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The Long and The Short of it
The Autobiography of Britain's Greatest Amateur Golfer
By Gary Wolstenholme
John Blake Publishing LtdCopyright © 2010 Gary Wolstenholme and Derek Clements
All rights reserved.
END OF AN ERA
'I am sorry Gary, but we are not going to be picking you for the England team to play in the Home Internationals at the end of the year.' As Anthony Abraham, the chairman of selectors at the English Golf Union (the EGU), uttered those fateful words to me over the phone one June day in 2008, I realised that my England career was over. After representing my country on 218 occasions, I was being 'put out to grass' – excuse the pun. I don't suppose I should have been too surprised that there wasn't any great fanfare goodbye. When I won my 100th cap England did nothing to mark it; what's more they also even ignored my reaching 150 caps. When I played for England for the 200th time it was in a match against Spain at Royal Ashdown Forest. I played well all week, went out in the top singles match and was even interviewed on Sky Television, who did a biopic of my career to mark the milestone achievement, and, lo and behold, the EGU presented me with a cut-glass decanter. I was very grateful, but nearly fainted!
I made up my mind that if 2008 was to mark the end of my England career, it might as well be the end of my time in amateur golf too. I was shattered. Yes, I was 47 and I had far more good golf behind me than I probably had to look forward to, but I was still one of the best players in Britain at the time. I even finished the season that year seventh on the EGU Order of Merit. It was mid season and I only had months to turn it around. So that's what I did, finishing second in the South of England championship and winning the Lee Westwood Trophy with four sub-70 rounds in what turned out to be my last ever amateur competition.
My international demise had all begun earlier that year in May when I had played poorly for England in an international match against France at Frilford Heath. But everybody, surely, is entitled to an off day or two. Besides, I had all sorts of issues in my life at that time, not the least of which was that I had recently given up my job, put my house on the market, and decided to move back to my beloved Morecambe Bay, where I had spent my childhood years. These changes turned out to be pretty traumatic.
I'd had a bit of a spat with my then coach David Ridley, who happened to be the lead national coach, at the 2007 European Men's Team Championships at Glasgow Gailes – something and nothing really – and, after that, I had always felt that there was a slightly uncomfortable edge in and around the England setup. It seemed that my clash with David had perhaps been the catalyst for change and, from that moment onwards, they were thinking that it was time to bring down the curtain on my amateur representative career. It had been made abundantly clear to me that the EGU wanted to focus on players under the age of twenty-five. If you were older than that it seemed you might as well forget about being able to represent your country, even though the vast majority of young golfers only saw the England team – and the opportunities it provided them with – as a stepping-stone to professional golf. Regretfully to me, it seems that this is something the EGU now actively encourage with little or no real feel as to what the history of amateur golf provides, just regarding it as a breeding ground for the Tours of the future.
I don't think they even considered that, with all the years of experience I had under my belt, I would be a good person to help those same young players, to point them in the right direction and to make them aware of the potential challenges they might face. I desperately wanted to give something back. Even today, if they asked me to help them out, I would of course say yes, although I doubt whether it will ever happen now.
Much of the respect I'd had for the amateur bodies who control the game diminished when the England and Great Britain and Ireland selectors discarded me. I hadn't always been the most popular player around. A bit like Marmite, you either loved me or you didn't, and, as you will discover, I had often struggled to sit there and say nothing if I felt things were wrong within the amateur game. However I still don't believe that I deserved to be discarded like an old pair of slippers. It is, of course, their game; it is their bat and ball. I accept that, but after giving them twenty years or so of my life and making some pretty huge sacrifices during this time, that when the end did eventually come, I envisaged it arriving in a slightly more dignified manner, with a thanks and good luck message. In the end it was just a phone call one Tuesday afternoon.
I had hoped that I might have been able to decide for myself when it was time to call it a day. Instead, here I was feeling that I had been shoved out before my time, a bit like retiring Red Rum after just two Grand National wins. First and foremost, however, I am a pragmatist, and crying over spilt milk is not my way. What's more it is a waste of time as half the people you're playing against don't care, and the other half are glad you're out of the equation.
In one way or another I owe amateur golf for much of what I have achieved today, and for that I will be eternally grateful. It has given me the opportunity to visit some truly amazing places across the globe, allowed me to play on the best courses in the world and introduced me to amazing people from all walks of life. It also presented me with a chance to establish a huge amount of credibility for myself, both physically and spiritually. I used to receive lots of letters from people who were looking for advice. I guess they figured that, because of everything I had achieved in amateur golf in the way that I did, I was in a position to help them, and I tried my level best to reply to every letter I ever got.
People would stop me in supermarkets when I was trying to choose between peas or carrots for tea and ask: 'Hello there. Aren't you Gary Wolstenholme? How does my son (or daughter) become a good golfer?' There may have been times when I just wanted to get on with my shopping, but I never did. I always took time out to listen to their story and then I would try to give the best possible advice. Without fail, I always went away from the conversation with a smile on my face, thinking what a funny life I led.
