Chris Paisley has had a fantastic start to the year, already picking up his first ever European Tour win in South Africa, while his wife caddied for the first – and maybe last – time.
Now he is looking forward to the future with dreams of making the world’s top 50, playing in America and maybe, just maybe a spot in this year’s Ryder Cup.
You’ve had a great start to the year, what has been the big difference?
There has been a lot of little things more than one factor. I think I’ve just been slowly improving a lot of aspects. My swing – I’ve got a better understanding of that. I feel like my swing is at a point where of course there are still things to improve, but I know it is good enough to win. My putting has slowly been getting better. It has been a strength for a while, but it has been slowly improving. I think my maturity and course management has been getting better. I seem to be able to get the most out of my rounds now which I didn’t earlier in my career. I think that is just an experience thing. And maybe equipment. I changed a lot of my clubs which I rarely do. I’ve put 12 new clubs in my bag. I think it is a lot of little things that have added up to a big improvement.
Does it feel different now you are going out there as a winner?
Definitely. Obviously to win so early is great. In the past I’ve generally been trying to keep my card. The odd year I’ve locked it up reasonably early but for the most part I am more stressing about making cuts than having high finishes. Where now if I were to go and play badly and miss a cut it wouldn’t bother me quite so much, so it is much more positive mindset. Obviously there are different pressures that come with where I’m at now. There’s always something to aim for. Now if I can get into the top 50 in the world, that opens doors that weren’t on my radar before. But its nice to have that to be looking forward rather than looking behind me and worrying about keeping my card.
So is that the big goal for the year, reaching the top 50 in the world?
Yeah, I’d say so. It’s interesting how I’d never paid much attention to the rankings because it doesn’t make a lot of difference when you’re 400 in the world or whatever. Now if I had gotten into the top 64 then I could have got into the Dell Match Play and obviously top 50 for The Masters and there’s all these different things so if I can get top 50 it would be amazing. That’s probably the goal now really.
Are you in the Open as it stands?
Yeah, I’d get in through the Race to Dubai. Top 20 get in.
That must be pretty exciting with that coming up?
Yeah. I’ve never played in any majors. I’ve been close in the qualifying a few times but it would be amazing to start getting into those events. The WGC (World Golf Championship) was my first taste of something like that but to play the Open would be incredible.
How was that WGC? Must have been nice to be leading for a while and having your name at the top of that field.
It was really cool. It was a different atmosphere to what I was expecting I suppose. I was expecting it to be quite a high pressure, quite intense atmosphere with it being such a big event but it almost felt a bit of an exhibition. Most of the players there are all millionaires and have won recently. There is no cut and guaranteed money, so it was quite laid back. I really enjoyed it. You could just have a go and do your best and not worry if you had a bad day. I’m more used to making cuts and trying to make a living where this was quite a nice, relaxed atmosphere. It was great to go and play some really good golf. I was a little bit disappointed with my finish but I showed that I can mix it up with them.
How was it coping with the altitude?
It was tough. It was interesting. I played on the Monday and Justin Rose’s caddy happened to walk with us for a couple of holes. He was telling me how last year Justin’s game plan was to play really conservatively off the tee and give himself lots of mid to short irons into the greens. But by the end of the week they were just lashing driver everywhere and I couldn’t quite see where they were coming from. My game plan was to hit lots of irons off the tee, get it in play. As the week went on I just found it impossible to get it close from anything outside 130 or 140. I felt like I hit a lot of really good shots that I thought were going to end up close and they were 30 feet long or 50 feet short. The greens have small tiers and slopes on them. I tried to stick to my game plan all week, thinking I was playing to my strengths but everyone I was playing with were just hitting drivers and getting close to the green. They didn’t have to worry about the altitude as much when you’re pitching 60-70 yards. So I definitely got my game plan a bit wrong there. But the altitude is just a nightmare. I’m pretty good with the distance control but there were a lot of misreads, that’s for sure.
You must end up second-guessing every shot?
Yeah it was hard. I did a pretty good job of trying to trust it. We thought we had the numbers worked out pretty well. I hit a lot of good shots but it’s just so unpredictable. If it comes off with a little less spin it just falls out the air. Where if you catch it with a bit more spin it seems to stay in the air forever. There’s such high margins that it’s almost impossible to play for that. You’ve got to hit it and hope for the best I suppose.
