Marcus Armitage, aka The Bullet, has come a long way in the past 18 months. He’s now very much on an upward curve after a stuttering start
“I Felt I Was Taken As A Clown” – Marcus Armitage Exclusive
Just over twelve months ago, Marcus Armitage was coming off the type of season that might have made you think twice about your future.
He and his fiancee Lucy had bought a house, he was heavily in debt – “People warned me about going on credit cards and I didn’t listen and it just got worse” – and, in 18 Challenge Tour starts, he missed eight cuts.
His total earnings were short of €15k.
Then he made it through the second stage of Q-School and came through the slog at Lumine with three shots to spare.
Having had one go at the European Tour in 2017, this would be another shot at the big time.
A week later at the Alfred Dunhill, he went into the final round at Leopard Creek in the third last group, but then had to birdie the last two holes for an 83.
The chance to make a big dent in his money worries had gone, but his reaction was typical; he went on Twitter, told everyone that he was going to be alright and, within the space of just 57 seconds, he was making headlines around the world for his honesty and humour.
But he was also still skint, and a trip Down Under a few weeks later to the Australian PGA didn’t help things.
The first tournament back in 2020 would be the South African Open and Armitage was going to have to give it a miss as he couldn’t afford the trip.
“I actually borrowed money off Robert Rock to pay for my flights,” he says.
“I finished third and won over €80k and to not have to worry about money so much was massive.
“Hopefully I won’t have to struggle like that again. I also got two sponsors, Dave and Mark from Woodsome Hall near Huddersfield, and they said to just concentrate on my golf.
“Another big someone who has really helped with my money stuff is Niamh Clancy Goldsborough, who is now my manager.”
Coach and mentor
In the first lockdown, Armitage parted company with his coach, Anthony Sheehy.
This has left him, in part, to his own devices, though Rock and his sidekick Liam James will help from time to time.
“I’m good mates with Rocky. I’m not the type of person who can do it all on my own, so I’ll have the odd lesson with Rocky and Liam and we can work it out between the three of us,” he says.
At the end of the day, though, I’ve got to have my own knowledge and be able to put that into it.”
Rock’s influence isn’t merely how he swings the club, he’s also been someone for Armitage to turn to for advice on how to go about your business on the European Tour.
“A mutual mate, Sam Walker, phoned and said Marcus wasn’t going to South Africa as he couldn’t afford the flight,” explains Rock.
“Young lads get their card and they think they’ll play in the big events, but in reality they might not get in, and there’s a re-rank to consider, so you need to get as many events under your belt as possible.
“Otherwise you can start thinking about your card as early as March. To not have the cash to play was a bit sad, so I helped out and he played well.
“I just want to stop him making any decisions that will prevent him from playing well.
“It’s easy to look for another equipment deal, but that just makes things harder.
“You can ruin the whole season by signing a rubbish deal and it’s not like you get the money all at once; it’s staggered and will come in quarters, your manager will take some, the exchange rate will probably work out badly and you then wonder why you’ve done it.
“If you’re playing well, that’s not a proper concern.”
An escape from reality
Armitage’s path to the game isn’t your normal tale.
His dad had a rug and carpet business and he was paid by a customer in golf clubs.
He would hit the odd shot and play the odd round, but he lost his mum, Jean, to cancer in 2001.
He was still only 13, but he stopped going to school and never went back.
“The only place I could go and focus was on the practice ground. In a classroom, I was just sat thinking about my mum dying. On the practice ground, all I was focused on was hitting a golf ball. Golf was an escape for me,” he told the European Tour’s blog.
Over the course of last season, a lot of people warmed to Armitage and the tour was quick to use him in its highly entertaining pre-tournament challenges.
If you haven’t seen the Driver Off The Deck one at Wentworth, it’s well worth a watch – though things weren’t quite as they appeared.
“I did that about six balls in and they said we’re going to need a bit more to go off than that!” he laughs.
They’re all great players on tour, but if you were standing on a range of pros, Armitage would still stand out.
The sound of his irons is that proper and on the course he hits an awful lot of very precise approaches.
I spent the fourth day of Q- School following him round and couldn’t help myself going back to him day after day until he’d closed it out.
He’s infectious both on and off the course.
Another part of Armitage’s furniture, who has been mainly on and occasionally off for the past decade, is his performance coach Duncan McCarthy.
They got back together the week before second stage – the plan was to get his sense of achievement up, as that was badly lacking after a miserable season on the Challenge Tour.
Also reunited with his old caddie, Gary Edwards, Armitage smiled his way through the week.
“I said I was going to try to be the calmest person out there. I might look like I was switched on, but inside I was going nuts,” he jokes.
Proof of this came on a gut-wrenching sixth and final day, when someone let a toilet door slam just as Armitage was about to pull the trigger.
But he just stepped away, laughed it off and crunched it down the middle.
Turning the corner
A year on and Armitage is driving round Milan and joking with a local about where to park his hire car ahead of a little shopping trip to Louis Vuitton.
Over the past two weeks there have been back-to-back top-tens and he’s made money in 14 of his last 19 starts.
Things are very different now, in all manner of ways, to his rookie season.
“I’m very comfy now compared with 2017. I’ve finally got a team around me and it’s really helping me,” he says.
“And obviously Mrs Bullet, Lucy, keeps me and the house in order.
“I feel like I’m very comfortable out here; I know a lot of people and I’ve got the confidence to speak to them.
“Three years ago I felt like I was taken as a clown because of my personality, but now I’m here for golf.
“I feel like I belong and I’ll keep playing and testing myself.
“I’d love a top ten in a really big event or to win. I’ve just got inside the top 60, which would get me to Dubai, but I can’t improve my category so I just want to win, get a better category for 2021 and play in Rolex Series events.
“The goal this year was to get back to square one and not owe money and I’m just getting out of debt.”
A unique personality
Some players will have enjoyed the lack of crowds post-Covid restart, but unsurprisingly Armitage can’t wait to get back to packed galleries.
“I’m a showman, I want the buzz. The fans bring doubt. I don’t care what anyone says, unless you’ve got a ten-shot lead and you’ve knocked it on the green, you know how many eyes are on you down the stretch. Dealing with that is a different kettle of fish. Even for top-tens, crowds are massive,” he says.
“In Joburg, people didn’t know me but they went berserk when I holed the birdie putt on the 72nd hole.
“They found out afterwards why my caddie and I were going nuts even though I hadn’t won. Any top golfer or elite athlete wants the fans to watch them.”
What that putt, one that got him to the final of the European Tour’s Shot of the Year (So Far) in May, did mean was that Armitage had qualified for the delayed Open at Royal St George’s.
“I’ve learned a lot of things from Marcus the last ten years,” explains McCarthy.
“He embraces opportunities. We were in the players’ lounge in Dubai and someone came in and said he’d just finished hitting balls next to Tiger and that his bag was still there.
“Marcus was straight out there and he had a session hitting balls next to him. How many players in their first year would have done that?”
As for his part-time coach (and occasional mentor), Rock has a good idea of what it takes to get to, and stay on, the European Tour. He’s full of admiration for what Armitage has achieved.
“I would have given up a long time before and just got a job and started living in the real world,” Rock says.
“But it’s such a good story. We see the social media side of things, which is funny, but people would love him even more if they knew what he’d gone through. That’s why I like him.”