CRAIG Parry’s abiding memory of winning the Australian PGA Championship at his home club of Concord 25 years ago is not of any brilliant, tournament-defining shot. It always reminds him of his then newly born daughter, April, all but fitting neatly inside the Joe Kirkwood Cup.
“We’ve got a great photo taken during the celebrations after the win and it sits in pride of place at home,” Parry says. “She was born in the August, just a few months before the PGA. We only lived two streets away from Concord. So she was there on the last day.”
Parry played in the last group with his great mate from Queensland, the burly Peter McWhinney, who was almost as popular with Australian galleries as Parry. The pair had a great duel before Parry edged his mate by three shots with a winning total of 269, 15-under par. It was a comprehensive victory. By comparison the next year, at the same course, Ian Baker-Finch, Peter Fowler and Kiwi Grant Waite finished six shots worse at nine-under before IBF triumphed in a playoff.
“I felt very comfortable at Concord all week and it was a big advantage being a member there because I knew the course so well,” Parry recalls. “There are some courses where you just feel you have more of a chance to win before you hit off. At Concord, I thought I had a huge advantage over the rest of the field.”
It had been a good year for Parry at home and in the US. He had won the Australian Masters at Huntingdale and two months later led the American edition at Augusta National by two shots with 16 holes to play. Not for one minute is Parry about to compare winning the Australian PGA to capturing one of golf’s Majors. By the same token, lifting the trophy at Concord in 1992 was certainly significant for him.
“You look at the names engraved on the Kirkwood Cup and it represents a huge part of Australia’s golf history and it is something that you have forever. It cannot be taken away from you,” he says proudly. “It is one of the bigger events in Australia, one of our ‘majors’ and I was fortunate enough to win it. It was another ‘notch on the belt’ and a very important part of my career.”
“Look at the names engraved on the Kirkwood Cup and it represents a huge part of Australia’s golf history and it is something that you have forever”
– Craig Parry
It was not until 15 years later that he captured the other jewel in the local golf crown, the Australian Open.
Parry takes seriously the role of the Australian PGA in golf. So much so that he spent four years as vice-chairman of the board. “I felt it was my turn to do it. All the other guys had done it over the years. I wasn’t playing anywhere in the world at the time. So it was my time to give back to the game.”
He was surprised how time-consuming the role was. “It was one of those jobs where you are trying to do the right thing by all the members, not just a small percentage. Sometimes you have to let people down. But it’s impossible to do the right thing by everybody all the time.”
Parry says his time as an administrator gave him a totally different perspective on the game. He hopes he made a small difference “for the better” during his time on the board.
One of the most difficult tasks was securing tournament dates for events, including the PGA. Parry says one of the biggest problems facing professional golf in Australia is battling with other sports for sponsorship dollars.
“We need to give value to our sponsors and then they will want to come back the next year. This is why we have to thank Adam Scott. He has come back over all these years to play the big events here. He has done Australian golf a huge favour and the game here owes him an enormous debt. We should not underestimate how much he has put into Australian golf over the time.”
For the past two years, Parry has been plying his trade on the PGA Tour Champions in America with what he says is “very limited success”. He has finally had enough of hotels and suitcases.
“I’ve had 15 years on the regular tour and two years on the Champions tour. It’s time to pack up and come home. I’ve tried (the PGA Tour Champions) and I am not good enough, plain and simple.
“The same guys are on the tour who I played against when I first went to America. Even though it’s 30 years later, they still play very, very competitive golf. If I hadn’t tried I would have looked back and regretted it. But at least I can look back and say, ‘I did try but I wasn’t playing well enough at the time.’ If you’re not good enough, you’re not good enough. That’s all there is to it.”
By any measure, Parry has had a stellar career, winning 23 professional events including two on the US Tour, six in Europe and two in Japan. Now he says he’s ‘over it’. It’s time to pack up and come home for good.
“I’ve been traveling since I was 19. You get to the stage where enough is enough. I will still play tournaments. I am not retiring from golf.”
The future for 51-year-old Parry now lies in the field of golf course re-design. Two current projects include a course near Ballina and another close to Port Stephens, both in coastal New South Wales.
“The more I am around at home in Australia, the more opportunities I will have on golf-course re-design projects,” he says enthusiastically. “I think if you do good work, people enjoy it. People are frustrated when re-designs make courses unplayable for the average golfer.
“I can play a little bit,” he says in an understatement to illustrate his point, “yet some courses have made horrible changes. I can see why people don’t want to play them. Some courses have become too difficult. So why go back and play there?
“Golf courses that are too demanding are driving people away from the game. I would much rather see the ball bounce towards the hole than away from it into a water hazard.”
While his design work is set to become a major priority, Parry is playing in this year’s Australian PGA Championship on an all-time PGA Tour of Australasia money winner’s exemption. Discard at your peril his chances of victory around Royal Pines. For the man known as ‘Popeye’ because of the size and strength of his forearms is still a very competitive beast.