For Gavin Moynihan, a March 18th date at the Magical Kenya Open couldn’t come quick enough. Last seen on a European Tour fairway when missing the cut at the Golf in Dubai Championship in December, Moynihan has put the disappointment of a disastrous 2020 campaign in the rear-view mirror, hell-bent on showing the world what he can do once time allows.
The Dubliner escaped the Irish winter in recent weeks in his bid to rediscover a swing that deserted him for the best part of last year. Back to Dubai like so many times before, this past winter was different; the desert thronged with Moynihan’s fellow pros all starved of playing opportunities due to Covid-19.
“I’ve been going over there the last few winters since 2016 and it’s not quiet but you could book a game a day in advance,” Moynihan said. “This year I’ve never seen it as busy – it was unbelievable. All the European players were there, Challenge Tour, EuroPro, Alps Tour, a lot of Ladies European Tour players. We were booking games eight, nine days in advance and lucky to get the last tee time. It was mad!”
One benefit of the increased footfall was that there was no shortage of competition for Moynihan and co to simulate pressure and maximise their practice, safe in the knowledge that there would be no such opportunity back home had he stayed.
“I was staying with a couple of Scottish and English lads,” he said. “We had our four-ball organised before Christmas so we were able to play for our dinner or fifty quid or whatever so it was good that way and it was a nice time to get away with a few friends. We had a lovely apartment in the marina and it flew by. If you had a month here in Ireland recently it would feel like a year or two but when you’re out playing golf, every day flies through. Hopefully it won’t be long before we’re playing here again.”
Back home in Ireland, Moynihan was in the midst of his 10-day quarantine as we chatted, still coming to terms with the Government’s reluctance to open the safe spaces that golf courses had already proved themselves to be.
“It’s really tough for the professionals, EuroPro lads, regional players here and people in the pro shop,” he explained. “It just shouldn’t have been hit as hard as it has been. It’s the one sport that should be safe. When do you have a fourball where four lads are on top of each other? Never! One lad’s always up the left, one up the right, someone else has topped it and the other is down the middle.
“I could understand it during the first lockdown but once we showed that we could reopen safely, I never thought that they’d stop golf again. We were obviously in Dubai playing a lot of golf recently, even out in restaurants in the evening, but not one golfer I know caught the virus. If you can’t get it in Dubai, you’re not getting it here. It’s just amazing to me how it’s not open.”
It’s been twelve months since Ireland first went into lockdown and although not much has changed in the intervening year, Moynihan will hope to re-emerge a much different player to the one that struggled upon golf’s resumption last season. His first event back at the Austrian Open, where he bookended the tournament with rounds of 69 and 70, would prove a rare week where he spent all four rounds in the saddle, and although he could never have predicted quite how results would pan out, Moynihan recognised his game wasn’t quite right when he returned to the fairways last July.
“The game was feeling OK but everything just wasn’t as good as it had been,” he remembered. “My short-game wasn’t feeling as sharp, it’s normally very good. Putting hadn’t been good and still isn’t – I’ve still a lot of work to do there. The driver was a big thing last year. I hit one or two drives each tournament that just killed me, whether it was a double from nowhere or even a triple.
“I addressed that in Dubai and my driving is much better now. I’m probably driving it nearly the best I ever have to be honest. But my putting is the one thing that’s been holding me back.
“I’ve been hitting it pretty good the last few weeks but it was just a combination of losing a bit of confidence for those three months last year. It was a tough spell. Probably the toughest I’ve had since turning pro.”
For a man used to the game coming easy, last year’s form hit hard from the blue. Following his four rounds at the Austrian Open, Moynihan then missed the cut at the Euram Bank Open, sparking a run of 14 missed cuts in a row.
“I just found golf quite difficult,” Moynihan admitted. “Obviously golf is very difficult but I’ve always felt it came natural to me. Last year was the first time the game felt difficult, but I learned so much from that. What parts of my game need to improve, where my weaknesses and strengths lie. I guess the only good thing is that if ever there was a year to make a mess of it, that was the year to do it.”
That spell of missed cuts paints a bleak picture but behind the results there is reason for optimism. Many of those weekends were narrowly missed; just a shot or two shy of a payday at the Hero Open, and in Wales, Portugal and Scotland, while in Italy, he was three-under par through 36-holes and missed the halfway cut by one.
“I thought I made it there that week and two lads came in late on Friday and knocked me out. It’s just golf,” he stressed. “The one thing I’d say is that at nearly all the tournaments, I wasn’t at my best so the saving grace for me is that although I’m not at my best, I’m only missing the cut by one or two for the most part. It would be different if you were playing OK and still missing them.”
To his credit, through the dark days, Moynihan kept turning up for work. Although he considered a break to figure things out, the nature of the game kept drawing him back in.
