John Fraser felt like a shift worker at a factory last week, staying up until 3:30am at his home in Corowa, watching his son, Marcus, follow an opening 63 with a 69 to take the 36-hole lead in the Olympic golf tournament 14,000 kilometres away in Rio de Janeiro.
“The green and gold balloons are up all over town,” said the 65-year-old real-estate commission consultant. “I was at the office this morning, and the phone was going. It got to the point where I didn’t answer it.”
Located on the Murray River dividing New South Wales from Victoria, Corowa was the epicentre of the national pride Australia had taken up for Marcus, 38, a European Tour veteran and global traveler.
Fraser wasn’t the player the country had in mind when the International Golf Federation sold the IOC on hosting golf in the Olympics for the first time in 112 years. He and Scott Hend ended up representing Oz as a veritable C team after World No.1 Jason Day, former Masters champion Adam Scott, and the higher-ranked Marc Leishman and Matt Jones all declined the invitation.
“It was a hard decision for us to withdraw,” Leishman said while on holiday with his family. “It’s just good to see [Fraser] play well for himself, to show how good he is.”
Ranked 63rd in the world when he officially qualified for the team, Fraser was variously described as “normal,” “unaffected,” a “Country Aussie” and a “really good bloke” by his mates Aaron Baddeley, Jarrod Lyle and Leishman. Fraser’s a guy who plays in club competitions when home in Melbourne at Kingswood, enjoys tipping back a few with his dad in Corowa, and had another Country Aussie from back home on his bag, Jason Wallace.
“[Marcus] is fairly relaxed, somewhat like his mother,” said Fraser’s dad. “I’ve noticed years ago, he deals with pressure quite well.”
As a player, Fraser has a reputation of getting the most out of his game and making it look easy when he’s on. That was certainly the case in the opening round, when he tapped in for 63 for a three-shot lead over Henrik Stenson and Graham DeLaet with an instant Olympic record. He joked about how his children, Archie, 7, and Lily, 5, were going to wake up in Melbourne “in a state of shock to see that their old man at this stage is leading the Olympics.”
The remaining three days were akin to the guts Fraser showed on the 72nd hole of the Malaysian Open in March, his first win in six years. “He doesn’t hit the ball very far, but he’s one of those guys who maximises his game – which is a credit to him,” Baddeley said. “When he made that putt earlier this year to win, you could see he has the ability to make the winning putt.”
Fraser made putts that kept him in contention through third rounds, especially during a 72 on Saturday while paired with Stenson in the final group. With his full-time instructor, Denis McDade, not in Rio, a swing tip from Australian team leader Ian Baker-Finch [below] helped Fraser battle increasing winds.
Three strokes back going into the last round, Fraser played in the final group with Stenson and Justin Rose, with millions of television-viewing Australians pulling for him. “They are great guys,” Fraser said of Stenson and Rose. “But they’ve got world-class game that I only dream of having.”
Fraser closed with 72 to finish T-5. His performance didn’t get a medal, but no one could say it wasn’t Olympian.