Doubting Thomas

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To go or not to go? That was the question many of golfs worldly elite pondered last week in relation to the Dubai Desert Classic.
 
For one man, however, there was never a debate. Never a weighing of safety against monetary compensation.
 
Thomas Bjorn feels at home in the United Arab Emirates. And well he should ' he owns a house in the area.
 
'I have family thats lived here for 25 years. This is one of the safest places on the whole planet to be, he said. I would not have a problem traveling here at any time.
 
Dubai is located in the Arabian Peninsula, separated from Iraq by 900 miles of the Persian Gulf.
 
Needless to say, there were others who didnt share in Bjorns comfort in this tenuous time.
 
Tiger Woods, Colin Montgomerie and Nick Faldo were among the big names to opt out of the event.
 
We always feel a little better when we stay close to home and thats just what hes going through at the moment. I can understand why hes not here, Bjorn said of Woods.
 
But while the 32-year-old Dane could understand the Americans absence ' despite the fact that he would have reportedly received in excess of $2 million to show ' he was a bit baffled by Montgomeries withdrawal.
 
He felt that the best way right now is to play his golf in America, Bjorn said of Montgomerie, who is playing in the PGA Tours Ford Championship this week. I always say when you commit yourself to a golf tournament, you should not commit yourself and then pull out just before.
 
Those not on hand are inconsequential to Bjorn. He has plenty to take on in Ernie Els, Padraig Harrington, Darren Clarke, Phillip Price, Mark OMeara and Paul Lawrie.
 
Els is the defending champion; a claim he will stake several times over next season, as he has already won four times in six worldwide starts in 2003.
 
Ive never seen anybody hit the ball that far and that straight, so hes very difficult to go up against at the moment, Bjorn said of Els. Hes very confident.
 
Confident is not the proper adjective to describe Bjorn at the moment. Hopeful, perhaps. Maybe even optimistic. But not confident. Not just yet.
 
Im trying to keep my head up, and its difficult because my game is not where it should be at the moment, admitted Bjorn, who has seven career European Tour victories. I dont feel Im playing the game at the level I should be playing at. I think especially my world ranking position at the moment shows that.
 
Fifty-four. Thats the ranking number that displeases Bjorn. He was 14th in the world two years ago, just after his remarkably impressive victory in the 2001 Dubai Desert Classic.
 
That year, he played all 72 holes alongside Tiger Woods, and beat him by two shots.
 
Hes only won once since then, though. And when the winning well started to dry up, it also sapped his desire to compete.
 
Bjorn said his expectations were so high that the slightest bump in the road to victory would create a massive detour.
 
I played a golf tournament in Australia and after three holes it was just a question of getting the next 33 holes over so I could go home, he said. There was just no golf left in me.
 
Bjorns outlook is refreshed in 2003, as are several items in his professional life. In addition to a caddie switch, hes going through some major changes' in both his swing and his attitude.
 
Part of the adjustment is not being too hard on himself. Bjorn said hes trying to realize that the swing overhaul -- with the assistance of long-time coach Pete Cowan -- is not a quick fix, and that patience is the key to his on-course sanity.
 
He likened his new mental approach to a combination between Tiger Woods and Lee Westwood when he was at his best.
 
One of those helping him accomplish that is Jos Vanstiphout, the Swedish psychologist who has gained notoriety for his work with Ernie Els and Retief Goosen.
 
Hes working with some of the greatest players in the world who are having the greatest success at the moment. Hes shown that it works, said Bjorn, who added he worked with Vanstiphout over a six-month period a few years ago.
 
Golf is a game of confidence, and if you see big targets youre going to hit the ball all over the place, and if you see small targets you will hit them. Were just working on some things that are going to make me get back to focusing out there on the golf course.
 
Stay relaxed. Narrow your focus. Relieve the pressure. Its worked for the South Africans; Bjorn believes it will work for him, too.
 
Its difficult to keep your head up all the time, he said. I have a lot of good people around me at the moment, to give me a kick sometimes. So well just keep working and Ill be back at my very best shortly.
 
Related Links
  • Statistical Preview of the Dubai Desert Classic
  • Full coverage of the Dubai Desert Classic