The thing about making calculated risk is that you do not know if your calculations were accurate until sometime in the future - and then it could be too late. So it is for Tyrrell Hatton and the Ryder Cup. “Yeah, time will tell,” he says.
Hatton is not the type to hide behind well-crafted soundbites or indulge in cheesy justifications. Jon Rahm, his LIV team captain and undoubtedly a big factor in the Englishman’s move, said here at Las Vegas Country Club earlier this week, “your feelings change when they slap you in your face with a large wad of money”. Hatton agrees.
“There is no point in lying,” says Hatton, who jumped in a reported £50 million deal. “But there’s more that goes into it than money and there are concerns.”
For Hatton, apart from what he calls “a leap into the unknown”, the fears surround his eligibility for the Ryder Cup and the majors. The 32-year-old remains hopeful on both, but as far as Europe and next year’s match in New York goes, he does not believe that, like Rahm, his defection will cause panic and a call for a mass rewriting of the regulations.
“Jon’s in a different position to me - you can’t really imagine the European Ryder Cup team without Jon. Yeah, it’s nice to hear your team-mates say nice things about you and your contribution but when you talk about the Ryder Cup ‘certainties’ or whatever, in my own mind, I don’t feel that I’m up there in that bracket with those guys. I’m sorry, I’m just not and can’t rely on my reputation.”
Hatton’s insecurity as a former top-five player may come as a surprise to those who have watched him regularly scream at the heavens when his ball dares not go exactly where he expects. It is just another contradiction of a personality which is as laid-back in the clubhouse as it is highly-strung out on the course. “Maybe I do underrate myself, but It’s that self-doubt that motivates me, I guess.”
The Buckinghamshire boy clearly does not know his own worth and in the weeks of back and fore between his camp and LIV - with Rahm regularly on the phone as his friend, Ryder Cup captain and future team captain - there was a price tag to be settled. There were also people to consult.
“I spoke to Rory [McIlroy], Luke [Donald] and others, figures who I really respect and whose opinions I wanted to take on board, to see about where things might be going in the game. Of course, they couldn’t give me any assurances, because nobody can, but their opinions were valuable.”
For his part, Donald remains in the frustrating dark. Even if the peace deal with the Public Investment Fund - the Saudi bankrollers of LIV - does not come to pass, Hatton is still optimistic there could be a way for him to fulfill the bans and still play the minimum four regular events he needs to keep his DP World Tour card and so be eligible for the biennial dust-up in Bethpage. Yet nothing is certain.
“Luke can only control what he can control,” Hatton says. “And he’s right when saying there are consequences for actions. But he has been supportive. They all have. I’m still on the team’s WhatsApp and haven’t felt any bitterness. Nobody has judged me.”
Of course, they have among the wider public, but Hatton has “purposefully turned off Twitter” to escape the wrath of social media. In the last few weeks, criticisms have emerged from the likes of Rickie Fowler and Justin Thomas concerning McIlroy’s call for the LIV players to be welcomed back in the fold on the PGA Tour ‘without punishment”. But these are lowkey contretemps and far from the cross-media slanging fest which greeted the primary LIV exodus two years ago.
“I know the guys who first came over here got flak, but because of everything that’s happened, with the ‘framework agreement’ [between PIF and the Tours], attitudes have softened haven’t they?” Hatton says. “Anyway, what matters is what your family and loved ones say and if you believe it’s right for them. I didn’t rush and talked everything through.”
Perhaps, the key chat was with his father, Jeff, who also acts as his coach. A former senior manager in a company, Hatton Snr knows all about risk. “I sat him down, and explained it all, went through the terms and he looked at it all and said ‘well, if I was your position, I’d go”.
Still, Hatton Jr hesitated until the last few hours. LIV were adamant that the team component and the actual league element needed rounding off before last week’s first event in Mexico, but a day before he was due to travel, Hatton had still to make up his mind.
On the Sunday night, his caddie, Mick Donaghy, stayed in Heathrow, unsure whether he was travelling to Pebble Beach next morning for the PGA Tour event - or to Mayakoba for the LIV opener. Hatton was simply wrestling with the action-consequence dilemma.
“There was a fear of the unknown and going away from my comfort zone. I’ve been on the DP World Tour for 10 years and the PGA Tour for six years and I feel appreciative for what they’ve given me. I looked at the LIV schedule and knew I’d be missing Wentworth in September and the BMW PGA Championship [which he won in 2020] is a week I’ve always loved and regard as one of the most important of the year. I cannot be 100 percent I’ll be back there soon. Like I said, I can only hope.”
However, with the majors, his destiny is in his own hands. As world No 15, he is already qualified for this year’s Masters and Open and is all but assured of places in the US Open and USPGA. But with no ranking points available on LIV, he realises that his status will start tumbling all too soon. Unless, he can perform at Augusta, Valhalla, Pinehurst or Royal Troon.
The problem with that is his form in the majors in recent years has been awful. Hatton recorded four top 10s in three seasons from 2016 as a young pro - but not posted another in the last four years as an established member of the game’s top 20.
“No, it’s not been good. But there is an urgency now, because if I can play well enough in these majors I can guarantee my spots for 2025. I wouldn’t say I was lacking motivation in those events before, because that is my ultimate ambition. But this could be the spark I need. There’ll be no excuses. It’s up to me. It doesn’t matter if I’m on LIV or not. I have the chance.”