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College days proved invaluable on road to the pro ranks

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Martin Laird | 12:12 UK time, Sunday, 26 December 2010

It is great to sit down and try to figure out my schedule for next year when I can already put a circle around all the majors! This is something that I've never been able to do before and is something I hope I can do for the rest of my career.

There's definitely a bold circle around the first week in April for The Masters. It's the only major that I've never played in and the one that I am most excited about.

I want to try and be as ready as possible for the majors and WGC events, since I have yet to put in a performance to be proud of in the top ranking tournaments and I'd love to get a taste of being around the lead in one of the big ones on a Sunday.

I'm sure once I've experienced that I'll want to be back there as often as possible, and I will be doing everything I can to make sure that happens.

Having taken my game to this stage, I thought it'd be a good time to reflect on how my career really got going out here in the US.

Crossing the pond to play college golf was something that always attracted me and getting to play competitive golf all year round was definitely a big lure.

Martin Laird sizes up a putt during the Dunhill Links at St Andrews

Martin didn't have much need for his woolly bunnet during his college days

I'd never been to the US before I signed up to come over but had heard from a few players who were already on golf scholarships, that it was a great place and the conditions and facilities for practicing were, at that time, second to none.

I'd really had enough of taking a huge break from competitive golf in winter and not really being able to work on my game to any real benefit for a good few months. Hitting balls off a mat at the driving range and playing to winter greens is better than nothing at all, but it isn't going to make you a better player!

Another factor for me coming over to the US was the fact that I loved watching PGA Tour golf growing up.

I knew that coming over here would be a way to test myself on this side of the Atlantic and let me know if I liked it and whether my game could hold up.

I really do feel that the experience I gained playing at Colorado State University was vital to where I am right now and played a huge part in me improving to the level that I felt I was ready to turn professional.

When I came over as a 17 year old, I was nowhere near good enough to even consider turning pro.

I was a member of the Scotland squad and had put in some good summer results playing in amateur events but my game needed to improve drastically before I thought about joining the paid ranks.

What was so good about the college route was that I knew that I was going to have four years to improve and mature, all while having intense competition over those years to drive me on.

Golf is a game where you are learning all the time and I still use a lot of the things that I learned from my coach at CSU, as well as things I learned myself, every time I'm on the golf course.

I had a lot of fun while learning too. There were 10 guys on our team and we became really good friends. You see each other almost every day and are all going through the same thing.

I really do believe you have to make it fun if you want to get better, and even though the 6am workouts were often painful, we definitely did have a great time travelling around the US playing in different tournaments and seeing new places.

I found it hard to shine when I first came over as I really struggled to adapt to the different style of golf. I used to hit the ball really low and my short game was mostly about hitting bump and runs from playing links golf, mostly in the wind.

You soon find out when you get to the US that ideally you want to hit the ball high and you definitely have to master the flop shot around the greens to get out of the rough.

I didn't get to play in every tournament during my first semester and that was extremely frustrating. You never want to be left behind, so when I was missing out, it was extra motivation for me to get better and inspired me to do whatever it took to make myself a regular on the team.

It wasn't until the end of my first year that I managed it. I had finally adapted to US style golf courses and the different types of grass that had caused me problems when I first arrived.

There is more emphasis on game development than winning; that was the case with my coach anyway. His view was that if you kept developing and improving, the winning would follow.

He would always talk about getting better and working on the weaknesses in our games, with less emphasis on needing to win the next tournament.

I know for a fact that I worked on my game a lot more during my college years than I would have if I had stayed at home. Some days I didn't want to practice but I always had to go if the coach said so.

I've always been sort of a grinder when it comes to practice but my college experience took it to a different level.

The competition on the US college circuit is extremely high and not only from the US guys. There are so many good players now from all over the world that go and play college golf. Nearly every team you see has at least one international player.

When we weren't on the road we would be having games all the time within our team. We would get little competitions going while practicing and often have games on the course after practice. When you are a poor college student you can't afford to keep losing money to your team-mates so you better improve quickly!

There was never really a time when there wasn't some form of competition and that can only help you improve.

Martin Laird is looking forward to the US Masters

Martin is looking forward to his first crack at The Masters

The academic side only got in the way of the golf development if you let it. If you didn't manage your time very well it definitely got tough to fit everything in and still do well at university. You soon learn to get into a routine so that the academic side didn't affect your golf and vice versa.

I think that it's good to have a distraction from golf too at that age. If all I did all day when I was 18 years old was play or practice and focus on golf, then I'm sure I would have burnt out pretty quickly. I think that's a big problem with golfers that turn pro really young.

There's a lot of pressure on them to succeed and if they don't break through within a year or two then confidence can really dip.

There are very few players in the world that are ready for the pro ranks when they're teenagers and quite often players that everyone thought were ready, turn out not to be.

There's such a huge gap between junior golf and college golf, college golf and mini-tour golf, and then mini-tour golf and PGA Tour/European Tour golf.

For me, being on a golf scholarship for four years gave me time to improve and learn in a relatively stress-free environment. That's something you don't get if you turn pro straight away.

I think that for the majority of players making the gradual progression up the golfing ranks is the best way to develop and maximise your potential.

If you take out the Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroys of the world, then nearly everyone else that is a top player either played college golf or played a lot of very competitive amateur golf before turning pro. The experience is invaluable.

Things have changed a lot, and for the better, in amateur golf since I came over to the US in 2000. Back then there was minimal funding for top amateurs and in the winter there was pretty much no competition back home at all.

