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Jonathan Caldwell: Donegal down time helped me reset European Tour season to set up best finish yet

 

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On the up: Jonathan Caldwell

On the up: Jonathan Caldwell

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Cormac Sharvin

Cormac Sharvin

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On the up: Jonathan Caldwell

When the European Tour postponed its schedule back in March and lockdown officially kicked in, Jonathan Caldwell made the decision to take himself off to Downings in Donegal and get some rest and relaxation.

Coming off the back of three consecutive missed cuts in Australia, Oman and Qatar, it was a chance for the Clandeboye man to get away from the course, regather himself and take stock of the season so far while all golf was temporarily sidelined by the coronavirus.

"It was nice to get away from golf and not feel like you were losing ground on other guys. I made the most of it in terms of relaxing, working on fitness and stuff like that. It was just nice to get a break," explained Caldwell.

"I was able to hit some balls on the beach, but I didn't really play any proper golf for two months. I was able to do a bit of cycling, a bit of walking and exploring, the kind of things most people did over lockdown.

"Don't get me wrong though, I was busting for the golf courses to be open again and once they did I was right there playing."

There's no doubt the break had its intended outcome. A refreshed Caldwell returned to professional action at last week's British Masters at Close House in Newcastle-upon-Tyne and promptly recorded his best ever finish on the European Tour at tied-eighth, seven shots off eventual winner Renato Paratore.

It was solid golf from the 36-year-old, who dropped just six shots across the week and was one of only nine players in the field to record four under-par rounds to secure his first top-10 finish on the European Tour.

As a result, Caldwell has broken into the top 500 of the world rankings for the first time in his career, but he admits the result came as something of a surprise even to himself, given he was unsure as to how he would play following a couple of average performances in pro-am events on these shores over the last few months.

"I wasn't playing brilliant golf in those events, I felt like my game was close but I wasn't shooting scores that would suggest I'd have a top-10 finish," said Caldwell, who is now up to 108th in the Race to Dubai.

"I'd played Close House before a few years ago on the EuroPro Tour so I kind of knew where I was going and what to expect from the course. I drove the ball pretty well all week, I wasn't making many mistakes except for a double bogey in the final round in the tough conditions.

"When I missed the green my short game was sharp and I was able to make up-and-down, and I was knocking in the three, four-footers comfortably. I don't think I played anything spectacular, just solid. I managed to keep the bogeys off the card and took advantage of the par-fives.

"But to get my first top 10, my best result ever on the European Tour, is great. Hopefully I'm getting better with age."

This week is the second of the European Tour's six-week UK Swing as golf returns from the lockdown imposed due to the coronavirus pandemic, and it's currently scheduled to be the second of eight consecutive weeks for Caldwell, who plans to play the following tournaments in Valderrama and Portugal too.

Of course, with all the restrictions put in place to limit the spread of Covid-19, it is a very different set-up to what the pros are used to at these events, with no fans lining the fairways, no post-round handshakes and no socialising beyond the course.

"It's just golf course and hotel. They're laying things on pretty well. You can have breakfast (at the hotel), you can eat at the golf club, you can go down and have a drink with your buddy," said Caldwell, who has buddied up with his caddie Henry Tomlinson.

"It's not as nice as going out to a restaurant or going out for a dander in the city, obviously, but it is what it is. It's not bad, you're just down at the golf club a lot."

So to this week's Hero Open, which gets under way in Birmingham tomorrow, and another chance for the in-form Caldwell to improve on last week's excellent result.

Forest of Arden is similar to Close House as an open course with few trees but penal rough. But that will suit Caldwell's accurate game off the tee, and the now World No.493 is approaching this week in a positive mindset after last week's finish too.

"You do get a bit of confidence from it, but this is a totally different week, different golf course," pointed out Caldwell, who played a practice round yesterday with Cormac Sharvin (Ardglass) and Gavin Moynihan (The Island).

"Last week was a short course by Tour standards, lots of deep rough if you go off line - those courses suit me. We'll see what this week brings. If I continue to do the things I did well last week then I feel like my game's in good shape and there's no reason why I can't have another good week."

Belfast Telegraph