Remember 2000? It was the year the production of the Ford Escort finished, Steve Redgrave won his fifth consecutive Olympic rowing gold medal in Sydney and Ken Livingstone was elected as London’s first mayor. In golf, Tiger Woods stormed to eight and 15-shot victories in The Open and US Open respectively and, albeit far less significant in the grand scheme of things compared to those successes, Anthony Wall won the Alfred Dunhill Championship in South Africa.
Sixteen years and 204 days later, during which time he’d played in 430 European Tour events, the Englishman is a winner again at the age of 41. In beating Swede Alex Noren by one hole in the final of the Aberdeen Asset Management Paul Lawrie Match Play at windswept Archerfield Links, Wall rewrote the record books. He beat American Tom Kite by 168 days in bridging the longest gap between title triumphs and had gone 154 events more than Christy O’Connor Jnr without tasting victory.
“Sixteen years is a long time – it’s a career for most golfers,” admitted a stunned but elated Wall, who’d finished runner-up seven times during that drought but stopped himself from ending up as the bridesmaid again as he recovered from losing the opening two holes to birdies from Noren to emerge as a worthy recipient of a £142,900 top prize on the East Lothian coast.
“It’s incredible,” added the Sunningdale man, who has amassed career earnings of more than £7 million and has held on to a full European Tour card since 1998.
“You have to keep believing in sport. Yes, you have your down points, but you have to always believe that you’re still dedicated enough and still disciplined enough to do it. I did believe I could win again, but it started to fade. I’ve been struggling with my back this year and I was starting to wonder, I really was.”
In a title showdown played in winds gusting close to 40mph on the Fidra Links, Scottish Open champion Noren saw his bid for a tartan double fall at the final hurdle due mainly to Wall’s wonderful short game.
The Englishman got his nose in front for the first time thanks to a lovely chip that set up a birdie-4 at the 11th then got up and down from off the green at the next six holes. Crucial in that stretch were recoveries from greenside bunkers at both the 12th and 15th, as well as another perfectly judged pitch from the right-hand side of the 14th.
“My short game has been tasty all week,” said the event’s second winner, smiling. “I don’t know what came over me, to be honest. I just chipped beautifully all week. I mean, really good and a couple of the bunker shots even surprised me. After losing the first two holes, I’m hoping it isn’t going to be a dog licence [7 and 6] because Alex had clearly been flushing it and also been putting well.
“I’d spoken to James Morrison (Noren’s semi-final opponent) last night and he said, ‘he’ll get out of the blocks quick as he’s flying and you’ve just got to try and hang on’. I thought if I could do that through nine, then I could then have a go at him.”
As had been the case in all his matches earlier in the week, Wall was straight on the phone to his wife, Sharon, after Noren’s 15-foot putt at the last, where he’d hit a driver off the deck in a bid to get up in two but still couldn’t manage that into the wind, dribbled off to the left of the hole.
“She’s that rock in the background,” declared Wall. “Without her, I probably wouldn’t be playing still. I think your first win is probably always the most special, but, in golfing terms, today is the most satisfying. I thought doing well in The Open at St Andrews last year (tying for 12th) was great, but this supersedes that because you are a winner. Everyone dreams about being first over the line.
“I’m just pleased my whole family are able to see it. My mum, my dad, my brother and my wife have seen it. My kids, Patrick, who is 12, and Nicholas, who is 11, are old enough to understand their dad is a winner. When I did it the first time, they weren’t even born. That means as much to me as anything; the fact they know their dad can do it.”
He said the 2008 Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles had been one that got away, but he retained belief in his game. “I feel like I’ve got better every year, but’s it’s a very odd thing to quantify how you work every day of your life and it takes 16 more years to win,” he admitted.
Also back in 2000, the reigning Open champion just happened to be Lawrie, who recently rejoined Wall as a Wilson Staff player.
“Paul’s an inspiration,” said Wall. “I’ve known him as long as I’ve been playing and he would be the first to admit that he’s come from an absolute normal background to become a major winner.
“Everything he says you take it in because he has mixed with the best for many years. The fact he puts on this event is great and it’s also great for the European Tour that we are now getting some of our prominent players doing the business for the rest of us.”