ORLANDO, Fla. – Rather than add fuel to the social-media firestorm surrounding Paul Azinger’s comments last week at the Honda Classic, Tyrrell Hatton chose a more diplomatic approach than some of his other European comrades.
Do players such as Hatton and Tommy Fleetwood, the subject of Azinger’s remarks, feel the pressure of needing to win on the PGA Tour?
“I heard the comment, but it doesn't make any difference to how I go about playing, how I feel about trying to win on both tours,” Hatton said Friday at Bay Hill, where he co-leads the Arnold Palmer Invitational with Sung Kang. “… When you look back at the end of your career you would like to win on both tours, obviously, you would love to win WGCs and majors. That's the goal for everyone and I'm no different from that.”
Suffice to say Hatton, twice a winner on the European Tour but still winless in the U.S., didn’t bring his gas can with him to Arnie’s Place this week. You can bet, however, that he’s loaded up on fuel of a different sort.
Hatton revealed Friday that there is at least one advantage to spending more time in America.
“The Napa Cab Sauv, that was dreamy,” Hatton said of his new favorite wine.
The likely future Safeway Open competitor will surely celebrate with a few bottles if he breaks through for Tour victory No. 1 at Bay Hill this weekend. Then again, maybe he’ll still enjoy a few glasses should he not close the deal.
No matter the end result, the fact that Hatton is even in this position is somewhat remarkable. This is just his second start back from right-wrist surgery last November, shortly after the European Tour final in Dubai.
Hatton first injured the wrist during his Masters debut. He was playing in the Par 3 Contest when play was called for inclement weather. As he was heading back to the clubhouse, he took a fall.
“I was just walking on the pine straw on a side slope and just where my lead foot went there was like a steel rod or something, and I just went with the slope and put my hand out,” Hatton recalled.
He played that week and missed the cut, and then tied for 29th a week later in Hilton Head.
That next Friday? “I couldn't even hit a 50-yard pitch shot,” he said.
The next 18 months or so included three steroid injections, but eventually Hatton’s wrist joint accumulated so much scar tissue that it was affecting his range of motion and causing him severe pain.
Now, he’s nearly pain-free – and rust-free. Upon returning to competition two weeks ago in Mexico, Hatton tied for sixth. Through 36 holes on a difficult Bay Hill layout with thick, penal rough, Hatton is 7 under and has just three bogeys.
“I'm a little bit surprised that I'm currently top of the leaderboard,” said the typically self-deprecating Hatton.
Maybe he shouldn’t be, though. Hatton has developed a reputation for losing his head in pressure situations, but he is coming off the longest break of his professional career, and Friday in the media center he appeared as relaxed as ever.
“To be honest, it was probably nice to have an escape from playing golf,” Hatton said.
Months of no golf, red wine and, oh yeah, lots of video games.
“When the cast came off and I was told I could play Xbox,” he said, “I didn't hesitate.”
He’ll hope he doesn’t waver Sunday if in contention, either, as he eyes a maiden triumph on this side of the pond.
Either way, the cab will be flowing.