Nowadays national squads fly all over the world playing in tournaments and go to warmer climates to improve in the winter. Top amateur players can effectively be full-time golfers with the funding that's available and can work on their game all year round, playing in different conditions.

If this was the case back when I was making my decision to play college golf I may have considered a different path. However, I do think that I probably still would have ended up in the US; there was just something about it that really attracted me.

It has worked for a good number of British golfers in the past and I'm sure it will continue to do so.

For me, having a chance to work on my game with excellent facilities and competition year-round worked out great. And I earned a degree at the end of it all too...


  • Comment number 1.

    Where there is a will, there is a way.

  • Comment number 2.

    Good blog Martin....nice to read something from the perspective of a player who has taken the same route as the majority of pro golfers, not just the handful who are a bit of an anomaly. What was a typical day for you when you weren't in competition in college (when you were just practicing)? Did you have pre-season training phases or was it year round?

  • Comment number 3.

    I agree, I do think that it's good to have a distraction from golf too at that age. If all I did all day when I was 18 years old was play or practice and focus on golf, then I'm sure I would have burnt out pretty quickly. I think that's a big problem with golfers that turn pro really young.

  • Comment number 4.

    great blog Martin, firstly i want to wish you commiserations on the playoff loss to jonathan byrd that was a sensational end to a tournament i was really hoping you'd defend. Really happy you'll be playing all 4 majors this year so congrats.
    This blog is really great for me personally, as in august i will be flying to the US to play college golf and hope to emulate your progression. After reading you comments it definately makes me think i am making the right decision, ironically i am actually going over with CPoA just like you, luke donald, Robert Dinwiddie, Becky Morgan and Ross McGowan did. any tips you could give me about the college system out there would be greatly appreciated and good luck in april i will be rooting for you.

    kind regards

    Ian Steele

  • Comment number 5.

    Well done Martin! Keep working hard... and forwards.

  • Comment number 6.

    Hi Martin,

    the attraction of golf 12 months of the year cannot be underestimated. Growing up in Northern Ireland we put our clubs away in October and took them out in April. It was a combination of bad weather and bad conditions of the courses.

    Today the top ams don't have to go through that. It is great that we have advanced in Europe to have golf 12 months of the year (albeit on the Iberian peninsula) and that the guys have the same opportunities as their American counterparts.

    Great point about the distraction of studying, apart from being a distraction, it makes you a more rounded individual.

    You are a credit to your profession, I sincerely wish you the best of luck next year, let's see if you can catch up with the Ulstermen???


  • Comment number 7.

    Living in New Zealand we are able to watch US golf tournaments over breakfast and I had the privilege of watching you fight to your first win Martin. There is certainly something about that course and possibly the one where the Barclays is held that suits your style of play. Do you tend to focus more on these types of courses when planning your schedule?

  • Comment number 8.

    I'm a bit confused by the concept that you get better weather in the US in winter than in Scotland. Arizona, California, Florida and a few other spots may do but I note the predicted high for Fort Collins, Colorado is -7 degrees Celcius for Friday - with snow. Does Colorado have better weather than Glasgow? I lived in Glasgow for seven years and I was only unable to play for an occasional week here and there. I have never lived in Colorado but I'm guessing that winter greens would be buried in snow a lot more than those in the UK?

    The real difference is that US universities value sport very highly, often because the more popular sports such as football and basketball bring in huge amounts of money for them. British universities provide sports facilities but rarely put them close in importance to academic pursuits. That makes more sense to me but, I must disclose, I'm better at Physics than golf!

  • Comment number 9.

    30goalseason - A typical day when we were not at tournaments would be...6am workouts (Mon, Wed, & Fri). Lectures from either 8 or 9am until noon. Home for lunch before heading to practice around 1pm. We would then practice for a few hours and sometimes go and play a few holes after practice. We had to try and schedule all our lectures/classes in the mornings or at night so we could keep the afternoons free for practice.

    Caliyorkia - You are right it can get very cold in CO. However, only one time in my four years at CSU did we get mass amounts of snow that stopped us from playing for a while. Even then, as soon as we start back up in February after the Christmas break we would go to Hawaii for a tournament and play in California a lot, both places having great weather year round. Colorado may not be as good as some of the places you mentioned but I grew up in Glasgow, and it was definitely better than trying to play through the winter there.

  • Comment number 10.

    Happy New Year Martin.
    What is your next tournament?

  • Comment number 11.

    Hi Martin,

    I followed you for a few holes at St Andrews this year and thought you got some bad breaks, suitably impressed i had a cheeky few quid e/w on you at the Barclays this year which paid for a new set of irons ready for September, so thanks for that!

    Having regularly read your blogs i've noticed you often mention how you used to hit it high and changd when you went to the US to hit it high. I just wondered what changes you made to allow you to do this.

    Cheers and i reckon you'll be value for Royal St George this year, who knows maybe you'll be payin for some new hybrids this summer!

    Cheers Mike

  • Comment number 12.

    You've come a long way since the days on the putting green at Collindale. Like others back here, we're really looking forward to following you in 2011. Go Rams!

  • Comment number 13.

    Interesting read Martin, cheers.

    I've been saying for a while now that I fancied you to break into the top-50 and I'm glad to have been proved right.

    Look forward to following your progress over the next year. Hopefully you can push on after a great 2010! All the best.

  • Comment number 14.

    Well done on all you've achieved, and it's a huge amount of hard work. In terms of scholarships, do you get the oppotunity to reimburse any fund you may have drawn on when you make lots of money, to allow an increasing number of youngsters in the future?


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