A YOUNG MAN WITH AN OLD SWING.
Tyrrell Hatton doesn’t look much like Jack Nicklaus. The two-time winner on the European Tour - both Alfred Dunhill Links Championships - doesn’t play golf like the 18-time major champion either. But in at least one respect the 25-year old Englishman who
Englishman Tyrell Hatton has been making great strides over the last two years.
Just as Nicklaus did with his long-time swing instructor, Jack Grout, Hatton starts every golfing year in the same way, going over the basics of his swing with his father, Jeff.
“I like the way Nicklaus went about it,” says the elder Hatton, a teaching professional and custom-club fitter. “He says the three most important things in golf are set-up, set-up and set-up. I like that philosophy. We also follow another of Jack's doctrines: when you are playing well you don't see your coach. If it isn't broken, there is nothing to fix. That isn't the modern way, but it is the way I think it should be. Maybe I am just old-fashioned, but in my book if you are playing well the last person you want to be talking to is your coach.
“Besides, Tyrrell has had the same swing since he was about 17. We did a lot of coaching before that. But now all we do is put his swing back to where we got it to when he was 17. All the coaching was done to prior to that. All we really focused on was posture, path, plane, stance, balance - all of the basics. If you've not got those right you're not going to be a good player. “Now, because his swing is so “old” - even though he is so young - he doesn't need much help. Before the Scottish Open in 2016 he wasn't happy with the way he was playing, so I went up there. All we did was fix his set-up. We did nothing to his swing. Then he finished second. It is always simple stuff. The swing should be simple. It's not that complicated a movement.”
It is a philosophy and approach that seems to be working. Over the last couple of years, Tyrrell - his paternal grandfather's middlename - has racked up a series of high finishes at the very highest level of the game. Fifth in the Irish Open. Seventh in the BMW PGA Championship. Second in the Scottish Open. Fifth in the Open Championship. Tenth in the USPGA Championship. First in the Dunhill Links Championship. Second in the DP World Tour Championship. The list is both lengthy and impressive, albeit he suffered through a strange and unexpected decline in fortunes during the northern hemisphere summer just past.
Indeed, his second successive Dunhill victory at St. Andrews represented the highlight of a disappointing season in which Hatton missed the halfway cut in all four major championships. After a T-4 finish at the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March lifted him as high as number 14 in the world, Hatton slumped badly. At one point he failed to qualify for the weekend in eight of nine successive. His best effort anywhere before a T-3 finish at the European Masters in September was as long ago as April, a lowly T-29 in the PGA Tour's Heritage Classic.
All of which saw Hatton's world ranking fall to 29 before a promising although ultimately disappointing T-8 finish at the British Masters. Leading at the halfway stage, Hatton fell away badly in a final round marked by the petulance and poor body language that provoked a flurry of public criticism. Most notably, former European Tour pro Gary Evans labelled Hatton “a disgrace,” telling him to “grow up.”
“I listened to too many opinions and just got on a bad run,” said Hatton of his summer of discontent. “If you're not holing putts and hitting a few bad shots, you feel like you can't score any worse. That's the sort of phase I went through. My swing feels good now though.”
So it should. Hatton has achieved much with a method that has drawn almost universal praise for its simplicity and ability to repeat under pressure.
“We haven't changed my swing for at least nine years,” says the younger Hatton, a graduate of the Jameiga, Hooters, EuroPro and Challenge circuits before he arrived on the European Tour in 2014. “But I'm not one of those guys who went straight from amateur golf into the big leagues. I like the way it has gone for me. I've progressed steadily. There has been no feeling of rushing too far too soon. I've gained confidence at every level then moved on.
“All of those tours toughened me up, they were all hard schools. On the Hooters Winter Series in Florida - where the entry fee each week is $800 - I broke par in every round and only made about $6500. It was a case of ‘get better or get out.' The EuroPro is the same way. The winner gets a nice cheque, but you are basically playing for your own cash. And finishing twentieth every week isn't going to get it done.
“Ironically though, my whole game is just that - pretty consistent. Maybe only my putting varies more than a little now and then. I just don't hole enough putts. When you see me in contention it is always because I've been making a few.”
Ah yes, contention. It is at the sharp end of tournament play where the two sides of Hatton's golfing character have been most exposed. Where his swing portrays serenity and smoothness, the opposite has sometimes been true of the man from Marlow's temperament.
