DEAN Robertson will make his long awaited comeback to tournament golf when he tees up at the Omega European Masters in Switzerland on Thursday week after an eight-month absence from the European Tour through illness.
The former winner of the Italian Open and two-time member of Scotland’s World Cup side, Robertson walked away from golf in February and has not teed up in a tournament since travelling to Perth in Western Australia for the Johnnie Walker Classic in January.
"The good news is Dean will play again in Switzerland," reported his manager Ian Doyle yesterday. "Everyone is delighted he’s now fit to return to tournament golf."
While Robertson finished 58th at the Johnnie Walker, he was far from his usual bubbly self. He flew out to Dubai to prepare for the new season in March where he spent ten days practising in the Gulf. But any enthusiasm for the game had ebbed away.
Although a number of issues came to a head at the same time, a break-up with his long-term girlfriend before the couple were due to be married didn’t help the situation.
Robertson returned home the day before the Desert Classic feeling so disenchanted with golf he was convinced he would never want to play the game for a living again.
It was not immediately clear what the root of the problem was, though the Scot had been feeling out of sorts since the Open at Lytham in 2001.
The illness took a turn for the worse as time marched on. Although Robertson’s game held up towards the end of last season as he finished 12th in the Volvo Masters and represented his country in the World Cup, the player felt awful within himself.
Matters came to a head in Dubai when all the former Scottish amateur champion could think about was returning home. Thanks to the care of a diligent GP who turned out to be a tower of strength, Robertson was eventually diagnosed as suffering from clinical depression.
Having returned home to Scotland from the north-east of England and put his house there up for sale, Robertson didn’t play any golf for months.
The European Tour was immediately informed of his problems and gave the 32-year-old a medical exemption.
Happily, in July, Robertson felt well enough to pick up his clubs again and has now made a full recovery. The golfer is back in the pink and hopes to pick up on Tour where he left off, though it may take competing in half-a-dozen events before the end of this year to prepare the Scot for the 2003 season.
Unluckily, it was the second time in seven years as a pro Robertson’s career has been put on hold by health problems. The Paisley golfer’s previous absence from the game came after representing Scotland during the 1999 World Cup in Malaysia.
The former Walker Cup man was unable to sleep or eat for three months when he returned home and lost 21 lbs after that initial bout of illness three years ago.
Although his weight dropped to nine and a half stone and he missed four months of the 2000 season, Robertson made a full recovery and went on to enjoy the most lucrative season of his career last year, winning 356,223 and again represented his country at the 2001 World Cup in Japan with Andrew Coltart.
If he can bounce back as effectively this time, there will be widespread delight for a likeable character off the course with an enduring talent for making birdies on it.
IF Sam Torrance, the captain of Europe’s Ryder Cup side, had adopted the same mindset as his compatriot, Dale Reid, the captain of Europe’s Solheim Cup team, then it’s unlikely the Scot would have picked either Sergio Garcia or Jesper Parnevik to face the USA at the Belfry next month, since the Spaniard and the Swede play mainly on the PGA Tour.
While Torrance’s only concern was to pick the best players available, regardless of whether they were based in America or Europe, Reid seems to have been guided by political concerns in omitting American-based Scots Janice Moodie and Catriona Matthew from the team which will defend the cup in Minnesota.
Moodie and Matthew are among the finest golfers in the world and earn their living on the LPGA Tour. But, according to Reid: "It’s a European team and you have to play over here to be noticed. If you’re not in the eye, you don’t get seen."
Reid also left out Matthew at Loch Lomond last time round and won the match. If she retains the cup at Interlachen then her decision will look justified. But if she doesn’t, there must be an overhaul of the way the side is picked before the next contest in 2003.
Any system omitting someone of Matthew’s calibre not once but twice is seriously flawed.
AFTER gaining a prestigious attachment at Loch Lomond earlier this season and then switching coaches, Stephen Gallacher made another key change in his career yesterday when 110sport took over managing his affairs.
While the Bathgate man is still searching for his first win in his fourth full season as a European Tour professional, he takes heart from studying the record of the most successful Scot of all.
"I’ve been close a few times, but I’m still only 27 and I know Colin Montgomerie didn’t win his first European Tour event until he was 26," said the nephew of former Ryder Cup captain Bernard. "Monty hasn’t done too badly since then. People win at different stages of their careers and I know Des Smyth picked up a winner’s cheque at 48.
"I’m improving all the time and enjoying my golf again. I wasn’t earlier this summer when I had seven bone scans on an injury to my left wrist. It turned out to be tendonitis. I made a big mistake of entering both events in Ireland, which resulted in me not being able to play in the Open."
On his management switch, Gallacher was impressed when Ian Doyle told him all he would need to concern himself with was his golf and his family.
"It’s a great move for me and takes everything off my mind," he added. "I can concentrate now on just playing golf. Under my previous arrangement, my dad had to do my accounts while I had to look after various bits of administration. Now all I’ve got to think about is turning up and playing.
"It’s great to be joining a company who already have Dean Robertson, Alastair Forsyth and a few talented young guys coming through as well as leading ladies such as Catriona Matthew.
"There’s a good stable at 110sport and Brian Marchbank is a very efficient golf manager. What he doesn’t know about the game isn’t worth knowing.
"I had a good start to the season finishing fourth in Qatar and fifth in Australia but have gone through a bit of a transition since then.
"After four years with Ian Rae, I decided to change my coach and now I’m working with David Whelan. I can’t say a bad word about Ian, but we both felt it was time for a change."