Alan Hanlon - Chile bound!

The much-travelled  Alan Hanlon (Ireland) reflected with on his next Pitch and Putt odyssey. Alan will play for Team Europe in the Fernando Morgado Trophy match against South America at Puerto Velero. (Q.)How much are you looking forward to representing Europe?

Alan Hanlon (AH): It is all a bit surreal at the moment. I have not as yet had much time to process the personal significance of being selected to play for Europe.  That said, there is no denying that this is a major historic occasion for Pitch and Putt. To be involved in such an event is more than a privilege. I was fortunate to represent Ireland on a number of occasions and that for me has always been the pinnacle of my time in Pitch and Putt. There is no doubt that playing for Europe will be up there with anything that I have done heretofore.  I reckon that I will only really grasp how monumental the whole thing is when I step foot on the course in Puerto Velero

Q. Have you been to South America before?

AH: Never! So, I am really looking forward to that. Also, Chile has always been at the top of my list for South American destinations. In that regard, I simply can’t pass on the opportunity of doing something apart from Pitch and Putt while there. Ian Farrelly and I are flying to Mendoza in Argentina. From there, we will take a trip across the High Andes down to the Chilean capital Santiago. We will stay one/two nights in Santiago before making the trip to La Serena to meet up with the rest of the team.

Q. What do you know of Pitch and Putt in South America?

AH: My first encounter with South American involvement in Pitch & Putt came through a meeting with Fernando Morgado at one of the early Catalan opens. I suppose that he will always be credited with bringing Pitch and Putt to South America. I also remembering speaking with some of the Chilean players at the 2008 World Cup in Papendal, Holland. Naturally, the sport has gradually grown since then spreading to Argentina and Ecuador. I have kept an eye on its development in South America since then.  It was great to see the inaugural South American Team Championship taking place last year. The continuation of such events should cement the sport’s future in that part of the world. Long may Ptch & Putt continue to grow in South America.

Q. You must be thrilled to be linking up with Ian Farrelly, Eamon Gibney, John Ross Crangle and Mark Millar?

AH: Yes! I am looking forward to meeting up with the lads. I am not so sure that they will feel the same way about me though(lol!). I think that it is brilliant for the tournament to have the two reigning Irish Champions taking part. JR is an outstanding player and a gentleman. I don’t think that there was a more deserving winner of a national championship in the last few years. He was always going to win one and I was delighted for him when it happened at the 2017 National Matchplay. I’ve known Mark a long time. We’ve always got on very well. He’s been a great player for a long time. Back in 2000, he was virtually unstoppable. The level of talent that he possesses is immense so it was hardly surprising that he rediscovered such form to win the National Strokeplay last year. I have travelled the international circuit on a number of occasions with Eamon and Ian. They have always been good times. Apart from the competitive nature of any trip, we have always had good fun together. This trip won’t be any different. Eamon returned to Pitch and Putt after a long absence and within a very short period of time, he had won the Irish Open and captained the Irish team that won the last World Cup. That’s how good he is. Ian’s record speaks for itself; multiple international tournament winner, first ever European champion and for me the finest player of the three club Pitch and Putt game. I will be thrilled to meet up with up them alright but twice as thrilled that we are all on the same team.

Q. Do you know any of David Solé, Jordi Serra, Pilar Montero, Manuel Amor, Jozep Klancnik?

AH: David Solé was the first Catalan player that I came across. We met during a practice round at the 2003 French Open in La Grande Motte. We got on really well and had great fun together that weekend. I am really looking forward to catching up with him. I first met Pilar at the inaugural Catalan Open in 2004 at Teia. I have met her on numerous occasions since; a lovely person and a great competitor. In a similar fashion to Pilar, I have met Jordi on a number of occasions. I was in Teia in 2014 when he came so close to winning the Catalan Open. He is a very good player and a strong addition to the European team. It is possible that I have met Manuel somewhere along the way but I have to confess that I can’t remember it and for that I apologise. That said! I am sure that we will get to know each other well in March. I have never met Jozep and I am really looking forward to meeting him. I really wanted to play in the Slovenian Open last year but family commitments prevented that. It is exciting to think that Pitch ans Putt continues to spread itself across international borders and long may that continue.. Slovenia is a lovely place. I spent a bit of time there back in the nineties. I really enjoyed its capital Ljubljana, especially the old city.

