In this week’s Player Blog presented by Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Rikard Karlberg talks about the fine margins of golf, the chip that kick-started his season and how his health issues changed his perspective.
It is really crazy how in this game one day, or one week, can change everything, and it’s hard to let that sink in. Last Tuesday in Ireland I was standing on the range in the morning, still not in the tournament and I remember thinking about what I should do and how I should be focused on training if I don’t get the chance to play. Then from the time I found out I was going to be playing, to finishing second and now going straight into playing the next two weeks at the abrdn Scottish Open and The Open, it’s all gone so quickly it’s hard to comprehend what it means for me. Straight after the round it was in the car, ‘okay now we’re going to Scotland’, so I actually let myself have a softer day of practice on Tuesday because I just felt my head wasn’t quite in the right place yet. Sometimes you just need a little time to let things sink in and come up with a plan.
Last week was the perfect example of how fine the margins are in this game. Sometimes in golf it can feel like you’re not playing that well but you’re getting pretty good results because you’re missing in the right spots, or you hole a chip here and a putt there, and the bad ones don’t seem to cost you that much. Other times you can play okay but you miss it in the wrong spots, and you’re feel like you’re not getting anywhere. And sometimes all of a sudden things just come together and it’s like your brain picks up right away what type of shot to hit even when you’re out of position. Then as soon as you have a good result, you stop feeling that frustration of getting a bad lie because you remember it’s just part of the game.
It felt like things finally started to come together for me this year in the second round at the BMW International Open. I missed the cut anyway, but I was starting to hit the fairways and greens, and I brought that to Ireland. The funny thing in Ireland was that I started solid on the first three holes, but I wasn’t feeling very comfortable. Then on the fourth hole I hit it into the middle of the fairway, but there was a bit of mud on the ball when I got there. It had been preferred lies the week before, and I just wasn’t thinking. I saw dirt on the ball so picked it up, and as soon as I did it I thought ‘oh dammit, I don’t need this’. It was so disappointing because it had been so hard for me to put in a good score anyway this year, I really didn’t need to make it harder for myself that way. And then I bogeyed the fifth, and it just felt like it was going to be yet another week where I didn’t get the result I wanted. But then I holed a long putt on six, and after that all the right feelings came back and things started to fall into place. It’s just a crazy game.
So much about golf is really preparing yourself mentally to be uncomfortable and know how to handle feelings in important moments, and that was something I had last week I haven’t experienced in a long time. I really expected the feelings of nerves because I’ve had them before, so I knew I had to push myself to be aggressive and commit to the shots even when my brain was fighting to be defensive, because everyone is so good you have to find a way to hit a good shot when you’re uncomfortable, and that’s when that mental sharpness is important.
When I got to the tough 18th last week, I really felt prepared for that feeling. I knew I would feel uncomfortable on that hole with left to right wind, with water on the left and rough on the right. My plan was just to focus on the dimple of the golf ball, swing the club and I know if I do that freely my swing is good enough to hit a good shot. I thought I did that but it came out right, and I knew because people came off the green there was going to be grass behind and in to and it was going to be tricky. But when I got there that was where that hard work I’ve been doing came in about making the right decisions, and I thought ‘OK normally I would take the lob wedge and I’ll try and hit a stock shot, but because of the grass I will take a 56, loft it up and use the bounce a bit.’ I just had that feeling that I was going to hole it. That just happens sometimes, and I just hit it so good, picked it perfectly and it went in. It felt wonderful.
I didn’t know what that moment was for until I turned around after I picked up the ball and looked at the leaderboard. I didn’t know about The Open Championship spot because I thought everyone was far up there, and when I saw that (Francesco) Laporta had a tough 18 and Johannes (Veerman) had dropped a shot, I was just wondering if it might get me a spot in the Scottish Open. And then things happened, and Johannes was unlucky, and all of a sudden I’m in the Scottish Open and The Open, and I’ve got a good card for next year. It’s a really good feeling in the heart, head and stomach.
Last week was the first top three I’ve had since 2016, and I’ve been through a lot since then health-wise, so it was really important to show myself I can do it. Things haven’t really run smoothly for me in the last few years. When I came back in 2019 I started to have some pretty decent results, but then COVID happened last year and although I played okay, I never managed to get a top ten. I just felt like that sharpness was missing. I’d put in a lot of work since November last year but no results have come until last week, and it’s easy to get frustrated when you’re putting more energy, more planning and more time into it, and you don’t get any results even when the game is pretty good. Sometimes it’s just a case of waiting, and to have that sharpness return and now have all the things that come with it, is just a very nice feeling.
One of the big differences for me and my game is that after going through what I went through a couple of years ago, I’m much more positive now than I used to be in golf. I have never really been hard on myself, but I think now I realise that golf isn’t everything that defines me. Even if I put in a lot of hours of work to get better and it doesn’t go the way I want, I can live with it knowing that I did my best. Before I got sick I always thought I could do better if that result didn’t come, and it was a really stressful mentality to have.
I think I’m also good at having a bit more fun with it when I don’t play well. When we got back from Denmark there was a grass tee that wasn’t open at my home club and I took down a sign so that I could play. Some members were asking ‘why does he get to play from there?’, so I put up a big sign that said ’I hope it’s OK that I stand here and practice because at the moment I suck and I need to practice’. People thought it was funny. Before, I felt like the person I was was defined by the results I had, and now I’m able to separate that: I have the result of the game, and I have who I am as a dad, a husband and a friend. It’s two very different things.
Rikard Karlberg has battled serious infection and depression to return to the European Tour.— The European Tour (@EuropeanTour) November 20, 2019
He told his inspiring story on the Player Blog back in August: https://t.co/1PJ8H8dvKWpic.twitter.com/Nia9MMOFzj
Now that I am older and have a family, moments last week are even more important. I jumped up a lot on the Race to Dubai, and the best thing is knowing next season I can really schedule my golf again. There is no better feeling than that. I love the game and everything that comes with it, but trying to play at a high level when you have a family is a lot easier when you can plan.
When you experience some good results - which I did in 2015 and 2016 - and you have a taste of the really good stuff, you want to get back there. But then you start a family, and not having a plan becomes harder. You have small children at home that ask you ‘when will you be back?’ and you say ‘I don’t know, I don’t know if I play only one week or maybe five or six’. That’s the case now more than ever because you can’t bring your family out with you to tournaments just now. When they were younger they didn’t really notice, but now it’s harder than ever because they are crying, and I’m crying, every time I leave. When we realised what last week meant, I called home and my wife cried and I cried and they were like ‘why are you crying this is a good thing?’. We tried to explain to them, we’re crying because we’re happy. So that’s the most important thing, and playing these next two weeks, they are just the cherry on top.