The rise of Tyrrell Hatton – the defending champion at this week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational

Nine years ago Englishman Tyrrell Hatton was just another young professional hopeful on the third tier of European golf, but this week the World No. 6 is aiming for back-to-back Bay Hill success.

The last 18 months have been special for Tyrrell Hatton, a period in which he has claimed three wins on the European Tour and also landed a breakthrough on the PGA Tour.

It is a stretch of sustained success that is testament to his drive and ambition, and to the many hours of work he has put in with his father and coach Jeff.

It is also a notable story of a player who never particularly thrived at amateur level, or stood out on the minor tours, but who was quick to grasp his opportunities once he had a sniff at the highest level.

This week he returns to the Bay Hill Club to defend the Arnold Palmer Invitational title he won in gruelling conditions 12 months ago.

Let's take a look at the startling progress the 29-year-old has made over the last decade.

On the third tier

Back in 2010 the then-amateur Hatton qualified for the Open Championship at St Andrews, but made an early exit after rounds of 78-77.

For the next two years he would build the foundations of his future success on the minor level Jamega Tour and the EuroPro Tour, one of the four third tier circuits in European golf.

Tyrrell Hatton made his Ryder Cup debut in 2018.
Tyrrell Hatton made his Ryder Cup debut in 2018.

Hatton was not without success, he won twice on the Jamega and once on the EuroPro, but his efforts were not sufficient to earn him full graduation to the second tier Challenge Tour, on which he played 11 times that season.

Instead, he made that step at the 2012 Qualifying School.

All this time he was continuing the work he and his father had started when Hatton first took up the game as a five-year-old.

Growth

Confirmation that Hatton is a quick learner came in 2013.

He had missed five cuts in his 11 Challenge Tour appearances in 2012, but would play 15 weekends in 17 starts in 2013.

Moreover, five of those improved efforts reaped top ten finishes, two of them second-placed

He ended the season tenth in the rankings, with it he earned a ticket to the European Tour, and then promptly landed two top-10s in his first five starts.

Emboldened by more or less securing his playing right for the following season he added another three top-10s to end the year 36th in the Race to Dubai and the following season was an almost exact repeat: five top-10s, 35th in the rankings.

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In the 21st century only Martin Kaymer has made the season-by-season third-to-second-to-first-tier transformation with quite such assurance.

Burst of wins

Heading into late 2016 Hatton was continuing to add considerable sums to his bank account, but the win was proving elusive.

He'd headed into the final round within five shots of the lead a dozen times, but the final round remained a stumbling block.

But throughout this time he had also proved himself, time and again, to be an especially fine linksland performer.

So it was entirely appropriate that when the dam burst it did so at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, winning the 2016 edition by four strokes and successfully defending the title a year later by three.

He rode the wave and a week later added the Italian Open, closing the tournament out with rounds of 64-65-65.

Temper

Immediately preceding the back-to-back wins in late 2017 Hatton had blown a three shot halfway lead at the British Masters and, in so doing, had earned reprieves from both past players and commentators due to his volatile temperament.

It was an issue which has been consistently discussed ever since and for two years it did appear to be an issue that was holding him back from further success.

The tantrums were not universally panned, however.

European Tour social media took to using them, many fans understood his frustrations, and there would become, in time, an understanding that his short fuse was an essential part of the Hatton package - sometimes detrimental, but not always so, and sometimes it was even vital fuel for the fire in his belly.

Injury

In late 2019 Hatton was struggling with a wrist problem, but he determined to force his way through the last weeks of the season and was rewarded with a first win in two years.

It came in what he described as "surreal" circumstances, in a six-man playoff at the Turkish Airlines Open that was eventually completed under floodlights.

Within weeks he went under the knife and hoped that surgery would allow for him to maintain the progress he had made. "It's been a difficult year and now I've found my game again," he said. "Fingers crossed."

His reappearance came three months later, at the WGC Mexico Championship, with a promising tied sixth.

"It's not 100%," he admitted. "But it's getting there."

PGA Tour breakthrough

The Arnold Palmer Invitational often witnesses tough, windy conditions, but the 2020 edition was right up there with the worst the tournament has experienced.

In the second round only seven men broke 70.

At the weekend, no-one did - not in round three, not in round four.

It was a test of skill, patience and temperament.

Many might have expected Hatton to wilt under such an examination, but in fact he stood strong.

He shared the lead after 36 holes and spent the weekend at the top of the leaderboard.

"The hardest thing for me today was keeping myself level-headed," he said after the win.

"Obviously there were a few times when I did boil over a little bit, but nothing compared to what I've been like in the past.

"I feel like, with how tough it was, I did a good job."

More success

In the disrupted season that followed, Hatton ratified his step-up in class to finish seventh in the PGA Tour's FedExCup rankings.

He then returned home to England and triumphed in the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth, not just the flagship event on the European Tour, but one he had regularly visited as a young boy.

He opened 2021 with yet another title, holding off Rory McIlroy and Tommy Fleetwood to win the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

He returns to Bay Hill with his position in the top ten of the world rankings secure and the knowledge that not only does the Arnold Palmer Invitational have a history of back-to-back winners, but that he has himself defended a title in the best style possible.

Hatton is 16/1 with Paddy Power to win the 2021 Arnold Palmer Invitational

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