Twenty years of nostalgia

May 8, 2020, marked 20 years working in the Australian golf media for me, 15-and-a-bit of those spent writing for the magazine you’re holding. I believe I am the only journalist to ever work on-staff for both the two major golf magazines in this country, while to say it’s been a busy two decades in the game would be an understatement.

So I am going to take up this space to reminisce. If a little reflection proves too much for you, I will apologise now – and feel free to flick ahead.

My time with Australian Golf Digest began six weeks before Tiger Woods embarked on his epic Majors run of 2000-2001. In fact, I worked here for 13 months before someone other than Tiger won a men’s Major. He’s only four months older than I am, we’re the same height and for a long time were the same weight. But thereafter the similarities end. To witness Tiger’s play these past two decades – both up close and from the other side of the globe – has been a sublime privilege.

Other recollections from the past 20 years:
Favourite cover: Jason Day’s first, in May 2005, when he was only 17. We knew he was gonna be big.

Worst cover: March 2004. No pictures, just words. Shudder!

Biggest fluke: Putting Geoff Ogilvy on the cover for the first time, on the issue that went on-sale the day before the start of the 2006 US Open, which he won in a sensational finish.

Biggest change in magazines in 20 years: The absolute fundamental need for a dynamic website to dovetail with the print offering.

Biggest change alongside magazines in 20 years: The emergence and exponential growth and reach of social media.

Biggest misconception: That as editors we’re flooded with free clubs. I’ve changed sets twice in 20 years, paying for them both times.

Best interview: Peter Thomson. You just shut up and listen.

Nicest tour pro: Greg Chalmers. Runner-up: Rachel Hetherington.

Biggest surprise: Robert Allenby is a phenomenal interview subject. He cannot be more agreeable or accommodating.

Most underrated achievement: Perhaps not so at the time, but upon reflection it’s Karrie Webb’s entire career.

Favourite player to interview: Geoff Ogilvy. I’m not alone on this one.

Favourite people to talk to: Course architects and superintendents. They literally get their hands dirty for the betterment of our sport.

Weirdest place for a first encounter: Meeting Adam Scott as he walked out of a public toilet at Hyatt Coolum just as I was walking in.

Most puzzling question I’ve been asked: “So, do you actually play golf?” Which prompted me to begin counting my rounds from the mid-2000s. Which leads me to…

Most rounds played in a year: 128.5 (2013).

Fewest rounds played in a year: 27 (2018).

Longest time between rounds: 80 days (2018).

Courses ranked in our Top 100 (2020 list) played: 91.5.

Countries visited in 20 years: 20. Most obscure: Swaziland.

Best course played in Australia: Royal Melbourne West. Runner-up: Cape Wickham.

Best course played overseas: Royal County Down. Runner-up: Royal Dornoch.

Best course walked but not played: Cypress Point. Runner-up: Shinnecock Hills.

Favourite course in Australia: New South Wales. Runner-up: either Barnbougle course.

Favourite course played overseas: Doonbeg. Runner-up: Prestwick.

Favourite hole played: The serpentine seventh at the California Golf Club, an exceptional bite-off-as-much-as-you-can-chew test. Runner-up: the Road Hole at St Andrews.

Course I miss the most: Laguna Whitsundays (Quays).

Favourite moment: The first tee shot on the Old Course at St Andrews. Runner-up: sinking a 20-footer for birdie on the third green that day to briefly go under par.

Most surreal moment: Putting for birdie beside a pit of snapping crocodiles at the Lost City course in South Africa [pictured]. I missed.

Worst moment: Hearing that the end was nigh for the brave and loveable Jarrod Lyle.

Best golf trip: Playing 15 rounds in eight days across Scotland in July 2014, walking all 270 holes and carrying my bag. My calves have only just recovered.

Worst golf trip: No such thing.

Ultimate day: Muirfield’s 36-hole-a-thon (playing foursomes), the two rounds sandwiching a glorious buffet lunch (which can last two hours).

On the ‘bucket list’: The Bandon Dunes courses in Oregon. Runner-up: Cabot Links and Cabot Cliffs in Nova Scotia.

Best round: Birdieing the last two holes at Wakehurst Golf Club, where I played my junior golf, to break 70 during a non-competition round with friends on December 30, 2005. Best round in competition: even-par, three times.

Worst round: Having to par the last two holes at Yarra Yarra to shoot 99 in January 2007 during a period of perilously bad golf. I’d previously said I would give up the game if I ever shot 100.

Best shot: Flushing a 3-wood through the wind from the high plateau and onto the green at the iconic par-5 fifth hole at New South Wales Golf Club in April 2013 (and sinking the 15-footer for eagle).

Worst shot: Having a genuine chance to win the net section of my club’s Vardon event in 2012 and shanking my pitching wedge to the 18th green.

Best start: Birdie, par playing alongside Wayne Grady – the only Major winner I’ve played golf with – to lead the 1990 PGA champion by two shots at Twin Waters in December 2002. Don’t ask about the other 16 holes…

Holes-in-one: Zero. Sigh.

Near-misses for a hole-in-one: Too many!