“I just felt, it’s like anything, one week can change it so I just had to fight through it,” he said. “In the long run, if I ever have to go through something like that again, I think that experience will be there and I’ll learn from it. It’s the toughest thing I’ve gone through on the golf course in my life – it’s the lowest point – so I think it can only get better.”
In his mission to get better, he has his right-hand man and coach, Shane O’Grady to steer him back to the Promised Land.
“I sat down with Shane before Christmas and we broke down the year and addressed a few things,” Moynihan said. “I talk to Shane after every event anyway but we knew that everything was just a bit off. It wasn’t like we could point at one thing that wasn’t great, it was a combination of things that led us to missing so many cuts by just one or two.
“But Shane’s been great. I started going to him at the end of 2016 and for those last four and a bit years he’s helped me so much. In 2016, I wasn’t very good at all. 2017 is probably still my best year as a pro – Shane helped me get there.
“To go through what happened last year obviously wasn’t great in itself but we’ve learned a few things from that time together that should really help me over the next few years. I know if I can play well, I can compete against anyone.”
Still only 26, Moynihan can make such sure-fire statements because he already has the CV to back-up his claims, while although 2020 proved a wretched year, he’s previously proved he can arrest such a run of misfortune to return to the top of the game. There’s no better example than his Rookie year on the Main Tour in 2018 that saw Moynihan miss twelve straight cuts in a row. On paper, that kind of form is a mirror image of what came last year, but Moynihan remembers it differently.
“In 2018 I was actually playing OK, I just went on a bit of a bad run,” he explained. “It was all very new. At the start of the year you’re going off to some mad places – flying to Australia for a few weeks then off to the Middle East. All new venues, different weather, I had a new caddie. I found it quite tough just to get a round together for the first few months.
“It was similar in a way to what it was last year only last year wasn’t as good… it was tougher. In 2018, I went to play a bit of Challenge Tour in the middle of the year and I played really well, had a few top-10’s, did well at the end of the year at Valderrama. The game was there, it just wasn’t clicking, but last year, it just wasn’t that great to be honest. Everything was that bit off. They might look similar on paper but they were actually very different.”
As Moynihan says himself, in golf, one good week can change it all and during that Rookie season, it was after a tenth missed cut on the spin at the Turkish Airlines Challenge that such a week presented itself. The GolfSixes allowed Moynihan to return to his roots, a match-play opportunity alongside great friend and former Walker Cup winning teammate, Paul Dunne. Whether it was a dose of nostalgia in the water that week at Centurion Club, suddenly Moynihan’s spark had returned.
“Me and Dunners have known each other for years, we were both in college over in America and got to know each other well,” Moynihan recalled. “It was a very easy fit and it did remind us of amateur golf, but it helped that we both played very well. My iron play was class and his putting was a joke, which it normally is anyway. It was just a fun week. We played well in the right parts of each game, too. I chipped-in in the semi’s to get us through and Dunners didn’t miss a shot for the final. It was a great week that came at the right time for me.”
Although the winning of the tournament had no impact on either player’s ranking, it instilled a confidence in Moynihan that had been missing since playing himself onto the Tour at Q-School the previous year. It was at the toughest examination in golf that Monyihan needed to birdie the final hole on the final day of Final Stage to earn his European Tour stripes, and arguably it’s where the boy became a man, arrowing a 219-yard four-iron to the green before two-putting and claiming his card. Is it still the best shot he’s ever hit under pressure?
“It was a great shot but probably that chip-in at the back of the green in the Sixes tops it,” he revealed. “That was to beat the South Korean lads in the semi-final. We were only talking about it. It was foursomes so you pick your best tee-shot and alternate from there.
“I hit a shot to about 45 feet left up over a tier and Dunner hit a lovely shot but it went straight over the green. It left a little chip and my chipping is the strongest part of my game. His was a tough putt so I said I’d take mine, ‘I’d get this inside three feet all day’. He goes, ‘the putt’s tough, I might give it a run but it could go five, six feet past’ so I took the chip, two bounces, a bit of spin and it went in. It was great!”
Not only did the victory over the France in the subsequent final mean both players banked €100,000, the result injected belief in Moynihan that money can’t buy and proved once again that he could produce his best when it mattered most. Without that stepping-stone, who knows how that Rookie year would’ve turned out. As it transpired, he would go to the Andalucía Masters that October, to one of the toughest golf courses in the world at Valderrama, and against one of the deepest fields on the European Tour, and rubber-stamp his credentials with a top-10 finish, outscoring Ryder Cup star Martin Kaymer, his moving day playing partner, on a memorable week in Spain.
“It was another massive week,” Moynihan remembered. “It was only three rounds because of the weather stoppages, there must’ve been eight or nine for the week, but the biggest thing I remember from it was that Lowry and Harrington were playing as well and every time we came in, I’d sit down with the lads and their caddies and it was just so relaxed.
