Fox bids to conquer dark art of putting

Noel Fox was once the Luke Skywalker of Irish golf - a dashing hero who conquered all in the amateur game.

Now he’d do anything to complete his move to the Dark Side and dominate the dark art that will bring him riches beyond his wildest dreams.

Noel FoxPutting has never been the strongest part of Fox’s game.

But the die-hard Dubliner admits that he has tried just about everything to get the ball in the hole and escape the confidence-sapping treadmill of the Europro Tour.

Less than two years after taking the plunge into the pro ranks, Fox is still waiting of his big break.

After a season of much promise but little gold on the less than glamorous Europro circuit, he’s hoping that the winter sun of Orlando, West Palm Beach or Arizona will leave him recharged and raring to go in 2007.

The problem is that the dark art of putting continues to elude him.

With little but practice to occupy him now as he waits for an answer from the Gateway Tour in the US, Fox has plenty of time to think about his progress in the pro ranks.

He said: “Fingers crossed I will be out there from mid January until St Patrick’s Day. Then I’ll head back and play the EuroPro and try and get a few Challenge Tour invites if I can but I think I’d have a better chance of getting an invite to the Masters.

“I only got one invite last year, to the Ryder Cup Challenge event in Killarney. That’s just the way it is.”

Fox played nine events on the Europro Tour run by Barry Hearn’s Bentley-driving son Eddie this season - paying €400 to tee it up each week.

He earned around €6,388 and only broke “around even” for the season thanks to a €10,000 grant from the Team Ireland Golf Trust and private sponsorship from John Curran at MMI Stockbrokers.

Fox is focussing on the positives of a season that saw him lead several events, including the season-ending Europro Tour Championship in the Azores.

But he knows that he needs to see the ball dropping on the greens and avoid the build up of the mental “scar tissue” that can slowly but surely eats away at your confidence.

Missing the cut at the first stage of the European Tour Qualifying School by a single shot is not something that Fox wants to dwell on for too long.

But when the ball won’t drop there is nothing much you can do except practice harder and hope the “dark art” will turn around.

He explained: “At Stage One I missed by a shot and it was disappointing. In terms of ball-striking it was one of my best weeks but I just could not get the ball in the hole. What can you do? I tried everything but I can’t will the ball in.

“I still have the artificial putting green at home but I never get to putt on surfaces as good as that these days. So it will be useless unless I get on the European Tour really.

“Unless you get out there on the tour immediately like Ollie Fisher, who I think will do very well, it is very difficult. It is very difficult coming from the highs of amateur golf, from winning championships and playing high up on the Irish amateur team and in the Walker Cup.

“Suddenly you are asking yourself, why isn’t this happening for me? I seem to be playing the same golf. It is just very difficult to come to terms with that.

“You have to sit down and ask yourself, what do I need to get better at? The problem is that you can build up a lot of scar tissue. You have just got to keep on working on things that are going to make you a better player tomorrow than you are today.

“You have got to keep seeing yourself out there some day - see that’s where you are going.

“I am 33 in January but age is an irrelevancy in golf. You can make arguments both ways for age. You have just got to keep working on the things that will make you better.”

An impressive driver of the ball on his day, Fox spends most of his practice time on his short game and putting, yet he admits that even the most perfect stroke in the world is no guarantee of success.

He explained: “You can have the most perfect stroke in the world but it might not make a difference. You might hole a few more four footers. But putting is a bit of a dark art.

“I’ve played with guys with terrible strokes - horrific strokes - yet they never seem to have more than 25 putts. And I’ve played with guys with perfect methods and they never break 30 putts. It is all about feel and reading greens.”

Keeping your spirits up is just as important and when you are effectively paying somebody for the privilege of teeing it up in their golf tournament, morale can ebb away as rapidly like a nasty slice.

He added: “None of us would be playing the EuroPro Tour if it wasn’t for the Challenge Tour exemptions. I think you should at least get your money back if you make the cut.”

Players making the cut on the Europro Tour can take home less that €300 - effectively losing €100 in respect of their entry fee.

Add in travel, accommodation and other expenses and it is no wonder that many of the Europro hopefuls spend more than a few nights sleeping in their cars.

Hearn and Matchroom Sport continue to make huge profits from events that are played on ho-hum UK courses.

Income from entry fees, pro-ams and the courses themselves as well as the money paid by Skysports make the Europro Tour a nice little earner for the organisers.

Our fledgling professional golfers continue to put every ounce of effort into following their dreams of tour glory.

But if the scar tissue continues to build as quickly as their overdrafts, we won’t have them for much longer.

Harrington did it for Dad

Padraig Harrington admits that his 2006 performances are just what his father ordered.

The Dubliner's victory in the Order of Merit and his two tournament wins so far this year have come just 15 months after Paddy Harrington lost his battle with cancer.

Harrington was knocked back physically and emotionally by his father's death in July 2005.

He said: "The emotional drain of what happened knocked me back physically quite a bit. I could actually physically measure how far I was hitting the golf ball and I probably lost 15 yards in that period.

"It took a good nine months to recover. What really scuppered me in terms of my golf was that I actually won twice that year and then got bad news afterwards.

"So I went from a high to a low. It takes a huge recovery. I don't think I carried the emotion too far way. But my Dad was a very practical person and would be saying : 'Get out there and play your golf.'

"After a while I wanted to go and play golf. I am more aware now how much the emotional fall had a knock on effect in terms of the physical. I wasn't physically up for it for a good while."

Nolan's rivals

Keith Nolan faces some serious competition for his PGA Tour card next week.

The Bray ace will tee it up with a host of tour winners and fallen stars at the six round Q School finals at La Quinta.

Names like 2004 Ryder Cup player Chris Riley, Alex Cejka, Jose Coceres, Carlos Franco and Anders Hansen leap off the draw sheet.

But what about two-time US Open champion Lee Janzen, Ryder Cup assistant Duffy Waldorf or Las Vegas native Bob May.

May last hit the headlines in the 2000 US PGA Championship at Valhalla, where he lost to Tiger Woods in a three-hole play-off.

In one of the great head-to-head duels in major championship history, May drained a 15-footer to match Woods with a 31 on the back nine and produced 20 birdies and only two bogeys to share the PGA Championship scoring record with Woods at 18-under-par 270.

Back problems have almost wrecked his career and like Nolan he will tee it up on Wednesday, hoping to finish in the top 30 and ties after six gruelling rounds.