In this week’s Player Blog presented by Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Jonathan Caldwell reflects on his recent win, the challenges of professional golf, and the importance of a strong support system
I think it’s finally starting to sink in now that I’m a winner on the European Tour. After 13 years as a professional, the week was pretty much a dream come true. But it was also nice to have the last week off to be honest and get home so that I could share the win with everyone who has supported me throughout my career.
The first three or four days were a bit crazy, seeing people and doing media and things I’m not used to, but then on Monday night we all got together at the golf club with my friends, family, supporters and sponsors. That was really special Towards the end of the week I went away with a few friends and it just gave me that bit of time to reflect on the win, and the doors it now opens for me.
The overwhelming feeling I have is one of satisfaction, especially to finish the way I did. From the moment I got there I told my caddie I felt like it was a place that suited me, but I only practiced the front nine. So when I started on the tenth on Thursday I made three bogeys in a row. It definitely wasn’t a straightforward week, but even when I finished the round on Saturday with a three putt from 15 feet, I still went to bed knowing I was playing well and had a chance. To then come from three behind and shoot 64 on a Sunday to win is massively satisfying, and that shot on 18 has to go right to the top of the list of best shots of my career. Of course, there was a bit of luck involved, as there always is, because I had a poor tee shot and got a fantastic lie to be able to get elevation on the ball and to be able to stop it so quickly. Missing that tee shot was a massive break in a way, and I couldn’t have planned it any better. I’d just missed a three-footer at 17 so I was pretty nervous over that two-footer at 18 – especially because they are the putts everyone expects you to knock them in – and the hole definitely shrinks a bit on you in that moment, but I was delighted to knock it in.
I always kept that belief that I could play again at the highest level in Europe again, and I wanted to do that, to be able to test myself again. I came out of college and went straight into the deep end of playing at the highest level in Europe after Q-School in 2008. At the time I really thought that to get better I needed to change things in my game, and instead of getting better I got worse, and gradually got worse over the next couple of years as I was trying to get better. It’s taken me a long time to get back to where I was, but knowing that I had done it once, and having the drive to want to do it again, is really what kept me going all of those years where I was struggling.
In the last few years, I feel like I’ve slowly seen my game come back to where it was, and with the help of a switch in coach after six years without one – and a lot of fitness work – it feels like my game has really come on in the last two years.
I think a huge part of that has been a maturing in my mentality too. When you’re playing on the mini Tours you’re not playing for as much money, so you’re constantly trying harder to play well and shoot better scores – and it often has the opposite effect because instead you get more uptight and frustrated. I really learnt that you had to stay patient, and for me it helps just to treat the game like I am just playing at home with friends, because I feel like I play my best golf when I play with my friends. I’m just focusing on where I’m hitting it, not focusing on the trouble, and trying not to get too frustrated by poor shots. That’s what I’ve done the last few years.
I had a psychologist when I was in America at University and we always talked about being patient and thinking about picking small targets, and eventually it clicked with me that I had to treat tournament golf like that too to get the best out of my game. I also always remember him telling me when I played in the Walker Cup in 2007 that while making the team was fantastic (and even more so when you look at the guys who have gone on to win Majors, WGCs and produce a standard of golf), that I shouldn’t let that be the highlight of my career. A highlight, yes, but not the highlight, and it’s something I’ve always remembered. I still talk to him now and again about how things are going, but it’s the smaller fundamental things he taught me that still resonate.
The Great Britain and Ireland 2007 Walker Cup team:— The European Tour (@EuropeanTour) February 11, 2021
(front row, left to right) J. Parry, L. Matthews, C. Dalgleish (capt), N. Edwards, D. Horsey, (back row, left to right) R. McIlroy, J. Moul, R. Davies, L. Saltman, D. Willett, J. Caldwell.#ThrowbackThursday pic.twitter.com/c2P2yBAZBH
Last year really helped return that belief that I could contend again at the highest level. After I made it through Qualifying School I had a few good results in 2020, and although I wasn’t necessarily up there contending in the top tens I had, it did help me to believe I have the ability to get across the line and be at the top end of the leaderboard. The environment definitely helped me get comfortable too, because I haven’t played in front of crowds in a long time on the EuroPro or the Challenge Tour, so it was nice to come in and get used to playing at this level on the golf courses within an environment that I was used to.
But I’d be lying if I said it’s not been hard road to get here, or that I have often wondered if I should look to do something else. Through those early years I was able to keep myself going thanks to grants from Team Ireland, who have always been really good at helping to support guys, but as I slipped out of certain categories, that’s when I knew I’d have to get a job if I wanted to keep going. I wasn’t ready to give up completely, which is why I took a part-time job at Nevada Bob’s around 2013, and I’d work there Saturday, Sunday and Monday, then travel on Tuesday morning to the EuroPro event and play the pro-am, then play Wednesday toFriday, travel home Friday night and do it all over again. I did that for the entire season, and in the winter I’d work a lot more to gather up funds so that I could play. They were very good to me, but it was a bit of a catch-22 because I needed to work there to keep going, but working there meant I was exhausted and had no time to practice.
Eventually, I approached a friend of mine at the golf club about some sponsorship, and he said: ‘here’s the money, leave that job and go and focus on your golf’. I haven’t looked back since, and it really helped my self-belief too when I realised someone had so much confidence in me that they were willing to reach into their own pocket so I could focus on the game.
I also know I’m lucky to have the people around me that I do, who were there believing in me even when I didn’t believe in myself. There’s been numerous times over my career where I’ve thought about giving up. When I’d had several bad rounds, bad tournaments or just playing poorly for a long period of time while grinding it out on the mini Tours, there was a big part of me that really felt that I couldn’t keep doing this. But my parents, friends and sponsors, they were the ones who kept telling me to stick at it, that I had to keep going and it would all come together. I think that’s so crucial for players, because it’s so hard to see a way out of that bad mentality when you’re playing poorly, and it’s then that you need the people to step in who believe in you.
That’s why this win is even more satisfying for me, and why I got so emotional. When I realised I had finally done it, I began to think about my parents and all those people along the way who believed in me even when I didn’t, it meant so much because it is for so many more people than just me.
Even just the fact that I now have job security for the rest of this year and next, and that allows me to play in all those bigger events like the Rolex Series, is massive.