Date: June 10, 2016
Author: Golf Australia

Clayton: Ogilvy capable, but is he still hungry?

I well remember watching David Graham warm up before the final day of the 1985 Open Championship at Royal St Georges. He was tied for the lead with Bernhard Langer, three ahead of the closest pursuers, and hitting the ball as purely as ever. But at thirty-nine he was considered by most to a veteran past his best. I just thought of him as being old.

By the end of a long, windy and difficult Sunday he had shot 75, finishing third with Langer behind Sandy Lyle, and the runner-up Payne Stewart.

Lyle, Stewart and Langer were a decade younger, amongst the best dozen players in the game and would be for another decade. Graham, on the other hand, seemed likely to fade from the tour and into obscurity. He did play well after St Georges but his very best days, culminating at Merion in the 1981 U.S Open, were the five or six years after his thirtieth birthday.

Only rare players seemed to play on into their forties. Skills erode. Many weary of the travel and time away from home. Some developed talents aside from playing and parlay them into an alternate form of both endeavor and income. If some were truthful they would tell you they never really liked playing championship golf. It was a way to earn an income.

Only the great players like Nicklaus and Trevino kept going and playing major championship winning golf into their forties.

In 2006 Geoff Ogilvy became the second Australian to win the U.S Open when he was the last man standing at brutal Winged Foot in New York.  

He arrives at Oakmont this week as a thirty-nine year old but rather than seeming old as Graham had done in 1985 he still looks a vibrant player capable of more good golf. 

His results this year have been poor if the standards he set a decade ago are the measure but at Muirfield Village a couple of weeks ago there were signs of good golf and only a clumsy final day six at the par 3, 12th stopped him from a high finish.

Ogilvy won big events in the second half of the 2000s including The World Match Play twice, two Tournament of Champions, the WGC tournament at Doral and the 2010 Australian Open. His game was a mix of power, highlighted by an uncommon ability to hit those towering long irons so important in championship play, and a fine, bold touch around the greens. And, he played the game well.

Sure, he could be fiery and some (most of whom remember him as an occasionally petulant schoolboy) thought his temperament not ideal for a game best played with equanimity and a measure of nonchalance.

With age came maturity and he is considered by many to be one of the professional games most articulate spokesmen but he is at the age when a combination of missed cuts and mid-field finishes aren’t enough to justify time away from his family, three growing children and Australia.

So many Australians who go to the United States stay there. Some marry Americans. Others see the opportunities post-golf more interesting or lucrative. They can live well in America, probably for less money than it takes to live the same life in Australia. Jason Day is never coming back. Nor is Aaron Baddeley. John Senden probably will. Graham settled in America, as did Bruce Devlin and Bruce Crampton, two early pioneers in America. For Greg Norman it’s much easier to become and maintain a global brand in America than it is in Queensland.

Peter Thomson took an entirely different route and wondered aloud how others could so easily forsake their homeland. There was never a time when Thomson couldn’t have named the Australian Cricket team, the Davis Cup team or who was playing in the centre for Carlton. Ogilvy is the same.

There should be no reason he cannot play competitive golf in the American tour for a few years yet. His swing always had a beautiful rhythm and the backswing was always a full length, something Thomson preached as being a key to longevity.

In some part it will come down to how much he wants to play. Having made thirty million dollars in prize-money in America alone, he presumably has all the money he is likely to need. He can work in an established golf course design business doing something he both has a talent for and fulfills him. He would unquestionably make a significant contribution to any television network broadcasting golf.

The unknown of course is if you emptied his bank account tomorrow and forced him to go back to being the very hungry and driven rookie pro he was in 2000 would be play with a greater intensity and urgency?