By Michael Weston published
It’s not the done thing for a player to celebrate another’s misfortune. Even so, Johannes Veerman could have been forgiven for uttering a few encouraging words under his breath – nothing audible or over the top, of course – when Tapio Pulkkanen dunked one in the water on the final hole of the Czech Masters last August, an error which left the door wide open. After a few 'nearlies', this was Veerman’s opportunity – and he grabbed it with both hands.
You have to strike while the iron’s hot at this level. In July, Veerman had come third at the Irish Open and tied eighth at the Scottish Open – lucrative finishes, yes, but when you keep coming close, the pressure builds to get the job done. Miss out and who knows how long it will be before another opportunity to seriously contend presents itself?
“Oh my gosh, that win was huge,” he says with excitement. “It was a surreal position to be in. I was thinking, ‘You don’t have to make birdie here. It’s right there in front of you – just put it on the green and don’t mess it up!’ Internally I was relieved and exhausted. Relieved because I believe I’m a good player but there’s one thing believing and another thing actually producing. To do it and win meant a lot in terms of my self-confidence.”
Hitting the road
The 29-year-old may have needed a confidence boost on the course for that confirmation that he really belonged on tour, but generally he’s quite a self-assured individual, which probably has something to do with his travels. He was born in California, but for much of his life he’s been on the move, so he’s had to find his feet quickly and adjust to new cultures.
Veerman spent most of his upbringing in Asia – the Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia and China – before going to high school in Texas. After almost losing his thumb in a firework accident, he felt inspired to become a doctor. ‘Stick to the golf’ was the advice he got from the doctors when he was a pre-med student – so he did, and his attention shifted back to competing on the course.
It was “golf-crazy England” where he got the bug. When he was nine, he lived in Wokingham, and during his three years in Berkshire developed “the perfect English accent”. “The queen’s English accent,” he jokes, doing his very best to sound like someone from Downton Abbey. His parents would take him to Blue Mountain Golf Course and Wentworth to watch the PGA Championship. The European Tour’s flagship tournament left a lasting impression on a young Johannes, who, like many golf fans, became mesmerised by the swing of Ernie Els. Playing on the European Tour became my dream.
“I remember getting my first handicap – it was about 24, and I was about ten,” he recalls fondly. “For one whole summer I just wanted to get it as low as I could. When they did the handicaps again, I was at 17, and I just thought, ‘I need to get better’.”
That desire to keep on getting better is still very strong. Now he’s had a taste of victory, he wants more – he wants to play with “the big dogs” every week. Missing the cut on his Major debut at the US Open at Torrey Pines wasn’t going to wipe the smile off his face, and a month later he played in his first Open Championship, an experience that has whet the appetite for more.
A team effort
In order to keep the momentum going, he’s surrounding himself with one or two experts. In fact, team Veerman comprises some interesting names. Renowned trainer Steve McGregor, who has worked with the likes of Lee Westwood and Rory McIlroy, is one of these, and in James Milner and Adam Lallana – that’s right, the Premier League footballers – Veerman also has the backing of two experienced sportsmen.
It may sound like a strange partnership, but the two former England internationals are co-owners of White Rose Sports Management, an agency that was created by Milner, an avid golfer, in 2015 to help golfers reach their full potential. Veerman says their advice has been extremely valuable in helping him to develop on and off the golf course.
“I’d heard of them before [Milner and Lallana] but I’d never met them. Maybe it was better that I wasn’t so star struck when I met these guys, otherwise it may have been hard to be myself.
“If I need to talk to James or Adam about whatever… frustrations about the sport, preparation, what to do if you are injured or stuff like that, I’m very fortunate to have such a wealth of knowledge. It’s a different sport, but no matter what sport you look at, we all prepare, we all have teams around us, we all have gameplans and we all study our craft, so there are so many similarities there.”
At nearly 30, Veerman may be considered the ‘veteran’ in the White Rose stable – which includes England trio Ben Schmidt (19), Jack Dyer (22) and Oliver Clarke (23), as well as Pep Angles from Spain and Stefano Mazzoli of Italy – but he’s still very much that player who’s classed as having huge potential, and McGregor is keen to see that fulfilled.
It’s why, if you follow Veerman on Instagram, you’ll have seen him recently swinging a golf club in nothing but his boxer shorts. This was not a shoot for Men’s Health, but research into the biomechanics of his swing, which, Veerman says, will hopefully take him to the next level.
“When I first started working with Lee [Westwood], you’d go into the gym and there’d only be one other player in there, whereas now you have to book a gym slot,” says McGregor. “Everyone’s there doing warm ups, mobility and recovery.”
McGregor says this not to highlight a problem with Veerman’s work ethic – quite the opposite. Veerman is a gym enthusiast; he represents the modern player who is more willing to understand how sports science can help improve performance, and his performances over the last couple of seasons suggest that he’s reaping the rewards.
In fact, in finishing ahead of compatriots John Catlin and Sean Crocker on the 2021 Race to Dubai, you could say, of the US regulars on this side of the pond, he’s the new number one. It begs the question: will his ambitions lead him back to the PGA Tour?
“I love playing golf here in Europe,” he says. “With the European Tour you chase the weather, so the summers are in Europe and the winters are in South Africa and Australia. We get to see the world.”
Really, the weather is just a bonus. Like a number of his fellow Americans to have enjoyed success on the European Tour – players like Kurt Kitayama and Catlin – it’s helping him to develop a pretty good all-round game. It’s also opening the right doors.
“The coolest thing about playing in the Majors is that I get to see where my game stacks up against the best guys in the world. I have their swings on my phone and here I am playing against them!
“To be able to play well in The Open… just that alone, I was like, ‘Hey, this is doable. If you can play well, you can play with these guys’. That’s an exhilarating feeling, and it’s also rewarding knowing that you are not miles behind. It makes you want to practise and get in the same position to see how you do again,” he says.
Those swings he has on his phone, they’re the “flushers”, the guys he wants to be playing against every week: Westwood, McIlroy, Sergio Garcia, Tommy Fleetwood and Adam Scott. If his rise continues in 2022, there’s every chance he will be.
Michael has been with Golf Monthly since 2008. As a multimedia journalist, he has also worked for The Football Association, where he created content to support the men's European Championships, The FA Cup, London 2012, and FA Women's Super League. As content editor at Foremost Golf, Michael worked closely with golf's biggest equipment manufacturers, and has developed an in-depth knowledge of this side of the industry. He's now a regular contributor, covering instruction, equipment and feature content. Michael has interviewed many of the game's biggest stars, including six world number ones, and has attended and reported on many Major Championships and Ryder Cups. He's a member of Formby Golf Club.
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