Ian Woosnam's path to the top of the game was never a straightforward one but, even as a 12-year-old, he was a special talent
“It would have been 1971. I was off 5 and my partner Mio Davies was off 3 and we were on our home course at St Idloes up above where we lived in Llanidloes in Mid Wales. Two 12 or 13-year-olds came running up to us and introduced themselves – Ian Woosnam and Alan Strange they were called.
“It was a scratch league, 10 players from each club in five pairs. The home team put their order in and then the away team did likewise. In those days we’d play for a Dunlop 65 in a wrapper but I said to Mio ‘look here, we’re only playing a couple of kids, we’ll just play for the point’.
“They had never seen the course before and they were 30 yards ahead of us all the time, if not more. Woosnam was brilliant, his short game was incredible and he hit the ball miles. I think we halved the 1st hole. One of them birdied the 2nd and one of them birdied the 3rd, I said to Mio ‘we’re up against it here’.
“They beat us 7&6.”
Other than my great granddad playing football for Wales, and scoring the first own goal at Anfield, this might be my family’s biggest claim to fame.
My uncle Gordon was the person on the wrong end of the Woosnam and Strange birdie assault and, nearly 50 years on, he still couldn’t be happier to have been stuffed.
Interestingly Woosnam joined ‘Llani’ shortly after (for a fiver) in order to be eligible to enter the Welsh junior championships as his home club, Llanymynech, was affiliated to the English Golf Union.
Everyone in my family had a story about Woosnam; Gordon and my dad’s older brother, Geoff, was particularly friendly with his dad Harold, a friendship based on their shared love of sports and beer.
So by the age of 11 I was already a convert and I have a clear memory of being informed on Radio 5 that he had won his first event in Switzerland in 1982. And so it began, the victories all over the world and the steady ascent to World No. 1 which was unthinkable given how hard it had been to even get onto the main tour.
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In 1985 I watched as Gordon reacquainted himself with Woosnam on the putting green at Wentworth at the PGA and thought it was one of the coolest things I had ever seen. My dad and I were too starstruck to even speak.
Growing up in London we would always be at Woburn, Wentworth or Sunningdale and, wherever Woosnam was, we wouldn’t be far behind. As thousands would go one way with Faldo or Lyle, a handful of us would go in the opposite direction with Woosnam. And quite often we’d be cheering him down the 18th to victory.
One particular highlight that my dad and I shared was staying up very late on a Sunday night in 1987 as Wales won the World Cup for the first time in a play-off with Scotland, Woosnam won the individual by five. It ended a year of seven individual victories but still, given how slanted things were back then, there wasn’t an invite to Augusta.
That came the following year under a ‘special foreign invitation’ and there followed an 81 which would comfortably sit in my top five sporting lows. After years of waiting for the Masters to do the right thing we had this.
Three years later all that seemed a very distant memory as he was knocking in a seven-footer for victory, Wales’ first and last major champion. I wonder far too often if it might be possible, now I’m nudging 50 and my dad has long since been gone, to get even close to this in terms of sporting elation, emotion, nostalgia and anything else you want to throw in. And I always come up with nothing.
Gordon and Geoff both rang my dad that night, you would imagine a lot of phones were ringing off the hooks late that Sunday night in and out of Wales. The 13-year-old, with the incredible short game and phenomenal distance, was 20 years on the new Masters champion.