30 Mar 2022

Toby Bishop aiming for the very top after memorable season

Six events, five wins and the Order of Merit title wrapped up before the season-ending tournament. That type of form sounds like peak Tiger Woods in the early noughties, but this record belongs to 18-year-old Toby Bishop, who has been the man to beat in the UAE over the last few months.

Bishop’s purple patch started on February 13 as the Welshman surged to a one-stroke triumph at the Al Ain Equestrian, Shooting & Golf Club Men’s Open thanks to rounds of 67 and 68. It was a welcome return to the winner’s circle for the youngster in what was a difficult time after the local golfing community lost one of their own in the form of last year’s EGF Order of Merit champion Viggo Sorenson.

“Al Ain is a course that I like and somewhere I’ve had success when winning the Faldo Series European Finals,” said Bishop. “It had obviously been a while at that point since I’d won on the UAE circuit, so I was starting with a fresh mind. It was fresh off the unfortunate news of our friend Viggo’s passing, but in a way that really helped me. I was playing with a sense of freedom and I felt quite calm on the course and I just felt very grateful with the opportunities that we have.

“I played some really good golf, sunk a nice putt on the last to avoid a play-off. That got me back into the winner’s circle and was a big confidence boost to prove that I was doing the right things.”

Little did Toby know at the time that the triumph in Al Ain would be the start of a special run of results on the Men’s Open circuit in the UAE. He made it two from two with victory at his home course, Trump International Golf Club, Dubai, the following week before wrapping up a three-peat at Tower Links Golf Club thanks to impressive round of 66 and 68 in Ras Al Khaimah.

“I didn’t play my best stuff at Trump, but I felt that my mental game really pulled me through that week,” he said. “I hit the good shots when I needed to, but mentally I felt in a strong place which helped me win by two shots.

“The week after at Tower Links, a course where I had my first ever win in the UAE as a junior back in 2016, my game was in good shape. After back-to-back wins, I was just feeling really comfortable. I felt like I was the man to beat.  I had that sort of bubble around me that people were just playing for second. Mentally, I had a lot of confidence building up and I used that to my advantage.”

The Els Club Men’s Open was next on the calendar, but there wouldn’t be a fourth successive title after Bishop revealed “I didn’t play my best stuff.”

Bounce back

But like any elite sportsmen, it’s how you bounce back from a bad week that proves how far you’ve come in the game.

“Playing at Els Club, where the setup was as close to a Tour event as we get out here, was a good sort of refresh to see where I can improve because when you’re on a good run of form, sometimes you feel like you’re doing everything right and obviously you’re not,” he said. “So, I used that week to really fine tune some things. 

“Obviously, I preferred to go win, win, win, lose rather than finishing third, third and fifth for example, so I didn’t really let anything bother me, I felt comfortable still.

“I moved on to Abu Dhabi Golf Club after that, and again, played some really good golf.  I felt almost as if the tournament at Els Club hadn’t happened, I carried right from the form at Tower Links and I think it was probably like a 40-foot putt I holed on the 18th to win, so that was a nice way to finish.

“From there I was targeting five out of six at Yas Links Abu Dhabi but I didn’t really feel like I was playing to win five out of six, I just felt like it was the first event. I was just treating it as any other day.

“I played some good golf and I had some extra motivation with Josh Hill coming back from his nice spell of Tour events. It’s always nice to play and try to beat the best players that we have in the region. I won by two shots there over Josh, which was a nice way to get back to competing against him.”

Another level

The youngster has always been one of the names to look out for on the amateur circuit but his game has now risen to a whole new level. So, what’s the secret behind his transformation into a winning machine?

“I started off with an injury early in the year, but since returning from that I was playing well but the scores weren’t really representing that,” he said.

“I was talking to my coach; we were discussing how I was playing such good golf, but not scoring how I knew I could. So, we decided to link back up with the psychologist, who is affiliated with Wales Golf, that I was seeing pre Covid to see if that made a difference, and obviously I’ve seen quite positive results since then.