“The stories the lads were telling were so funny that I never felt for one minute that we were playing a tournament on one of the toughest golf courses on Tour. The fact that we were reconvening every couple of hours really helped me not to think about the golf. I was going well but it just made me forget where I was at the tournament.
“In the last round I shot 66 and to this day it’s the best round I’ve played since turning pro. To shoot under par in that place is tough no matter what the weather is but that week gave me a lot of belief.”
Such belief was needed with Moynihan thrown back into the fiery cauldron of Q-School at Stage Two the following week at Desert Springs. He advanced from fourth place to the six–round Final Stage slog at Lumine where once again it would come down to the final hole to decide his fate. A par was needed; another test of Moynihan’s mettle; another stepping-stone in what he hopes is a career of so many.
“I knew a five would get me my card and I was left with a six footer to make it,” he recalled. “I was like, ‘my god man, you were thirty yards away in two and you’ve left yourself six feet!’
“But I hit one of the best putts I’ve ever hit in my life – right edge, firm, right in the heart. It was the first time in my life I was literally shaking after a putt. It hit me after; I was still shaking signing my card.”
He was still shaking because with his appetite whet by such experiences like Valderrama the month prior, he knew how much it meant. Moynihan’s ability to hold his nerve saw him step back through the Pearly Gates of the European Tour. Riches abound, opportunity aplenty, and never was this so evident by his near-miss for a hole-in-one at the French Open the following year. He would go on to bank €57,280 for a top-5 finish but to this day he’s reminded by what could’ve been after his ball somehow stayed out on the par-3 16th where a €150,000 BMW was on offer for a precious ace.
Gavin Moynihan came this close to claiming a £130,000 sports car for a hole-in-one at the Open de France… pic.twitter.com/0yDylgHKzm
— Sky Sports Golf (@SkySportsGolf) October 18, 2019
“It popped up on Twitter again a couple of months ago” he laughed., “It’s funny, at the time I didn’t really care because it’s such a tough hole, I was going OK in the tournament and I was glad to hit the green but I think there was a bit of a delay on 18 that day and I started thinking to myself, ‘Jesus, I wonder how much that car was worth?’
“Then when I went in, I’d never seen anything like this in my life on my phone but the shot had blown up on Twitter, Instagram, The Golf Channel. I’d never seen so much attention for a ball that didn’t go in the hole!
“I’ll never forget the range the next day. I think I was second last off, everyone coming up to me as if someone had died, saying ‘sorry, sorry’, I was like, ‘Jesus lads, I’ve a tournament to play!’”
Fast-forward to March 2021 and Moynihan would only love to harbour such complaints. Finding a tournament to play in has been an impossible task for those outside the golden circle of the PGA Tour and the European select-few of late. However, after a long, barren-spell, finally the likes of Moynihan can see light at the end of the tunnel in terms of a schedule, with his eyes very much fixed on the top-20 of the Challenge Tour’s Road to Mallorca to secure his most obvious route back to the big-time.
“When the Challenge Tour gets back up and running, I will focus a lot on that,” Moynihan confirmed. “I’ll play Main Tour events if I get them but the Challenge Tour card is where it’s at. If you finish top-20 now, the card is so strong.
“Everybody talks about Q-School, saying ‘well done, you got a card’, but it’s a very poor card really. For what you’re playing for and what you think you’re going to get, it’s a very poor card.
“You don’t get any Rolex events, you don’t get Dunhill. You’re struggling to get into Morocco which is normally a €3 million event. It’s a bit hit or miss but if you get your card through the Challenge Tour, you’ll get a few Rolex events and the main thing is you can plan your schedule a lot easier. I’ve gone well on the Challenge Tour before in 2017. I’ve attended enough events there to know that if I play well, I can get my card that way so that will be the main focus this year.”
In the meantime, Moynihan has banished the ghosts of last year clean from the memory. He’s put in a solid shift over the winter months that should stand him in good stead for the new season and there’s plenty of reason for optimism, though he concedes that playing with a card in his pocket over the coming months will provide the acid test of just how far he’s come.
“I haven’t once thought about last year since December really when I played the last tournament,” Moynihan concluded. “I’m just really looking forward to getting going again and getting a few tournaments under my belt. From what I saw in Dubai, my putting still needs a bit of work but the ball-striking is getting back to where it was. I had a few low rounds in Dubai without putting great so that’s encouraging.
“But as great and all as our money games in Dubai were, it will be nice to see where I’m at over the first couple of events in Kenya. It has to be competition reps to properly gauge it. You can practice all you want – I mean there are so many players that did no practice and still performed. Monty is the best example – he didn’t practice and could still be in the best form of his life. Then there’s Tiger who would practice morning, noon and night and was always good. It’s whatever works for you. For me, I know I need to get back playing tournaments, and that it will get better, one hundred percent.”
- Full Kenya scoring HERE
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