“My mind goes back to the last round of the 2014 Scottish Open at Royal Aberdeen,” says Sky Sports commentator Ewen Murray, himself a former European Tour player. “There he was playing for a big title, a lot of money and a place in the Open and the head was coming off. I remember what I said about him on-air: ‘I don't know about you at home but I'm finding this just a little tiresome.'
"All we really focused on was posture, path, plane, stance, balance - all of the basics. If you’ve not got those right you’re not going to be a good player. “Now, because his swing is so “old”- even though he is so young - he doesn’t need much help."
“Having said that, I admire Tyrrell enormously as a player. He's a great putter. He believes in his own technique, which is very orthodox. He is very capable of winning at the highest level. But he still lets himself down now and then.”
But not to the extent he once did. Well aware of his propensity to lose the rag at moments when calm reflection is called for, Hatton claims to have worked hard to improve his reaction to shots that fail to meet his exacting standards. But it remains an on-going process. In 2016 at Wentworth, he missed a real opportunity to win BMW PGA Championship - the European Tour's so-called flagship event - when impatience early in the final round proved fatal to his chances.
“I still get angry,” admits Hatton. “I'm only human. I try my best to keep it under wraps, but there are times when that is difficult to achieve. And yes, I do show it more than most guys. It just comes out. It's almost like a red mist. It's a reaction that comes before I think. But I know I need to get better in that respect.
“Last year, in fact, I definitely improved. The experience I had in final groups made it clear I need to be more patient. Wentworth brought that home to me. Chris Wood got off to a fast start in the final round. So I started forcing and dropped a few shots. Walking up 18 my caddie told me to look at the leader board. ‘If you had been twounder today you would be leading by one now,' he said. ‘You wouldn't have thought that at the start of the day.' That hit home.”
Indeed, less than two months later, Hatton was back in contention in the Scottish Open at Castle Stuart. Under the severest pressure on a tightly-packed leader board, the two-time winner of the Wycombe Heights Junior Masters performed admirably. Only the exceptional play of Sweden's Alex Noren down the stretch prevented Hatton from achieving his maiden tour victory.
“I just tried to stay patient and I did that pretty well,” he says with some justification. “I was a lot better than I had been at Wentworth. And I got my reward even though I finished second. I holed a good putt on the last green and that set me up for a good summer.”
Still, for all that, the subject of his son's temperament remains a touchy one for the elder Hatton.
“Like most good players Tyrrell has high standards,” he says. “He wants every shot to be perfect. I don't think I've ever seen a top player happy with a bad shot. So I'm not sure why certain commentators get a big hung-up on it.
“The key is not letting anything affect the next shot. That is where Tyrrell is now. Plus, lots of players get frustrated but no one seems to talk about them. One bit of bad press can lead to people going on and on about it. I think it's unjust. I never want him to lose that aspect of his personality. I want Tyrrell to be judged on his play, not whether he is walking around with a smile like a clown. He is very laid-back off the course, but he wears a different head on the course. I like that in a player, as long as it doesn't linger.”
It doesn't seem to be. But it won't get any easier in the aftermath of a 2017 season that has, despite his ups and downs, raised expectations for a young man who has, more than most of his English contemporaries, flown under the golfing radar. Despite that, at least one of those compatriots is in no doubt as to his quality.
“While he hasn't exactly come from nowhere - Tyrrell has always been a more than decent player - he has clearly improved every year, both as an amateur and a professional,” says compatriot and fellow pro Eddie Pepperell. “I know there are those who question his temperament. But that is his biggest asset in my opinion. If you took that out of him he wouldn't be the player he is. He's a nice kid at heart. And he's always been good in the big events.”
One of the biggest is coming up soon enough at Augusta National. One a certain Jack Nicklaus won as many as six times. Hatton for the Masters? Funnier things have happened.
Tyrell Hatton of England poses for a picture during the pro-am prior to the start of the Omega European Masters in Crans-Montana, Switzerland. Tyrrell Hatton tees off during the Pro Am tournament ahead of the Italian Open in Monza, Italy.
Tyrrell Hatton celebrates holeing the winning putt during The Italian Open at Golf Club Milano - Parco Reale di Monza on October 15, 2017 in Monza, Italy.