Holes-in-one witnessed: Four. Including Nathan Green’s ace at Moonah Links during the 2005 Australian Open, plus my mate Dave, who, after lipping out his tee shot at Kooindah Waters’ par-3 fourth hole promptly aced the sixth.

Lowest handicap reached: 1.6 (2016).

Highest since 2000: 11-point-something (2008).

Rule most abused by club golfers: It’s tough to separate the asking of “What club did you hit?” and the general lack of awareness about where to drop when a ball is lost in a hazard… excuse me, “penalty area”.

Pet hate: ‘Fudging’ with a ball marker on the green. Runner-up: poorly repaired pitch marks.

Worst cheat: The chairman of a large insurance agency who flicked his coin several paces nearer the cup when marking his ball – and did so five or six times during the round.

Greatest experience: Walking onto Augusta National for the first time on the Sunday before the 2007 Masters, then following Tiger Woods alone for nine holes – just him, then-caddie Steve Williams, then-swing coach Hank Haney and me (patron access doesn’t begin until the Monday).

Most serendipitous moment: Meeting, by chance, my wife-to-be at Barnbougle Lost Farm.

Most embarrassing moment: Several seconds of ‘dead air’ time on the short-lived “The Pro Shop” TV show in November 2010. I had an answer in my head, but the host worded his question differently and made my rehearsed answer redundant. Those few seconds while I pondered what to say felt like an hour.

Number of times my surname has been mispronounced: Countless.

Number of times I’ve been hit by another golfer’s ball: Four. Where? Ankle, kneecap, thigh and lower back. Only the first two were at speed, but neither part of the anatomy contained enough padding to mask the pain.

Number of times I’ve hit another golfer: Zero.

Best side gig: Caddieing for Deyen Lawson during the 2016 New South Wales Open at Stonecutters Ridge, where I was a member at the time. He opened with a 64 to ensure my job would last all four days.

Eeriest time in the game: I initially wrote the period post-September 11 in 2001. Although the current coronavirus era has to usurp it.

Biggest unresolved issue: Distance in golf. Runner-up: encouraging more females to take up the game.

Most curious habit seen in another golfer: The guy who, while lining up putts, raised his putter, pointed it at the hole using his lead hand, then slowly drew it back behind the ball before putting.

Worst score by a playing partner: Two Stableford points for 18 holes. And he scored them on one hole. Had it been a stroke round, we’d still be playing.

Strangest thing seen on a golf course: A man playing naked for one hole. Word was he’d lost a bet. Badly.

Strangest use of a golf cart: The former tour pro who, in his younger days, drove a golf club’s cart off-site to get food from Subway at the neighbouring shopping centre.

Strangest post-round beverage witnessed: Ginger beer and milk.

Craziest golf injury I’ve heard of: A friend who accidentally trod on an upturned tee marker that had a long protruding metal spike – which would normally be in the ground – but instead pierced his golf shoe and his foot.

Oddest thing in my golf bag: A ruler.

Most underrated item to keep in a golf bag: Sunscreen. Once you’ve had something sinister chopped out of your arm, you quickly learn too much is never enough.

Rock-solid theory: The quality of a club golfer’s raking effort is directly related to the calibre of the bunker shot they just executed. The better the bunker shot, the better the rake job.

Weirdest superstition: When using a coin, I always mark my ball tails side up. And while not because of superstition, I never cut my fingernails the day before playing golf. There’s feel in those fingertips!

Weirdest superstition seen in another golfer: Lucky socks that didn’t match.

Strangest item I’ve seen used as a ball marker: A wedding ring. But I like the practicality.

Strangest attitude among club golfers: That Par events are inferior or to be avoided. It’s matchplay against the course.

Favourite format when playing alone: Reverse two-ball ambrose. You hit two balls for each shot and must choose the result of the worst one.

Favourite format for two golfers: Matchplay.

Favourite format for three golfers: Split Sixes.

Favourite format for four golfers: Wolf (also known as Pig and Wolf). Runner-up: Daytona. (Google them if you’ve never tried them!)

Favourite player to watch: Fred Couples. Runner-up: Greg Norman in his prime.

Favourite line: “Statistics are like bikinis. They reveal a lot but they don’t reveal everything,” from Cameron McCormick, Jordan’s Spieth’s Australian swing coach. Runner-up: I’m not a huge Brandel Chamblee fan, but the tour pro-turned TV analyst offered up this gem earlier this year: “Intelligence is knowing that a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is knowing not to put tomatoes in a fruit salad.”

Favourite event: The Jack Newton Celebrity Classic. It’s golf’s Christmas party.

Greatest joy: Watching Adam Scott finally win the Masters for Australia. Right after his winning putt fell, I hugged a man I’d only just met.

Biggest regret: Learning the game on a narrow course, thereby favouring accuracy over distance until it was too late.

Favourite thing to do: Stealing a quiet nine holes before sunset. Runner-up: stealing a par that never looked like being a par.

Most stark realisation: Golf truly means different things to different golfers.

Hope for the future: That those in charge of golf, at all levels, care for it without placing profits and persuasions ahead of the game.