Date: June 02, 2015
Author: Martin Blake

The ballad of Bowditch

Steven Bowditch won about $1.5 million in Dallas on Sunday, but his victory in the Byron Nelson tournament on the United States PGA Tour is worth a lot more than that to the Australian.

The win – his second on the main US Tour – gives him loads of status. It gives him another two years on the tour, it puts him into the field for the US PGA Championship at Whistling Straits in August, and the Masters at Augusta National in 2016. It also has virtually guaranteed that he can tee it up in the Open Championship at St Andrews next month; the top five non-exempt players from the US money list after the Travelers Championship at the end of this month get into the field at the Old Course, and Bowditch is currently third.

With his world ranking soaring from 127th last week to 65, he also has a chance of getting into the US Open at Chambers Bay from June 18-21. He needs to climb into the top 60 on the Official World Golf Rankings by the June 15 cut-off to make that field, and he is playing the Memorial tournament this week as he sets after that target.

These are nuggets for the 31-year-old Bowditch, who has only played a handful of majors and whose career has been played on the metaphorical rollercoaster.

Twelve years ago he announced himself by winning the Queensland Open as a young professional, soon after an excellent amateur career that included an Australian strokeplay championship. But it has been anything but a smooth transition to stardom for the man from Peregian Beach on the Sunshine Coast.

His battle with depression diagnosed around 2006 has been well-documented; he has a spokesman’s role for Beyond Blue, the depression initiative.

Having turned professional and moved to Europe at 18 he once quit the game for a few months, returned, and went out on north Queensland’s Troppo Tour. Then in 2005 he won the Jacobs Creek Open in Adelaide and its co-sanctioning arrangement with the secondary US Tour put him on to the world’s best tour.

He was always regarded as one of the most talented of Australia’s players, but he was also streaky, once described by the commentator Mike Clayton as “Mickelson in the extreme’’.  Around the same time he was diagnosed with depression, and his first year on the US Tour he played awfully. Here was his big moment, and he could not handle it.

In his first 10 tournaments of 2006 he had three disqualifications, two withdrawals and five missed cuts. In an interview with ‘Golf Digest’ some time later, it became quite clear why he was struggling. Bowditch was suffering from extreme headaches, and once went 12 consecutive nights without sleeping. He was having psychotherapy for his depression, and binge-drinking to dull the pain. At one point, he donned heavy clothes and tried to drown himself in a swimming pool.

Fortunately, he is through all that now. Much of the change he credits to his marriage to American television sports producer Amanda Yarussi in 2011 which had a settling impact. The great irony of his win at TPC Four Seasons on Sunday was they actually married at the resort, and had their wedding photos taken near the 18th green.

Bowditch has stopped talking about his depression as a way forward. Asked about it on Sunday, he presented a straight bat: “You know, my personal life is my personal life, you know.  It's closed doors and, you know, it's built me into the person I am today and — every win is special.  This is just another one.’’

His victory on Sunday was not a surprise, since he has such an awesome golfing talent, yet a surprise at the same time given his recent form. Since his first US Tour win, at the Texas Open in 2014, he had managed just the single top-10 finish and never threatened to win.

That’s Bowditch, a maverick player who flushes the golf ball. When he has it together, at least.

“It's basically the way my career has been my whole life,’’ he said. “I guess when it's good, it's good and when it's not, I'm just trying to hang on and make some cuts and get better and better.  It’s the game of golf.  I'm obviously not at the superstar level.  I just go out there and do my best and hopefully every now and again I get a chance to win.’’