JACK Wilson stood on the first tee at Royal Pines two years ago tied for seventh going into the final round of the Australian PGA Championship. Five hours later, he walked off the 18th green with a triple-bogey to complete a round of 86, the worst score posted by anyone who finished north of 150th position that week.
Two years earlier, Wilson had emerged as a breath of fresh air with the talent to match. The first trainee to ever win a PGA Tour of Australasia event, he finished third behind superstars Adam Scott and Rickie Fowler having trailed Scott by just a shot when a thunderstorm temporarily stalled his charge late on Sunday.
Scott, not one who is known to gush, proclaimed that Wilson had the potential to become “one of the next great players from Australia” and journalists and golf fans soon began fawning over a 23-year-old who spoke filter-free and showed no tendency to be intimidated amid elite company.
Yet when Wilson returns to RACV Royal Pines this month he will carry not only the treasured memories of that breakout tournament, but also the scars of a final round in 2015 that made him question his future in the game. After a year in Europe in 2014 when he made just four cuts, Wilson spent four months in Canada in 2015 when the biggest cheque he banked was his last – and for $3,750.
On the day he returned, he broke up with his girlfriend who he was sharing a house with. So when the Australian summer rolled around, the 2013 West Australian PGA champion was neither mentally nor physically in a position to contend. He missed the cut at both Kalgoorlie and Royal Fremantle, was seven-over through the only two rounds he got to play at the Uniqlo Masters at Huntingdale and was the first player to miss out at the qualifying tournament to compete in the Emirates Australian Open.
When he flew to the Gold Coast it was to initially attend pre-qualifying and after missing out there, Wilson received a phone call on Tuesday to tell him that he had received a reprieve and was now in the field.
“It was a real weird week already and then to find myself in the top-10 going into the final round was almost like a surprise,” Wilson recalled. “I’d got there on autopilot and then as soon as you start thinking about it everything else creeps in …
It’s a beautiful game like that.
It can quickly get away from you.”
The financial pressures that had mounted as each tournament passed with little or no reward during the year were suddenly presented with a way out that subconsciously brought Wilson’s unlikely week of wonder thundering back to reality. After two holes he was three-over, and despite going through a seven-hole stretch where he dropped just a single shot, Wilson made bogey after bogey from the 13th hole until his ugly triple at the last capped a T-62nd finish that netted him the grand sum of $3,727.19. A final-round 75 and a tie for ninth would have earned him in excess of $35,000.
“I don’t know if I knew what was happening,” said Wilson, whose best result in 2017 to date is a fifth-place finish at the New Zealand Open in March. “I probably realised I was top-10 and then the next thing I knew I was on the 18th making 7 to shoot 86, which took me from inside the top-10 to nowhere.
“I’d had four months away, a relationship I had with the girl I was living with finished up the day that I came back, so I was in the process of trying to find a place and move out. You’ve got all your personal stuff as well going on so it was just a massive head jumble.”
And if you want to know how the emotions of professional golf can mess with you, consider that when Nathan Holman made a winning par at the first playoff hole Wilson was back on the 18th green spraying champagne all over his roommate for the week.
“A very hard one to try and deal with when you’ve just blown your whole lot,” he recalls. “You’ve got to go to Q-School, you’re contemplating whether this is actually what you should be doing and you’ve got to celebrate one of your good mates winning at the same time. Interesting.”
After spending two months this year home in Melbourne where he worked on his game and dropped nine kilograms from a frame that didn’t appear to have nine kilos to lose, Wilson claims to be in the best shape of his career and ready to turn the pain of past experiences at Royal Pines into a much more pleasurable conclusion.
“All these times when I do a lot of good stuff and I bring myself undone, it’s just a learning curve that you need to go through,” he says. “I’ve taken bits and pieces out of all of those failures or times when I have fallen down. You have to fall over and fail for you to get better. In order to keep getting better you have to fail. It’s just part of it. The more mature I get, the more I understand.”