The course, one of the most respected courses in Germany having hosted many professional and elite amateur events, was extremely challenging in a couple of ways. Firstly the tee shots were rather tricky due to changes in elevation, many blind shots, a number of dog-leg holes and sloping fairways (usually taking the ball away from where you wanted to end up). Secondly the amount of hills on the course made it an extreme physical challenge to play with many of the Finland based players commenting that it was the most physically demanding course they have ever played (that was after one practice round played in temperatures of 18 degrees... the second competition round was played in temperatures of over 30).
Once the tee shots were negotiated safely, and the ball was in the fairway, the second shots were quite straight-forward... but if you were out of position off the tee (but managed to find your ball) then the rough was just long enough to leave you without good chances to control your ball on the approach. The greens were good to putt on but sometimes very difficult to read and the longer grass around the greens (combined with firm greens) meant that an "up in the air short" game style was preferable.
The tournament was controlled from start to finish by Richard Heath, an Australian who works for the European Golf Association in Switzerland, who took the lead on Thursday with a best of the week 68 and then held on to his lead after every round for a 1 under par total of 215 (68, 73, 74) and a 2 shot victory over Nicolas Singer of France.
The final Finn to make the cut was Miika Reunama who bravely played the entire final round with a badly injured ankle which caused him to fall over in pain after many shots and to have difficulty walking between shots. The officials handled the situation with an interesting mixture of rigidity and compassion, putting the group on the clock and telling that they should go faster (although the group behind seemed even slower despite having normal use of their legs) but also deciding that they could give Miika a lift up some of the worst hills in their carts. It's rather difficult to get through the ball properly without functional ankles and Miika hit some uncharacteristic shots because of that, but he also played some excellent shots through the pain on his way to finishing in a tie for 43rd.
Kytäjä interests in the event, at least in the playing department, sadly did not get past the cut on the end of Friday with Niko Helin (75, 87) and Andy Fowlie (80, 84) both failing to cope with the challenges of Hubbelrath. It might be fair to say that neither player quite has the right natural style for that course but on the other hand there were many notable players who also had Saturday off, including 2013 champion Bertrand Noel from France. The course simply demanded that you play well... and if you didn't then there were severe punishments awaiting you.
The 2016 tournament will be played in the Czech Republic. Hopefully Kytäjä's players will find more success in that country than they did in Germany!
Well, this was not at all what I was hoping for, especially in an event where I had played some of my best golf last year.
I knew that my game was not in great shape after some back problems restricted my winter practice and cold and windy weather reduced my enthusiasm in the early Finnish season, but this was even worse than I was expecting.
The course, which I really liked, was set up in such a way that it really exposed the things in my game which suffer the most when I dont have the feeling for my swing. I feel like any course can be a good one for me when I am playing my best golf but when my game goes off it tends to be the direction off the tee and the feeling for lofted shots around the greens which are the first to depart. The demanding tee shots at Hubbelrath, with relatively small targets, landing areas that were out of sight or round a corner and severe fairway contours really punished me from the tee. My misses were not usually that big, but they were enough to be playing consistently from the rough and to be approaching the greens without being able to control the ball well enough to score. The greens were hard enough and sloped enough and surrounded by long enough grass to make it much more likely that you needed to play lofted shots around the greens, especially if you missed in the wrong places. I actually putted quite well... but too many of the putts were for par or worse instead of birdie.
Another decision which really did not pay off was the change I did in January to thicker mid-sized grips on all my clubs. My idea was to reduce my hand speed a bit and make my shots a bit shorter and a bit straighter (a good trade off for this kind of course). This worked quite well to start with but as the weeks went by I found that my swing was changing bit by bit... I think that I was somehow searching for the crisper strikes that I used to get with the regular sized grips and inventing some extra moves to try an achieve that. This was not a great idea and by the time this tournament came around the equipment change had led me to the situation where my shots were shorter but less straight than before... a useless combination.
The final challenge which I found myself unprepared for was the demanding nature of the course from a physical point of view. The practice round felt like it nearly killed me and I then knew that I probably did not have good enough conditioning to be finishing the rounds with enough energy to concentrate... it was unfortunately a bit late to fix that before the competition started.
In the end I was not able to get past these obstacles and find a way to get the ball round the course effectively and had my worst scores for a long time.
Of course this was quite a disappointment for me, but I still enjoyed my week in Germany. It was great to be part of this excellent event once again, to visit Hubbelrath (my father has mentioned that course before because he happened to be playing it on 12th July 1978 while my brother was being born in a nearby hospital) and to spend time with the other players.
I will be back, most likely with regular sized grips.