Q. Tell us a little of the right handed, left handed story (Unusually, Alan has played Pitch and Putt to a high standard right-handed and left handed at different times)?

AH: Firstly, it is important to stress that I am naturally left handed. There is a certain paradox in that statement because for a long time, the two things that I would be known best for; i.e. playing Pitch and Putt and music were done right handed. I played guitar right handed out of choice, which was not the case with Pitch and Putt. I began playing Pitch and Putt at the tender age of 6. This was the early 1970s. Left handed clubs were scarce in Ireland. My father arrived home one day with two sets of right handed clubs, one for my older brother and the other for me. As a 6 year old, you don’t question anything, you just want to play. That’s how I started. I joined the PPUI at the age of seven. For the following 39 years, I pitched a ball right handed. In hindsight, I can see how it was always a struggle. Sure enough! I managed to develop a style that would prove to be effective but it was unorthodox. For this reason, there was no easy-fix solution if something went drastically wrong. This happened around 2007. I had a temporary fix but in truth, there was no continuity, rhythm and above all enjoyment anymore in what I was doing. By the middle of the 2012 season, I just had had enough. You have to like what you are doing and I did not. A few years earlier, I had dabbled playing left handed for a number of weeks but nothing came of it, or so I thought. Then, one evening in early May 2012, I remember going to Kilbeggan Pitch and Putt club. I took a left handed wedge with me. I tried a few shots and hey presto! It was there. There was a good but raw swing. It was time to change. I sacrificed the rest of that season but it was worth it. My left handed game developed quickly (possibly too quickly) so much so that I was ready to compete at the highest level by the start of 2013. That season was my watershed moment. A real barometer for many Irish players as to how well they are playing is whether they make it on to their county team. You know that you are among the elite if you are chosen to represent your county. I had failed to make every Westmeath team from 2007 to 2012. In 2013, I made that team in my first year pitching left handed and have made it every year since. I managed to win a Scratch Cup that year as well. I have not looked back.

On reflection, it was the right thing to do. I enjoy hitting a golf ball now. It just feels so natural left handed. Nevertheless, it came at a cost. I focussed so much time developing my left handed game physically that the mental side of my game suffered as a result. As a right handed player, I always found a way to win. I won tournaments mainly because I saw the opportunity to do so. Also, I had a real desire for it. Now, I cannot say that. Technically, I am a much better player left handed but the mental fortitude is not what it used to be. I have paid special attention to the mental side of the game over the last year and will continue to do. It is gradually improving. You can’t compete successfully at the highest level if you have not got the required mental strength. Maybe, I am being a bit harsh on myself because I have had a fair degree of success in my first five seasons as a left hander, probably more than expected. Still, those who know me well will understand what I am saying.

Finally! One thing that people keep asking is “can I still play right handed?”. The answer is “yes” and to quite a decent standard as well. Put it this way, if I had to compete right handed, I could but I would not enjoy it and that is the key point. You have to enjoy what you are doing and I really enjoy playing left handed.

Q. You have seen much team success with Westmeath and Ireland. How will those experiences help in Chile?

AH: My experiences with club, county and country have thought me that team competition is a completely different animal than individual competition. You are completely aware that you are not playing for yourself and that brings extra pressures. Nevertheless, you can only ever play your game and you must always be mindful of that.

Q. You are an avowed supporter of international Pitch and Putt. How do you assess the importance of the Fernando Trophy matches to the cause of international Pitch and Putt?

AH: Firstly, it is a great concept. It is certainly an excellent event to embark on. I think that its importance will largely depend on how successful a tournament it is. If all goes well, it will certainly be beneficial from a South American perspective. The spin off should be the further development of Pitch and Putt on that continent. That in turn generates interest back in Europe. The development of international Pitch and Putt is to the benefit of all of us. If it keeps growing, then we all become stronger. That should be a continuous objective for all  – to grow Pitch and Putt. Therefore, the Fernando Morgado trophy is in itself important in that regard as it promotes that objective. Hopefully, March 2018 is the first of many episodes of the Fernando Morgado trophy.