Life in the bubble seemingly taking a toll on European players

Bernie McGuire

John Catlin during the second round of the Estrella Damm N. A. Andalucia Masters at Real Club Valderrama Photo by Octavio Passos/Getty Images)

Looking down the leaderboard at this week’s European Tour Andalucía Masters, it’s noticeable that four players have retired while another withdrew without teeing-up on the tight, unforgiving Valderrama course.

Given the tough, windy conditions it would seem normal but taking a closer look, all four players who withdrew did so not after their round but during the course of play.

England’s Jordan Smith withdrew at 11-over par through 14 holes on Thursday with Norwegian’s 22-year old Kristoffer Reitan having doubled the 10th hole before announcing to his playing partners he was withdrawing


American Sam Crocker was seven-over after nine holes and withdrew and the big surprise was China’s Haotong Li, who just a few weeks ago led the PGA Championship heading to the weekend rounds.

Li walked from the Valderrama course at five-over after just three holes. The China No. 1 bogeyed the second and then took a quadruple bogey ‘7’ at the third before calling it quits.

And while the conditions on the famed Costa del Sol were brutal, Smith let it be known it was not the conditions that forced him from the golf course.

“If people are wondering why I withdrew from this week’s event, the main fact was it was my 7th week in a row and ‘the bubble’ has gotten the better of me,” Smith said.

“Feeling like being in lockdown again not being allowed out of the hotel does get to you after a while and mentally I had enough.”

The 27-year old and winner of the 2017 Porsche European Open indicated it was a first occasion he’s withdrawn from a tournament mid-round and apologised to the European Tour and his sponsors for his actions.

Smith had contested all six of the ‘UK Swing’ events making the cut in four and a best finish of T14th in the English Championship.

It’s not known why the other three withdrew or why Zander Lombard withdrew before teeing-off on day one.

Of course, the return to competition at the European Tour has been under the strictest of conditions with players, caddies, media and officials obliged to remain ‘in the bubble’ of the tournament. This is unlike the PGA Tour where players have not been under such strict restrictions.

American John Catlin found himself disqualified when he and his caddy were caught out visiting a local restaurant during the course of the English Championship at Hanbury Manor.

The Tour, at the time, issued a statement saying: “The European Tour has withdrawn American John Catlin and his caddie Nathan Mulrooney from this week’s English Championship at Hanbury Manor following a breach of its COVID-19 protocol.

“The duo visited a local restaurant on the evening of Tuesday August 4 outside the tournament bubble, hence compromising the Tour’s health guidelines, and were withdrawn from the tournament with immediate effect as a result.”

Funny thing now is that Catlin led the field into the weekend back on European Tour fairways in Spain, two shots to the good with two rounds to play at Valderrama.

“Pretty pleased to be honest, it wasn’t easy again – the wind was probably a little less than yesterday but still equally as difficult,” he said.

“I probably wasn’t as sharp around the greens, got a couple of bad breaks but that’s just going to happen to you to be honest. Happy with the way I grinded, and I holed a few nice putts there at the end to salvage a pretty good score again today.

“(I’m) trying to focus for as little time as possible, switch off in between shots so that when you’re over the ball you’re putting everything into working it out. Because it’s such a grind, it’s pretty hilly and it’s a tough walk as well as being a difficult golf course so trying to keep as much energy as possible for when you’re playing your shots is key, so it’s tough but I’m happy with the score.”


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