When American John Catlin hits a golf ball and turns to see where his shot is heading, there is a look of confidence and intensity about him that you don’t often see.
It is a distinctive and authoritative action which, of course, either sees the golf ball hit flush down the middle of the fairway or settle sweetly by the pin.
He has been hitting golf shots with purpose since turning professional in 2013 but last month the California-kid struck gold on the European Tour by winning two events in the space of three weeks: first a wire-to-wire win at the Estrella Damm N.A. Andalucia Masters in Spain – which was his maiden win in Europe – followed by victory at the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open in Northern Ireland.
It has been one of the great success stories during a turbulent season rocked by public enemy number one, COVID-19.
And it has been an Asian Tour success story because it is on that circuit that he has been cultivating his game as a Tour professional over the past four years.
He first made a name for himself by winning on the Asian Development Tour (ADT) in 2016 at the Combiphar Golf Invitational in Indonesia.
Little did he know that would set in motion and be the start of an incredible run of first place finishes.
He won again on the ADT the following year at the PGM EurAsia Perak Championship in Malaysia, and the season after that exploded into life by winning three titles on the Asian Tour – the Asia Pacific Classic in China, the Sarawak Championship in Malaysia and the Yeangder Tournament Players Championship in Taiwan. That hat-trick led to him being voted the 2018 Players’ Player of the Year by his peers. He also won on the domestic circuit in Thailand that same year.
And, in 2019 he secured his fourth Asian Tour win at the Thailand Open.
So from Gunung Geulis Country Club, the scene of his first win on the ADT, to Galgorm Spa & Golf Resort, the host venue for the Irish Open, it has been a voyage of discovery – but one that has not been a complete surprise to him.
“You never know when it is going to happen but I always knew I was capable of it. You just keep pressing on. It has been a process of continually getting better and better and better, and now I am at where I am at, it is not going to stop. I am always going to try and improve,” said the 29-year-old last week.
“It has been nice to have achieved a lifelong goal of winning twice on a major Tour. I am looking forward to what the future has. I don’t know exactly all the doors it’s going to open as far as the end of the season and next year and what it is all going to look like. It is just nice to have achieved something that I worked really hard to get.”
Catlin was speaking just after missing the cut at the Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open – where he was on the side of the draw that played in the worst of the conditions.
“It happens sometimes and that is part of being a professional. Golf is the luck of the draw,” commented the American.
It was a blip on the radar for the American who said his social media has exploded since the two wins in Europe and there has been a lot more public interest.
He adds: “Everyone back home was ecstatic for me. I am looking forward to getting back home after Italy [the Italian Open, the third week of October] and being able to share it with them, I still have not been home. It will be nice to be face to face with them to be able to enjoy it more. Once I won, it was a pretty special moment but to win again was more special.”
Home for Catlin has also been Hua Hin in Thailand – where he based himself when playing on the Asian Tour. He was in lockdown there from March to May and once the golf courses closed he channeled his energy into cooking.
“Life is so simple in Hua Hin,” he says.
“There are good golf courses, there is good food, good people. I live right by Springfield Golf Club out there. It was a whole stress free life and I really, really enjoyed that especially with all the travel we do. It is nice to have a place to go where you can unwind and destress. I have not been back to Thailand since May. I don’t think I can go back until next year.”
Indeed, Asia has been central to his success in the game and, in particular, he feels his time playing on the Asian Tour was a key learning curve.
“Being away from the comforts of home, travelling by yourself, and getting to know new people, kind of figuring out how you tick, so to speak, apart from your family and your friends – I think that has given me a lot of confidence. Knowing I can handle that situation on my own. It gave me the confidence to play anywhere, Asia, Europe, America, it doesn’t really matter – it is just golf.”
And when he was in the heat of battle in Spain and Ireland he was able to draw on the invaluable experiences he gained when winning in Asia.
“It is something which the Asian Tour really helped me with as well. My first win in China came down to the wire. I won by one or two there, in Sarawak I had to make a putt to win by one. The Thailand Open I had to win in a playoff. Those experiences really helped me,” he says.
Catlin is understandably quick to thank his coach of seven years Noah Montgomerie – who also teaches Indian star Gaganjeet Bhullar – and his sponsors Srixon, Singha Corporation and Springfield for his incredible success.
He adds: “I really would not be here if it wasn’t for their support, they have been amazing. It is great to be a part of that family.”
He competes in the prestigious BMW PGA Championship this week where it will be no surprise to see him in contention on the famous and historic fairways of Wentworth Golf Club.
He was unflappable over the closing holes when winning twice last month – something he says is the result of dedication and determination.
“You know why you are there, that is the reason why you have practiced all those hours and the time I have spent in Thailand and with my coach in California. That is why you work so hard, to put yourself in that position. You trust your training and you trust the people who are in your corner. You give it your all and if it doesn’t work out then so be it. If it doesn’t work out it is not because of a lack of trying.”