Through golf I even received an MBE in the 2007 New Year's Honours List – something that came as a huge surprise. I collected it in May 2007 at Buckingham Palace from the Queen herself. What a day and what a truly special honour that was, both for me and for my mum, who came with me.
I had never really particularly wanted to play golf professionally, but suddenly I took the decision on a September day in 2008. At breakfast I was an amateur of some repute, and by teatime I was a budding professional, beginning a new career at the bottom of the ladder all over again. Talk about being a sucker for punishment.
The Royal and Ancient Golf Club (R&A) couldn't find any further use for my services and the EGU had essentially said: 'Bye, you're no longer good enough.' It was their loss, not mine, and I really believe that. However, I had no job and no way to make a decent living other than through golf. The only thing I had ever been able to do really successfully in my life was to play this game that I love so very much. I had other talents, of course, but wasn't 'qualified' for anything other than being a notable golfing personality.
What was I going to do? Some friends figured that with my fiftieth birthday coming along in 2010, perhaps it was time to be selfish for a change and put my ambitions first, but initially I wasn't so sure. However eventually we decided that the only sensible thing for me to do was to turn pro as soon as was possible and try to get ready for the European Seniors Tour where, with a bit of luck, I would be made to (a) feel as though I had some worth and (b) have the opportunity, for the first time in my life, to earn some proper money through playing golf.
And so here I am, hoping that it is all going to turn out okay for me and that in a few years from now I will trot off into the sunset with my bag of gold over my shoulder. I still smile at that thought. Making a career change of this magnitude at my time of life is huge of course and carries no guarantee of success, but I am filled with a genuine excitement and now believe that I have made the right choice. So watch this space.CHAPTER 2
BORN WITH A CLUB IN MY HAND
I was born with a love of sport and, in particular of golf, in my blood. My paternal grandfather was Harry Wolstenholme, who had six children, one of whom was Guy, my father, who was born on March 8, 1931. Harry was a disciplinarian and an avid golf lover. Fortunately for me, as it turned out, it seems he had a soft spot for Dad. Even so, on one occasion, the young Guy had been pitching golf balls at home in the back garden and accidentally knocked one through the French windows, shattering the glass. As a result, Harry banned him from playing golf for a month, a lesson well learnt because during his best years Dad's chipping became formidable.
My grandfather loved golf with a passion and revelled in the success that Dad would achieve in amateur golf. Harry lived until he was ninety-three. He had worked for a chemical firm, Geigy Chemicals, in Glasgow and on one harrowing occasion was involved in rescuing a number of work colleagues after some dangerous chemicals had leaked out into the atmosphere. Harry put his life on the line that day to ensure that people were led to safety but ended up inhaling some of the toxic gas himself. It affected his lungs for the rest of his life. He was later awarded the OBE for his bravery that day. When he was told that he was being honoured, Harry said in typical fashion that he was far too busy to attend Buckingham Palace, and the Lord Provost of Glasgow had to go to his workplace to present him with his OBE.
He was one of the most unassuming people you could ever wish to meet. Even into his late eighties he used to play nine holes of golf and walk two miles to the library and back pretty much every day, so he kept himself pretty fit. I used to visit my grandfather in his flat in Morecambe and enjoyed my time with him greatly. His eyesight eventually failed, though, and he started tripping over things – something that came as an awful shock to the system for him – so he had to stop playing his beloved golf, as well as taking his walks to the library. He ended up moving to Nottingham, but died shortly afterwards.
My father was Guy Wolstenholme, who became particularly well known after he finished sixth in The Open at St Andrews in 1960 while still an amateur. It was the Centenary Open, which was won by the Australian golfer, Kel Nagle, after the heavens had opened and had done their very best to wash away the Old Course. Water cascaded down the steps of the R&A clubhouse like a waterfall and the Valley of Sin in front of the 18th green quickly filled up with water. It was the era when Arnold Palmer, who had been taking the game by storm in America and had built up a huge legion of fans who loved his swashbuckling style of play, came over to Scotland to take part in The Open and, pretty much single-handedly, breathed life back into the Championship. Until Palmer turned up, The Open was struggling, but suddenly it became the major that everybody wanted to win. And, of course, my father was now very much a part of it, and got to meet this wonderful American golfer among others on numerous occasions throughout his career.
Despite the rain, the course dried out and the tournament was completed. Dad finished with a final round of 68 and recorded the lowest four-round total in relation to par for an amateur (283, five-under par) until Justin Rose came along and wrote his place in the history books at the 1998 Open, when he finished tied for fourth on six-under par as a seventeen-year-old amateur.
I am not sure how much enjoyment Mum got from my father's play in The Open back in 1960 though because she had other things on her mind at the time, namely the imminent arrival of yours truly.
