Chris Paisley admits he was starting to turn into one of golf’s plodders. But a conscious effort to graft over the winter weeks, work relentlessly and alter his mindset to believe he could push himself into the elite, is starting to pay off.
We’re barely a month into 2018 but already Paisley has emerged from relative obscurity to put himself on the map. At 31, some would say it’s about time.
His renewed approach has already yielded results for Paisley, who’s begun 2018 in blistering form. He won his maiden European Tour title – almost nine years after turning pro and five years after joining the tour – when he beat home favourite Branden Grace at the South Africa Open on January 14.
That was followed by tied fifth place at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, his Middle East swing completed by a fine solo fifth finish at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic on Sunday.
To survive in professional golf, you clearly have to know how to and be good at swinging a few clubs. But Paisley readily admits he may have allowed himself to coast over the course of his early years in the game, since becoming a professional in 2009.
“Without realising it, yeah, I think I definitely became comfortable with just being the guy who keeps his card every year,” the Englishman tells Sport360.
“That’s not what I would set out the year to be but I think in my mind, once I’d secured my card, I’d relax a little bit, definitely, and then generally my performances dipped.
“So this year I made a conscious effort of setting really high goals. Look at Tommy Fleetwood and Tyrrell Hatton, they get on a roll and take off, so I thought ‘why can’t I give that a go?’ and my mindset is now geared more towards that than just keeping my card.
“It led me to practicing that bit better and harder and it’s definitely paid off.
“It’s unbelievable. I’ve had sporadic good results in the past, a third place, but I’ve never put a run together like this and it’s amazing. It’s a run of form I’ve seen other players do, and I’ve thought ‘how do you do that?’, so for me to play that level of golf is really nice.”
Tellingly, it’s jettisoned him into the top-100 for the first time in his career. And with his game and form on the rise, so too are his ambitions.
The Ryder Cup takes place in eight months’ time and Paisley is, almost implausibly, poised to be involved.
The Northumberland native is only just outside the eight automatic slots to make captain Thomas Bjorn’s team as it stands. On the Ryder Cup World Points list he sits 10th.
Right now, Justin Rose, Hatton, Ross Fisher and Matthew Fitzpatrick would qualify via European Points standings, with Jon Rahm, Fleetwood, Sergio Garcia and McIlroy the four others, not on the initial list, making the cut via World Points.
Paisley is less than a point off Ireland’s Paul Dunne, in ninth, and he admits it’s time to start dreaming.
“The Ryder Cup will start to come into the thinking,” admits an ambitious Paisley.
“It’s funny to think about it because before these three weeks it wasn’t on my radar or anyone else’s radar. Nobody’s thinking about Chris Paisley getting to the Ryder Cup, but why not.
“There’s still a long way to go and you’ve got to keep up really good form for the rest of the season, but why not. Let’s do it.
“I’ve got a sniff. I’m getting into WGCs (World Golf Championships) now and majors, all those big events. It’s down to me, keep doing what I’m doing and improve, playing really positive golf. If I can do that, you never know.”
Although he may be in the Ryder Cup picture, Paisley insists he won’t let the thought consume him, like it did compatriot Fitzpatrick two years ago.
Fitzpatrick, who only turned 22 weeks before the tournament, at Hazeltine in Minnesota, had been in contention following two eye-catching years after going pro in 2014. He won the 2015 British Masters but was struggling for form leading up to the Ryder Cup, before victory at the Nordea Masters in June of 2016 secured his spot.
“It’s not something I can worry about,” said Paisley.
“I spoke to Matt Fitzpatrick about the Ryder Cup and he said it kind of consumed his thoughts and he struggled that Ryder Cup year. But he sat down with his coaches and then he won the Nordea Masters.
“At the start of that week he said ‘let’s just go and play golf and see what happens’ and he did that and won. Thinking about it doesn’t help, it’s just about playing good golf.
“My college coach always said good things come to those who play well so if I just take care of playing well, those things will come, hopefully.”
Paisley played college golf in America, at the University of Tennessee, where he won two events.
He also played on the 2008 winning St Andrews Trophy team for Great Britain and Ireland, while he’s already enjoyed victory over the US for Europe in 2009’s 13-11 Palmer Cup triumph.
And although he’ll hope to be part of another European triumph over America later this year, it’s the States he credits with helping him take his game to another level.
“There’s lots of factors,” he added.
“My game, I’ve worked really hard on it and it’s steadily improved. We’ve got a place in Orlando so I spent the winter practicing there, I think a lot of guys were over in Europe where the weather’s terrible and said they barely hit a ball over the last few months.
“I had a really good period of practice, six weeks where I could train really hard in the gym, my game and there’s a lot of pros in the area too so I was having a lot of competitive games and it got me really sharp.
“In past winters I’ve worked on my swing and technical aspects of the game, which is fine, but then I’ve come into the season feeling really rusty and generally start really poorly.
“So I made a conscious decision to make practice more competitive and finding ways to put pressure on myself and get the scoring and playing side of my game hotter and, obviously with the way I’ve started, it’s definitely paid off.”
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