Going back to South Africa, it must have given you a lot of confidence going up against Branden Grace, in his home tournament, and coming out on top?
Yeah definitely. To win is obviously amazing. But to win in that manner was even better. I kind of knew going into the day that I could win but I didn’t think it would be that easy. I thought I’d maybe have to scrap around a bit and make some putts but I just cruised around really. I think I made one decent length putt on the seventh and the rest were quite short putts. It was just a dream round. I’ve never played as well as that under that pressure. I’ve been in and around the lead a few times and maybe just got a bit unnerved and hit some poor shots but to hold my nerve and play flawless golf is just massive. Something I had never done before, so obviously that has shown me I am capable of doing it.
Will your wife be back on the bag any time soon or is she retiring undefeated?
Yeah I think she might retire undefeated. To be fair, she might have to return at the same event in South Africa but for now she is pretty happy to be one and done.
What are your plans for the rest of the season?
It is a little bit up in the air – in a good way. There’s not much going on in Europe. I may play the one in Spain in 3 or 4 weeks. I’m trying to get an invite into the PGA tour event in San Antonio in about five or six weeks. I think I am playing the Zurich with Tommy Fleetwood at the end of April – the pairs event. So I’m trying to get an invite to the week before so it will be nice to play two in a row over there. But I’m not sure when I will hear about that so it will be fairly quiet for the next five or six weeks and then it gets really busy when Wentworth hits. Then all the Rolex Series stuff so we’ll just see how it goes for the next few months really.
Is playing in America something you’d want to do more of?
I’d like to. Me and my wife have a place there and I went to university there and I really like it. I’d really like to do what the likes of Tommy and Tyrrell (Hatton) and all those are doing where they can do a bit of both. They are over there at the moment playing the likes of Bay Hill and the WGCs and the Masters. Then they will come back for the summer months over here. Obviously that means you’d have to be playing very well, but I’d love to do that. Where I could play a mix of the two.
Do you think you can make the Ryder Cup team?
It sounds a bit ridiculous when I think about it all. Obviously on January 1st I wasn’t on anybody’s radar – I wasn’t even on my own to be fair but why not? If I can keep doing what I’ve been doing, keep working hard and improving. Then there’s no reason why not. Obviously there is a hell of a lot of good golf needed to be played between now and then. You cant just have a good month or two. You’ve got to play a pretty high level of golf for a whole season. It’s not something I am worrying about or thinking about too much, but the nice thing is that deep down I know it is a possibility and I am capable of it. Just to be asked the question is a compliment.
I’ve read that you do forfeits if you get something wrong in practice.
That was one of the big things this winter. I basically found that my practice and my tournament play was too different. I’ve always worked hard but when I was practicing it was all relaxed. I’d hit it great on the range and then id go to the tournament and when there’s a bit of adrenalin in there, your physiology is different, your heartrate is a bit quicker and I felt there was too big of a disparity between the two. I’d come off of four weeks of practicing hard, go to a tournament and just play terrible. So me an my coaches basically came up with the idea of just trying to put more pressure on myself in practice. So I tried to play a lot of money games against other pros to get that bit of adrenalin going. A lot of the practice was on Trackman so I’d do a five ball test on Trackman where I’d have to score above 90% on the test centre or I’d have to do a forfeit. It was stuff like doing 15 press ups or a 50-yard sprint. I hated doing it. The embarrassment factor genuinely got me nervous. I’d be on my last shot and really need a good one and Id be really nervous because I’d be desperate not to do press ups in the middle of the driving range. It really worked and I guess I became more familiar with the feelings of being under pressure. You know what it’s like. You get a bit quicker. Your physiology is different so I was more familiar with that. I just went into South Africa feeling really sharp and obviously it worked.
Who would be your dream foursome?
Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer. Go with three legends. Or my dad and two brothers. They are all good golfers.
Have you got a pick for the Masters?
I’d love to see Tiger do it. I think I’d cry if I Tiger won the Masters. I’d love Tiger or Tommy Fleetwood. I’d be pretty happy with either of those two.