It was a wee bit breezy for the third round of the ISPS Handa Vic Open. Make that very breezy. And so very difficult. And very trying.
It was a day for those who understand their swings and games better than most. A day for those who know their capabilities. A day for those who ‘get’ their limitations. A day for those with superior short games. A day when length off the tee was helpful but not top of anyone’s priority list. A day for inventive shot-makers. A day for pure ball-strikers. A day for patience. A day for perseverance.
A day likely to reward experience, you might say.
All of which sounds like the ideal scenario for the oldest swinger in the field. Step forward Peter Fowler. Seven months into his seventh decade on the planet, the former Australian Open champion fought his way round the Beach Course at 13th Beach in 71, one under par. Employing all of his accumulated worldliness and, no doubt, a few other intangibles too, he is on 210, six-shots into red figures, T-29 and, not incidentally, more than a decade older than any of the other 37 qualifiers for the final round.
Okay, so he caught a break in that the strengthening winds had yet to find their eventually formidable stride when he teed-off at 7.30am. But by the time he putted out for par on the 9th green (he started on the 10th), Fowler was happy to be finished, such had been the increase in velocity.
Also bringing a smile to his face was the quality of his overall play between tee-and-green. A couple of putting surfaces had been missed – “from the middle of the fairway, which was frustrating” – but he knew well enough that any sub-par number was a score well-played.
“All you can really do in conditions like that is knuckle down and work hard to keep your round going,” he said of his four-birdie, three-bogey, 11-par effort. “I drove the ball well, which you have to do here. But I got the benefit of my work in the gym too. My body can still handle what I saw out there today. My birth certificate says I am ’60-and-a-half,’ but I don’t feel a day under 85.”
That last bit was a joke, of course. Because no one toils more assiduously than Fowler at all aspects of the game he has played professionally for 43 years. With some distinction too. As well as that Aussie Open title, the New South Welshman has a World Cup (in tandem with Wayne Grady) on his cv, as well as victories in Germany, Jersey, Singapore, Japan, New Zealand and France. Only two months ago, he picked up a seventh win the on the European Senior Tour, the MCG Tour Championship in the Seychelles.
“I treat playing golf as a job,” he says. “I’m trying to make a living. I can’t do that sitting at home. And I certainly can’t do my job well doing that. I don’t ever want to play average golf. I want to do it well. And to do that, I have to be physically able. Especially when I’m playing against the young fellows. My mind still sees the shots. But if your mind won’t let you hit that shot, you’re in trouble. Happily, I can still hit the shots as well as see them.
“My short game is not quite what it was. But that is partly because I hit more fairways and greens. I don’t need to pitch and chip as much. That was a real strength of mine back in the 80s and 90s. These days, if I putt well I shoot under-par. If I don’t, I shoot around par. I pride myself on the fact that, even when I’m really playing crap, I can slum it around in a decent score.”
Fowler’s longevity, however, stems as much from his almost peerless enthusiasm for the game as it does the technical proficiency he has worked so hard to achieve. His travel schedule is nothing short of breathtaking, his air-miles accounts bolstered by a figure not far short of 500,000 annually as he flies to the “32 or 33” events he habitually plays.
“In the first half of the year I play only about eight weeks,” he says. “I do a lot more in the gym then. From the middle of May I play maybe 25-26 weeks. By the end of the season I’m shattered. But I work hard because I want to keep improving. In 2016 and 2017 I played the Japanese Senior Tour as well. I played 11-12 events there. If I had a week off in Europe, I went to Japan then came straight back. I did that for two seasons and actually won over there. I do all that because I have something to prove to myself – I think I can get better. I just hope my body holds up long enough for me to do that.
“My body is actually the most important part of my ability to play as much as I do. If the body doesn’t want to do it, it doesn’t matter how good a player you are. I see guys’ folding up’ all the time. And I see the young lads not doing enough in that department. I’ve been in gym every day this week and haven’t seen many of the guys, although the girls have been in a lot. Look at Bernhard Langer. He has huge talent. But he works really hard. I look at him and know I have to work at least as hard just to compete.”
Which is what he’ll be doing alongside all those “kids” in the final round. As ever, he’ll be giving 100 percent, one thing for sure whatever happens. If Peter Fowler shoots 76, it will be because he was trying like hell not to shoot 77. The man is a legend.