Clayton: Ogilvy silences inner critics

Geoff Ogilvy
Ogilvy in action during the Wyndham Championship.

One of the stressful joys of sport is watching the progress of a person or a team for whom you have a great affection.

I first met Geoff Ogilvy at Victoria Golf Club in late 1995 when he led the Victorian Open after 54 holes as a 17-year-old amateur and the fledgling design business in which I was a partner was setting up his home club for the championship.

He didn’t win, I three-putted the last to lose, but for whatever reason we struck up a friendship - one that has endured to this day.

The design business has morphed into one in which he is now a partner and, a couple of weeks ago, we pitched together for a design job in the United States.

The following week he was to play the final tournament of the regular season in Greensboro and he was more than precariously placed on the money list - 125 players retain their job for the following season, and unless the 125th guy plays well he always falls out.

He was that guy.

Missing the cut was not an option, nor was making it and finishing far back.

He didn’t seem too stressed about it, reasoning if he missed he would only fall a few places and to a number still earning 12-15 tournaments next year.

When you are the third-ranked player in the game, as he was in 2007, those 12-15 events are the ones you don’t consider playing because they are the least glamorous on the tour. But when you’re an ageing veteran with a game you may suspect isn’t quite what it was, you take all you can get.

"And, I’ll get a decent number of invitations, so it won’t be so bad."

Of course he realised it was no place to be, but golfers are good at deflecting stress.

Outwardly anyway.

A 70 on Thursday may have looked decent enough, but a run of birdies on the front nine was wasted by a sprinkling of bogeys later in the day and with 137 being the likely cut, things didn’t look great. They looked a whole lot bleaker after 11 holes on Friday, but you don’t win the US Open if you don’t have a brave heart and a man-sized game. Needing to par the final hole to survive the cut, he birdied it, playing those final seven holes in five under par for a 66.

Another 66 on Saturday offered some comfort and 29 going out on Sunday even more. Still, nothing is so easy when you're the man on the bubble and two double-bogeys coming in and a lone birdie added up to 67.

In the end he made it with room to spare, but he admitted to a stress he’d never before felt.

Juli, his wife (every single tour wife ever should be described as ‘long-suffering’) wrote on an Instagram post where Geoff is pictured with Phoebe, his 10-year-old daughter, "discussing life" around their kitchen table.

"Dropped him off the morning after to go to play for our future. Golf doesn’t define Geoff or our family, but it is our livelihood. This week was the biggest roller-coaster (golf-wise) of our lives. My man fought his heart out."

I well remember a friend of mine many years ago who knew Bruce Crampton well. Crampton was a brilliant player, but back in Australia to play as a 38-year-old in 1975 he lamented to my friend the state his game and all "these fearless young guys who hit the ball so far".

He retired the following year and to my 20-year-old self, it seemed not inappropriate given how old he was.

Of course he was neither old nor incapable of still beating those "young guys", but it’s hard to play, to endure, past 40. Only the best manage it.

Geoff is 40. He’s been out there almost 20 years and the inevitability is that you wonder if you still have it and whether all the time away from a growing family in strange hotels is really worth it.

I don’t really know, but it’s a reasonable assumption he is financially in a nice position given he’s won more than $30 million and has had only one (great) wife.

He’s not out there for the money. It’s fair to say for one who loves classic architecture, he isn’t exactly coming across the greatest courses in the country on a week-to-week basis.

The business is doing decently with some nice projects on the books. He could come home and work, but it’s better for us if he is out there playing. There will be plenty of time in the future to scratch around in the sand.

What he has is a game that should endure. His body is still boyishly slim and flexible and his swing still long and fluid.

Greensboro showed that when the pressure was really on, he could still get it done. He knows he is better than to be scratching around the margins of the top 125 and the hope is next season he can parlay his play last week into something more.

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