ORLANDO, Fla. – Of all the players here you’d pick to survive Bay Hill’s torture chamber, where would you have slotted Tyrrell Hatton?
The man has made self-flagellation an art form. His volcanic eruptions are wildly entertaining but undeniably destructive. His short fuse has cost him his fair share of trophies over the years. He knows that. And he owns it.
But now Hatton is ... more controlled of his emotions, if only slightly?
“We’re getting better,” said Hatton’s caddie, Mick Donaghy. “That’s why I think I’m employed – to threaten him and kill him. And I will, and he knows that. I won’t put up with any of his s---. That’s what he needs.”
At least that’s what Hatton needed this week at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, the second leg of a brutal Florida swing that is pushing players to their breaking point. Only four players finished the week at Arnie’s Place under par. Just one player shot in the 60s over the weekend. With juicy rough and 25-mph gusts, they were trying conditions for everyone, but for quick-tempered types like Hatton you’d think he’d require a straitjacket by week’s end.
And yet, Hatton birdied two of his last three holes Saturday to grab a two-shot lead after 54 holes. Sleeping on the lead for the first time on the PGA Tour, he stumbled with two early bogeys Sunday, only to steady himself and move three clear as he stepped onto the 11th tee.
Ah, yes, the 11th, where Hatton could have self-immolated – again – and thrown away the tournament. Where he slightly pulled his drive into the pond. Where, from 180 yards, he pured a 5-iron when the wind dropped and his shot sailed long and right of the green. Immediately, Hatton was annoyed. It was a bad break, not poor execution. “It makes you look stupid on TV,” Donaghy said, “but you deal with it and get on with it.”
Except Hatton didn’t really get on with it. After a free drop, he stubbed his pitch. Walking off, he kicked at the trampled-down grass, taking a divot. Next came a woeful effort from the fringe, his putt drifting 5 feet left of his intended line. That’s when he began slapping himself with his putter, before lifting it and pretending to blow away the offending pond with a shotgun blast. And then, as he stepped in to mark his ball, the coup de grâce: A middle-finger salute back toward the water.
“I was just having a little moment,” he said wryly. “It was the wind’s fault, the grass’s fault. It’s never my fault.”
Hatton saved double bogey, but he was still steaming over what had transpired 15 minutes earlier. He gently returned his putter to his bag, then turned and made another obscene gesture toward the water.
Still, Donaghy viewed this outburst as progress. “This time last year he probably would have broken a club doing that,” he said. “This time, this year, he’s maturing.”
Said Hatton: “I feel like I could have easily blown up after that. But I managed to keep my head a little bit.”
Get focused again, Donaghy reminded him. It’s done.
Make a few practice swings.
Rediscover those good feelings.
Then Hatton stepped up and piped his tee shot on 12, one of his best swings of the day. Off he went.
“I did get a bit frustrated,” Hatton said. “That’s always going to happen with me. As long as it’s not keeping over to the next shot, then I’ll be OK.”
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Clinging to a slim lead, Hatton parred in to the clubhouse, including a soft-drawing 5-iron on 17 that preserved his one-shot lead over Marc Leishman. Hatton won at 4-under 284, meaning he played the weekend in 3 over and still walked away with the winner’s red cardigan.
Talk about a sweet rebuttal to Paul Azinger, who last week opined that European players had something to prove until they won on the PGA Tour. Hatton is now exempt through 2023, ranked inside the top 20 in the world, and his $1.67 million first-place check should help cover the disciplinary fines he likely will receive from PGA Tour HQ.
“I think Tyrrell has a lot more talent than people give him credit for,” Donaghy said. “This week he never should have won the golf tournament where he hit it.”
But his short game was sublime. And – imagine this – his patience was rewarded. “It’s massive,” Donaghy said.
So, is Hatton actually improving his on-course comportment? Is he finally ready to unlock his immense potential? Is the lovable character nice to everyone but himself?
“I give myself a hard time,” Hatton conceded afterward. “That’s one thing that I should probably get better at.”
But at beastly Bay Hill, his temperament proved to be perfect.