Generally speaking most conversations with tour golfers will take place because they’re playing well. Things are on the up, they’ve got a good story to tell and you can look to the future with a degree of optimism. The best chats, though, are when an absolutely outstanding talent opens up on the real nuts and bolts of professional golf and explains their inner-most feelings and thoughts when their game has gone south.
Everyone has doubts, it’s basic human nature, but in a sport of positive self-talk where you’re taking money off one another, you very rarely show them.
Amy Boulden won on the Ladies European Tour as recently as two years ago. Previously she was part of a golden generation of British and Irish amateurs who came together to win the 2012 Curtis Cup – Charley Hull, Leona Maguire and Bronte Law have all gone on to represent Europe in the Solheim Cup while Georgia Hall, who was the second reserve, is now a major winner.
Boulden, who is now 29, became the Rookie of the Year in 2014 and captured her first win in Switzerland in September 2020 after playing the last two rounds in 15-under. It was her 87th start on tour and, from the outside, it seemed that this would be the catalyst for her to kick on. But golf isn’t played like that, one win doesn’t necessarily mean multiple wins, and things can go south as quickly as they seem to have come good.
In 15 starts in 2021 Boulden collected a little over €5k, this year has been a similar tale. This is when you expect a load of cliches to come gushing out, if anything at all comes back at you, but the Welsh star, over the next hour, laid it all out there.
“I can’t pinpoint why 2021 wasn’t the same but it wasn’t and you start to see bad scores and it’s so hard to get out of it, it’s like a hole that’s getting deeper. Over the past 18 months there have been so many people reaching out, and it’s quite overwhelming as everyone wants to help, and they all want to give you some advice on your swing. The smallest things get in your head and I then have 50 swing thoughts over a 9-iron into a green. For the past six months that green has just got smaller and smaller.”
Boulden would then go on that elusive search for a perfect swing goal, with the money involved in the ladies’ game and all those missed cuts, it’s not possible to have your coach out there – Boulden is taught by Wales national coach Paul Williams. And so you fall back into old habits, there’s more and more advice and the doubts and scores mount up.
It got to the point this year that Boulden would be turning up to tournaments knowing that she wasn’t likely to be playing beyond the first two rounds nor making any money.
“I knew that I wasn’t playing well enough to make the cut and I knew that before I had got to a tournament. So I would turn up and think what can I get out of the week? I would always get off to a bad start, at the Aramco Series at Sotogrande in Spain for example, I felt good at the start of the week, three-putted the 1st which was fine, I’d hit two good shots, and then hit it out of bounds and made a quadruple bogey and my tournament was over.
“Mentally you think that you’re going to shoot 90 and then it turns into a mental game as it doesn’t matter how you’re swinging it, your head is sending signals to your body where you can’t swing it freely at all.”
Interestingly Boulden would then play the next 16 holes in level by on a course where four over was good enough to make the cut.
Boulden sensibly took some time out in August to get away from the well-meaning advice and high scores. She is now back living in North Wales, is surrounded by her nephews and nieces, and she’s begun to piece together her game. There have been pro-ams, £20 games with mates to add a bit of competition and she’s been back in the gym five times a week.
The scars of the previous 18 months have left their mark though. Boulden is very much a well-known local name and everyone is interested in her progress. In the space of this 45-minute chat three people asked for photos, all were interested in how she was playing and what she was up to.
“When I first came back I would completely shy away from going in the clubhouse at Maesdu GC and this is where I have grown up playing and where my dad was the pro for over 30 years. When you’re not playing well you just want to hide from all the questions about your scores, the mind is so powerful. I would park on the driving range and I would even avoid teeing off the 1st so I would go to the 3rd. It really isn’t good for your confidence as you’re always trying to hide.”
This from one of the best female players that the country has ever produced…
“The 1st is a par 3 of only 140 yards, it’s never more than an 8-iron, but you know there will be people in the clubhouse watching and I’m thinking that I’m going to shank it. I’m in this mindset where I’m looking so far right and so far left, the 2nd tee is not that far left of the green so I would even wait for that to clear. In the Netherlands in July I had three shanks on three par 3s on the first day, and I never shank it, and that scarring is hard to get out of your head.”
Boulden has now taken her first step back out on tour where she missed the cut at the Aramco Series in Jeddah, but there was a second-round 72 which is her best score since February and a small sign that she’s on her way back. Next month she will head to Q School at La Manga, an event that she won in 2020. We wish her well.