“I feel as if I’m building a sort of bulletproof form around me on the golf course, not letting anything really affect me, just staying very positive. When winning becomes a bit of a habit to you, people are turning up and they’re playing for second, they’re talking about it as in, ‘oh, who’s going to try and beat Toby this week or who’s coming second’.

“In my mind before I’ve teed off, I’m sort of leading the event already. I’ve got an advantage; I’m two shots ahead before we’ve even started.  Some people aren’t a fan of that pressure of being expected to win, but it’s something that I feel I perform well under and it’s something I enjoy – being the man to beat. So, I sort of relish that pressure, and I’m enjoying it right now.”

Gators

That growth in the mental side of his game saw Bishop open up an unassailable lead at the top of the EGF Order of Merit with events to spare. Winning the season-long rankings couldn’t have come at a better time for the teenager, who will leave the country over the next few months to pursue college golf at the University of Florida.

The Welsh International will link up with the Florida Gators Men’s Golf Team, as he looks to follow in the footsteps of more than 50 ‘Gators’ who have gone on to play professionally on the PGA Tour, Korn Ferry Tour and Champions Tour.

“I feel the majority of emotions are excitement,” said Bishop when asked about the big move. “Four years out there, the facilities and opportunities you’re given are second to none. I feel if you go there and you don’t make it onto the Tour or you don’t make your goals, it’s sort of down to you because they provide you with everything you need. So, for me, it’s an exciting chance to really compete against the best players and sort of see what I have and hopefully I can use the facilities they’ve given me to get to where I want go.”

Taste of the Sunshine State

Having done all his recruiting and tours of the campus ‘virtually’ when committing to the university, Bishop got his first taste of his future home when he paid a visit to Florida last October.

“The people are unreal,” he said. “Obviously, I’ll be the newest member of the team when I join, but I already feel like a big part of the family. That sort of family aura and that family relationship that I have with all the coaches and the team there is one of the main parts of my decision in going to the University of Florida. The facilities are sort of like a heaven for any golfer to have let alone someone of our young age. So, we’re just really lucky and I’m just grateful to have the chance to go and improve my game.”

Bishop could also come up against a familiar face on the college golf circuit after good friend and Dubai-born sensation Josh Hill announced last month that he had signed with the University of Tennessee.

“I’m really, really happy for him,” said Bishop. “I think it’s the best place to go if you want to make it on Tour.  He’s definitely a good enough golfer, so I’m just glad that he, in my opinion, made the right choice. He’s giving himself that chance to go and improve in that college environment. Hopefully we’ll get a repeat of the Toby and Josh sort of rivalry out in the States. But although we really want to beat each other on the course, off the course, we’re like the best of pals. So, I’m sure we’ll be spending a lot of good time together out there in America.”

‘I want to be the best’

Similar to a lot of the young men out here that play the game to a high standard, Bishop has a wise head on young shoulders. He knows what he wants to achieve, how he wants to achieve it and how he’s going to do it, but he’s smart enough to know that doesn’t come without talent, dedication and hunger.

Words that have always seemed to be in Bishop’s vocabulary.

“Obviously I like to be the best, I wouldn’t be playing as much as I do if I didn’t want to want to be the best,” he said. “It’s a really hard game to break into, but I feel that I’ve got the opportunities now with the University of Florida and my upbringing here. 

“ I want to break as many records as I can. I want to be the best, but I have sort of different priorities; I’m a proud Welshman, so I think the Ryder Cup is up there on my priority list. I have a vision board at home and there’s a big Ryder Cup Trophy; the Grand Stand and pictures of Bubba hitting these big slices. It feels like a very different event to the usual golf that we have all season. So, I love that. I love match play –people that have played with me always tell me that I’m quite an upbeat sort of emotional person on the course in terms of the adrenaline that I have when I’m playing.  You’ll often see a fist pump from me around the end. So yeah, it’s an environment that I think I really thrive in.”

Bishop has certainly proved his mettle on the UAE circuit and if he can shine in the ‘big league’ that is US collegiate golf, the world will truly be his oyste

 

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