SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France—No one on either of the Ryder Cup teams gathered at Le Golf National for the 42nd playing of golf’s most eagerly-awaited contest has had as long to think about what is to come later this week as Tyrrell Hatton. As soon as he scored back-to-back victories at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship and the Italian Open in October last year, the 26-year-old Englishman became a virtual certainty to make his debut in Europe’s colors. A brace of third-place finishes at the Dubai Desert Classic and the WGC-Mexico Championship early in 2018 both confirmed that fact and served to underline the consistent high quality of his play.
But, like it or not, it is not Hatton’s shots—long or short—that most people will be most eager to watch when the World No. 26 takes to the course come the weekend. Mention his name to almost any golf fan and almost all of them will smile before asking, “the guy with the temper, right?”
While there is no doubting Hatton’s obvious talent for the game that has been his life ever since his father, Jeff, put a plastic club in his hands at the age of only 13 months—even before that, the precocious youngster was picking up sticks and mimicking golf swings—that is not what comes immediately comes to mind. Oh no. It is the sight of Hatton’s animated and often prolonged histrionics in the wake of a less than satisfactory result that people remember most.
It is a side of his character that has drawn plenty of negative comments. Sky television commentator Ewen Murray has been a frequent critic. And many others have bemoaned the fact that one so obviously gifted should behave in such a childish manner.
On the other hand, Jeff Hatton, who doubles as Tyrrell’s coach is quick to defend his son. “Like most good players Tyrrell has high standards,” Jeff says. “He wants every shot to be perfect. I want Tyrrell to be judged on his play, not whether he is walking around with a smile like a clown. He is very laid-back off the course, but he wears a different head on the course. I like that in a player, as long as it doesn’t linger.
“Besides, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a top player be happy with a bad shot. So I’m not sure why certain commentators get so hung-up on it. I think it’s unjust. I never want him to lose that aspect of his personality. It is what makes him such a good match player. He never wanted to lose, even on a bad day. And he rarely did as an amateur.”
Still, Tyrrell is amongst the first to concede that an inability to control his temperament has often hurt his performance. Which is not to say that European skipper Thomas Bjorn is worried about his (potential) trouble child. Quite the opposite actually.
“I have spent a lot of time with Tyrrell over the last year or so,” says the Dane. “And the way he comes across when you have him off the golf course is very different than the one you see on it. He’s a really lovely guy to be around. And funny. Once you see that side of him, you probably see the things on the golf course a little bit differently.
“I see the same things as everybody else, but I want him to be Tyrrell Hatton in everything that he does,” Bjorn adds. “So I’ve got to find somebody (to partner him) that deals with those things very well. But I want him to be him. It’s not my job to change Tyrrell.”
Indeed, some of the humor of which Bjorn speaks was on view this week. During his pre-match press conference Hatton displayed an easy willingness to laugh at himself, while also conceding that, long-term, he needs to change his instinctive reaction to balls flying off-line or missing holes.
“Obviously I’m going to be passionate,” he said. “I can only be myself. But I need to stay as level-headed as possible. In the past, I’ve lost golf tournaments after getting in my own way. That’s fair to say. So this week, if I can kind of keep my head, that will give myself the best chance to play as well as I can.”
But is there a particular person whom Bjorn can pair with Hatton to help keep his temperament in check?
“It doesn’t matter who I play with this week. We’ll be trying our best to win a point for Europe,” Hatton says. “That’s all we can do. I don’t think there is a standout personality that I need to play with, a person who is going to calm me down or whatever. I’m not going to turn into the Hulk this week.”
Still, he’s come close in the past, albeit seeing red rather than green has been the norm in moments of high-stress. But, as Bjorn pointed out, there is also a danger in trying to get his young charge to be something he is not on the course. In so doing there is an obvious risk of stifling his natural flair.
Like it or not, Hatton was born with a temper, one that did him no favors during his amateur days. Despite owning a record more than comparable with many of those selected, Hatton was not selected for the 2011 Walker Cup side.
“I was excited to turn pro as soon as I could,” he says now. “And when I got the call telling me I wasn’t in the team, that was it for me and amateur golf. I felt like I had done enough to be in the team. But I expected the call telling me I wasn’t in. I was prepared for that. So I was quite happy. That meant I could turn pro and not deal with all that crap any more. It was a new chapter for me, one that I was really excited about. In pro golf, if you play well you earn money. And you need money to live.
“I like the simplicity of pro golf in that you shoot as low a score as you can and you get rewarded for that. There is no debate behind the scenes. At amateur level, they give you a trophy, a pat on the back and you might get selected for something. Might. Oh, and you get a voucher to spend in the pro’s shop. Now, if I win, I get a trophy and money. That’s a known fact.”
Well, not this week. This week is more about playing nicely with others. It remains to be seen whether Hatton will be Europe’s hot hand or just their hot head.