The world is full of talented golfers. The very best of them turn pro and try to make a living from this damnably infuriating activity. The best of those progress through various challenge and satellite tours and a small percentage make it onto a full Tour. Some manage to make a respectable living and might even secure victory in a lesser event called the Kelloggs Masters Supreme of Austria or somesuch.
And then theres the crhme de la crhme who win consistently, become household names and challenge for the Majors.
Graham Fox is nowhere near their stature yet but he is making quiet, steady and determined progress in his chosen field.
He turned pro in March 2001, reasoning that it was something he always intended to do so why wait? He was signed by Ian Doyles 110 Sports Management group (and Mr Doyle knows something about picking winners, having guided Stephen Hendry to seven world snooker championships) and achieved his European Tour card at the first attempt, in the refined torture chamber known as Qualifying School.
Thats the headlines but the detail is, as you might expect, considerably more complicated, as Graham explains.
From the beginning of August things started to click and I began to play well, he says, which was good timing because the qualifying schools were coming up. Stage one was at the Wynyard, where there are 100 or so guys playing for 30 places. I had a couple of not bad rounds and then a third good one that put me into the top-20.
But then I went out in the last round trying to guard a score, which is not like me, and that was something Ive never done before and it was very tough.
In consequence, Graham found himself trying to two-putt, for example, rather than attempt to make his first effort and inevitably shots began to dribble away. He then bogied the 17th after hitting a poor 6-iron approach, so when he came to the last and again was 6-iron yardage away he pulled out the 7-iron and hit it as hard as he could, rather than tempt the wrath of the malicious golfing superstition gods. It worked and he just scraped through, only to face stage two qualifying a month later.
This time he finished second after an impressive three rounds (the fourth was cancelled due to strong winds). But theres no time to rest on your laurels in the pro game and within days he was off to the one that really counted, Final Qualifying over San Roque and Sotogrande in Spain.
I was lucky, Graham says, to have Gary Orrs caddie Ritchie on my bag for the week and he was a huge help. I was fine really until the night before the final round and then I got a bit nervous. On the final day I played the hardest holes, the first eight, in level par and then picked up a couple of birdies so I was two under through 17.
The last hole at San Roque though is a nightmare with water all down the left from the tee and then prominently to the right for the second. Not surprisingly, Graham ensured that he stayed well away from it all and finished with probably the best bogey hes ever made to secure category 11 membership of the European Tour. This means that entry to a lot of events is a bit of a lottery so when a late call came asking if he could make Australia for an opening season event down under he said yes, assuming that hed probably also be able to play two events in Malaysia on the way back. However, he had one of those tournaments where he played well but couldnt score and then couldnt get into the Malaysian fields so it was frustrating, to say the least.
So what has he learned so far?
I can compete but I need to drive the ball better, he says. Ive always had a good short game but on a lot of Tour courses if you miss the fairway by six or seven yards youre dead. My irons are also good but with a driver in my hand I might aim down the left and play for a fade to come into the middle of the fairway and hit a draw, or vice versa.
Im working with my coach Ian Rae [coach to the Scottish national squads, and based at Drumoig] and the drivings improving but theres still a way to go.
But even an excellent short game can always improve, as Graham discovered by watching Ernie Els and Seve Ballesteros chipping in preparation for a tournament in Dubai.
I noticed that, whereas I tended to have a longer swing that was quite wristy for those chips to tight positions, they both had virtually no wrist action at all, so Ive subsequently been practising that shot.
He bottled out of approaching either of the men, however, largely because it was on a competition, rather than practice, day but says he would speak to them in different circumstances.
The final part of his first year as a pro has been topped off by the acquisition of a regular caddie, an inexperienced Australian called Mike Perry. He approached Grahams management company and the player traveled to London to meet hopeful caddie-in-waiting and make sure we got on well.
Mr Perrys apparent affability established (although we are talking about a caddie, so it would always be a relative term), the pair have been in harness for a few weeks now.
The caddie is a former world-class squash player, so is fully aware of the sort of preparation, attention to detail and sheer hard work that goes into success at the highest level of any sport but the most crucial element, as far as his employer is concerned, is that they like each other and get on well.
|| 23 - APRIL 2002