Sunday and will never go away. Therefore, it is the players who embrace them, fight and overcome the situation, that flourish. It’s not always the biggest boxer who wins the fight and the quickest car doesn’t always win the race. One of your biggest assets as a sportsman or woman is your mindset.

If I was to ask you to name a situation where you feel pressure and nerves, you would immediately think of a golf competition or match. When we get in these situations we experience some form of stress leading to a number of body reactions. “The carefully orchestrated yet near-instantaneous sequence of hormonal changes and physiological responses helps someone to fight the threat off or flee to safety”, known as the Fight or Flight response (Harvard Health Publishing, 2020). A scientific explanation to how we react in life or death situations ultimately, but I like to use this example when tackling pressure. We have two choices we either fight it, or flight it and give in to the situation. Hatton is a fighter and developed a great attacking mentality when it comes to being uncomfortable, unlike Rory & Tommy who succumb to it on Sunday. We see this happen a lot on Sundays, usually the younger, less experienced players slowly fall down the leaderboard whilst the cream rises to the top. But even with the best in the world battling it out, you have to be in control of your physical and mental game as playing in the final groups will brutally expose your weaknesses.

I think it is fair to say that technically, Hatton is by no means the best in the world but this victory shows that maybe technical ability isn’t as important as we once thought. Hatton knows his game, had a game plan and was able to execute it due to superior mental ability when it mattered most. If you want to be a good player then technique will carry you, but being a winner takes exceptional mental resilience. So what can we learn from this, well, when was the last time you worked on your mental game? Just using Tyrells example, there are a lot of attributes to his performance that we could take and implement into what we do. Here are some of the takeaways I took from watching him succeed:

  • Don’t be overcome by the situation – Stay present, focus on the job in hand.
  • How bad do you want it? – If you don’t have motivation to win, create it. Set scoring targets, statistic goals or margins of victory to work towards.
  • Stick to your game plan – Play smart. Don’t alleviate from the plan when it’s not going well. When there’s a will, there’s a way.
  • A good mental game can rescue a bad day – Finding your swing, battling back, improving rhythm etc. is never going to be easy when you aren’t on the ball mentally.
  • Fight till the end – Be strong, be gritty. Don’t let anything phase you.

As children we all learned by watching adults, people who were more skilled and experienced than us. Try and watch some golf on TV over the next few weeks, you will be amazed at what you can learn from the pro’s. And when we do get back out on the course, don’t flee from stressful situations, fight them.


Published by Andy Thorne

Professional Golfer

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