Dad was a very fine amateur golfer, winning both the English strokeplay and matchplay championships, the latter on two occasions. He won a host of other top titles, too, including the Berkshire Trophy three times, as well as the German amateur championship. And he also played in the 1957 and 1959 Walker Cup matches for Great Britain and Ireland against the USA, as well as competing in the Eisenhower Trophy and the Commonwealth Trophy. Most of Dad's siblings had tried golf and he had a brother, Chip, who was also a first-class golfer. There is a famous family story about the brothers playing an eighteen-hole match at Kirby Muxloe in Leicestershire a day or so after Dad had won the English Amateur Championship, and Chip beat my father 3&2. It was a great way to be brought back down to earth – not that grandfather Harry would have allowed Dad to get too big for his boots anyway.
Like the rest of his family, Dad was born and bred in Leicester and was largely responsible for putting Leicestershire on the amateur golfing map. There were not many great courses in the county, and there were even fewer great players. Until one Guy Bertram Wolstenholme came along, that is. To give you some idea of just how few top amateurs came out of the county, after Dad, I was the next Leicestershire golfer to be capped by England. That has all changed in recent years however, and I would like to think I may have had something to do with inspiring a new generation of golfers from Leicestershire international players.
Dad was regarded as one of the best amateur golfers of his generation and played for England fifty times. He never won The Amateur Championship, although he did once reach the semi-finals in 1959 at Royal St. Georges, losing to Bill Hyndman, the great American amateur. Hyndman was fairly typical of many of the golfers of that era. There was not a huge amount of money to be made from playing the game as a professional, and the sport was full of career amateurs – many of whom came from wealthy families and could afford to spend their days on the golf course, funded by trust funds or from salaries paid to them by the family company.
Dad was never really in that position. He had to work, and it made what he achieved in the amateur game all the more satisfying, because many of the men he was taking on and beating were effectively professional in everything but name. In this country there were some great competitive amateurs, including the likes of Charlie Green, who was employed by a distillery and spent his life playing golf entertaining clients, and who dominated the amateur game in Scotland for many years; the prodigious Sir Michael Bonallack had the support of a family haulage business; and Joe Carr, the legendary Irish International, was also sufficiently financially well placed to be able to concentrate solely on just his golf, without having any money worries.
Dad had worked in the knitwear and textile industry in Leicester for a man called Pip Howe in those early years, and the two of them forged a good relationship that allowed Dad to take time off to compete with the cream of British talent of those days. It was a sad occasion for my father when Howe died in the late 1950s. Other potential bosses in the area could see no real benefit in employing somebody who was looking to take days off to go and play golf, even though Dad was effectively working as an ambassador for anyone who might employ him. If only they could have seen it: he could get them free publicity and also provide them with the opportunity to bask in his glory.
After Pip Howe's death, therefore, my father had little choice but to head south for work and ended up in London. With the help of Gerald Micklem and Raymond Oppenhiemer (who were movers and shakers in golfing circles in that era) he joined Sunningdale Golf Club and certainly fell on his feet, when a member helped him to land himself a job selling Bentleys. Then, as now, these were sought-after luxury cars and every time he sold one he received a nice commission payment and would give Mum extra money towards the housekeeping.
In those days, independently wealthy individuals, especially those based in the London area, chose to support the better amateur golfers of their generation, contributing towards their playing expenses and allowing them to play in all the big tournaments. My father was lucky enough to have benefactors such as this towards the end of his amateur career. In return, they may have asked Dad to play a round with one of their clients, or to play 'money games' with them; if that was what it took, then that is what he, and many others like him, would do. Besides, it wasn't that much of a hardship, because it usually involved playing on the finest golf courses in the land, and he was doing the thing that he wanted to do.
Excerpted from The Long and The Short of it by Gary Wolstenholme. Copyright © 2010 Gary Wolstenholme and Derek Clements. Excerpted by permission of John Blake Publishing Ltd.
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Table of Contents
FOREWORD BY PETER ALLISS,
1 END OF AN ERA,
2 BORN WITH A CLUB IN MY HAND,
3 SECOND BEST,
4 GOING TO WORK ON AN EGG,
5 THE UNKINDEST CUT OF ALL,
6 THE INSURANCE SALESMAN,
7 COOL HAND GARY AND THE £50 FRUIT SALAD,
8 ENGLAND EXPECTS,
9 PLAYING WITH A LEGEND,
10 TOP OF THE TREE,
11 TAMING THE TIGER,
12 CAPTAIN'S ORDERS,
13 HEARTBREAK RIDGE,
14 PETER PERFECT,
15 BLOWING HOT IN CHILE,
16 THANK YOU FOR THE MUSIC,
17 BACK WHERE I BELONG,
18 MY KIND OF TOWN,
19 THE VOICE OF GOLF,
20 CARRYING THE LOAD,
21 DROPPED FROM A GREAT HEIGHT,
22 ROYAL FLUSH,
23 AMERICAN NIGHTMARE,
24 FANCY MEETING YOU HERE,
25 RHYTHM OF LIFE,
26 YOU CAN QUOTE ME ON THAT,
27 TOO MANY COOKS ...,
28 ENJOYING THE JOURNEY,
29 LIFE BEGINS AT FIFTY,
APPENDIX – GOLFING ACHIEVEMENTS,