He helped guide the fortunes of tennis Hall of Famer Pete Sampras and now former Fitzroy AFL star Brett Stephens has breathed new life into Nick Flanagan’s professional golf career.
On a day where the afternoon groups in the opening round of the ISPS HANDA Super 6 Perth tournament struggled to make inroads on the early leaders, Flanagan’s round of 4-under 68 held up as the equal best of the Australian contingent, Queensland’s Brad Kennedy matching the mark late in the day.
That Flanagan features may not be such a shock for a player who won the 2003 US Amateur and earned ‘battlefield’ promotion to the PGA TOUR courtesy of three wins in the 2007 Nationwide Tour season but injuries and struggles off the course saw him fall to a career low ranking of 1,925 at the end of 2017.
A top-10 finish at the Australian PGA Championship in December moved him back inside the top 1,000 by year’s end and reuniting with Stephens last week at the ISPS HANDA Vic Open has helped to continue his upward trend.
Tied for 10th at 13th Beach last week, Flanagan arrived at Lake Karrinyup Country Club ranked 776 in the world and feeling as positive about his prospects as he has for the past five years.
“I feel comfortable with my game, but the mental part of things still needs a bit of work,” Flanagan explained.
“I've definitely felt good the last week and a half just going out there and competing and not worrying too much about anything technical.
“The stuff with ‘Moose’ (Stephens) has really helped me a lot to kind of get out of that anxiety I used to get when I'm worried about making cheques; is this going to be the good week or is this going to be the bad week? That's definitely helped.”
Stephens played 133 games for Fitzroy before moving into fitness coaching, spending five years with Sampras and becoming renowned within tennis circles for his theories.
Rather than a sports psychologist, Flanagan describes Stephens as a “life coach” and said that he is in a much better place personally to take advantage of his expertise.
“We worked together about four or five years ago, but I was going through some tough times with my career and a bunch of other things that were just not feeling great about life in general,” said Flanagan, who played with good friend James Nitties (3-under) in the opening round.
“I decided when I was coming back here and knew we were both going to be in Melbourne that I wanted to start the year on a positive note.
“I knew I had been playing well, so it was just a matter of getting it right between the ears.
“It's worked well the first five rounds I’ve played at home. It's going to go pear-shaped at some point but hopefully I'll be able to deal with it a lot better than I have in the past.”
With virtually no status anywhere outside of Australia, a strong week at a tournament tri-sanctioned with the European and Asian tours has the potential to open the door to new opportunities for the 34-year-old.
Planning to play the Coca-Cola Queensland PGA Championship presented by Toowoomba Regional Council, New Zealand Open and New Zealand PGA Championship after Perth, Flanagan says that he is taking a more holistic approach to his schedule in 2019.
“I haven't thought of what I'm going to do when I get done with these five events,” he explained.
“The goal for the year pretty much is the stuff I've been working on with Moose. It's not just about this next tournament or the next tournament or the next three weeks, whatever it is. Just kind of going out, making sure I take what the golf course gives me and not try to force it and know that when I do get in a situation where I'm in contention that I'll be ready to go.
“Whether it's a missed cut here or there or a bunch of top-10s, as long as I'm giving a good effort to every tee shot and every shot into the green, then it feels like it's going to be a success.”
Sharing a house this week with Nitties and caddie Joel, Flanagan made fajitas on Wednesday night and shouted Joel a Vienetta cake for his birthday, handing the cooking duties over to Nitties prior to Friday’s second round.
“I cooked last night so I'm definitely not cooking tonight,” said Flanagan.
“It's probably James. James will probably do his famous spaghetti tonight, I imagine. I'm not sure if it's going to be red meat or turkey.”
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