It can’t have escaped your attention that things are pretty good for the English national football team at the moment.
A thumping 6-1 win over Panama yesterday saw Gareth Southgate’s side safely through to the last 16 of the World Cup in Russia with a game to spare.
According to BBC Sport presenter Gary Lineker, over 14 million people tuned in to watch the win – on a par with the Opening Ceremony of the 2012 Olympic Games in London.
However, as Harry Kane and Co. were picking apart their Panamanian opponents in Nizhny Novgorod, their compatriot Matt Wallace was 1,500 miles away in Germany continuing English golfers’ incredible streak of good form at the top level of the game.
Wallace’s second win of the season was the 44th European Tour victory. recorded by an Englishman since Justin Rose won the US Open in 2013. That’s a strike-rate of roughly one win every five events.
What’s even more impressive is that those 44 English wins have been shared between 24 different players.
Combine that with a further major victory (hello, 2016 Masters champ Danny Willett), a World Golf Championship and other wins on the PGA Tour, LPGA, LET, as well as at the top level of the amateur ranks (three Amateur victories in five years is supremely impressive) and you will arrive at one obvious conclusion: this is a truly a golden age for English golf.
Most impressively, the vast majority of players enjoying this incredible streak of success are products, and recent products, of the England Golf performance set-up.
Andy Sullivan, Matt Fitzpatrick, Tommy Fleetwood, Charley Hull, Meghan MacLaren, even Andrew ‘Beef’ Johnston – all are born, bred and made in England. Very few have gone down the route of the American college system. Fitzpatrick gave it a go but left at the end of his first semester after deciding his development would be better served at home.
Even accounting for the larger number of players in England relative to, say, Scotland or Wales, they are, proportionately speaking, massively outperforming their near-neighbours. Scotland, for example, has had only 23 different winners since the European Tour began in 1972.
How are England doing it? The answer to that may well be contained within the grounds of Woodhall Spa Golf Club in rural Lincolnshire.
That’s where England Golf is headquartered and the club’s quiet ambience is characteristic of the unassuming way in which the organisation and its staff go about their business. Flash, brash bombast is not the default modus operandi. Instead, everyone knuckles down and gets the job done. Even when there’s success, there’s no excessive celebrating.
The man at the helm is performance director, Nigel Edwards. The three-time GB&I Walker Cup captain succeeded Sweden’s Peter Mattsson in the post in 2011, having previously occupied a similar role at the Golf Union of Wales.
A Welshman himself, Edwards’ softly-spoken demeanour belies his steely, determined edge. Make no mistake: Edwards is a tough competitor and that’s a quality he instills in his team.
“We work hard but it’s for nothing if the players in our squads don’t have that intrinsic motivation to be the best they can be,” he says. “They’ve got to want it more than we or anybody else wants it for them. If you look at the players that have passed through our squads in recent years, it’s not as if they were all born with silver spoons in their mouth. Far from it.
“What they do all have is a deep desire to be the very best they can be. They want to be successful golfers, they want to win events, they want to be the very best they can be. When you combine that with the quality of coaching and support we are able to offer them, then you’ve got a good recipe for success.”
England Golf refuses to 'coddle' its players. That, says Edwards, isn’t what life on tour is like, so why condition them to think it is?
“It would be lovely to go to Dubai or Arizona for training camps but that sort of thing can make you soft,” he says. “You risk players turning up expecting perfect greens everywhere they go.
“That’s why we only do one week of warm-weather coaching each year, and we don’t often even travel with them to tournaments. If they’re going to become tour pros, they’re going to have to travel on their own and look after themselves, so that’s the kind of environment we try to create for them. Sometimes, going through the pain barrier can make you tougher."
The focus, he adds, is on creating players that are capable of playing like pros, not just act like pros.
“You tend not to see our players on Twitter talking themselves up,” says Edwards. “That’s not because of anything we’ve said to them. We’ve not had to. We teach them not to get too caught up in the moment, not to get carried away when things are going well after the first round and, equally, not to panic when they’re not. If at the end of the tournament, you’ve won, by all means go and enjoy it. Absolutely do that. But don’t lose your focus. Don’t get distracted by stuff that really doesn’t matter.
“Look at somebody like Andy Sullivan. He’s a happy-go-lucky, chirpy guy who always looks like he’s having fun and is game for a laugh – but he is as determined and as focussed as anyone I’ve ever met. He’s all about golf and isn’t prepared to sacrifice his work ethic for anybody or anything.
“I’m not suggesting all of the players we’ve worked with are angels. Far from it. But, in the main, they all have the drive to be successful, not famous.”