IT WAS one of my favourite moments of the 2014 season. “I’ve not seen you guys for ages,” said a smiling David Drysdale as he was met by a small band of Scottish golf writers at Royal Aberdeen, having come in late in the day with a good first-round score in the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open.
It had, indeed, been a while since we’d had cause to seek out the Cockburnspath man and, as things transpired, it wasn’t until after his final round of the season that he merited his next audience with the Fourth Estate, though a non-Scottish pack this time.
Taking it right to the wire, the 39-year-old holed a 35-foot birdie putt on the last green to finish joint-fourth in the Perth International in Australia, a gutsy effort that secured his European Tour card for the sixth year in a row as he climbed from 116th to 103rd in the Race to Dubai.
Not for the first time in his career – we’re talking, after all, about a man who was once a regular visitor at the dreaded Q-School – Drysdale delivered when his back was against the wall. Now, as he prepares to get his 2015 campaign under way in the Dunhill Championship starting today at Leopard Creek in South Africa, the former Dunbar assistant pro is determined to conjure up the same sort of “magic” in the heat of a title battle as opposed to a card-saving scrap.
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“It’s been a strange year,” Drysdale told The Scotsman, still on a high, though from the safari he’d just been on in the Kruger National Park rather than the aforementioned putt. “For most of the year I’d played good golf for 14-15 holes in a round but made an arse of a few holes, which meant that I went from having a good record of making cuts to missing a few in the summer.
“Funnily enough, for most of the season I was never really concerned about my card. I knew I just had to cut those mistakes out and Australia was one of those weeks where I managed to do that. I played solid all week, really.”
Thinking he needed to finish in the top seven at Lake Karrinyup to avoid a first trip back to Q-School since 2008, Drysdale was understandably proud of the way he rose to that challenge, picking up a season’s-best cheque for close to £35,000 in the process.
“When I got to the 18th in the final round, I didn’t know exactly where I was sitting, but I had a feeling that I needed to make 3 to keep my card as Andrea Pavan was on the board as well as others that needed big finishes,” he recalled.
“I hit two good shots but was left with a putt of 30-35 feet that was flat to start with but then went downhill. I had a long time to study the scoreboard as my playing partner, Richard Green, was 60 feet away. At that point, I could see I was lying 10th-14th and thought, ‘s**t, that’s not going to get me enough money to keep the card’.
“I thought I had to make the putt and got a really good read on it. It took forever to run down the hill and go in and it almost went in at dead weight. It was an incredible feeling.”
A feeling he now wants to replicate as a European Tour winner to add to a brace of Challenge Tour titles. “It’s amazing what you can do sometimes when your back is against the wall,” he observed. “But why shouldn’t you have that same mentality every week? That’s the big question.
“We’ve all watched thousands of golf events over the years where someone creates something special at the end to come out on top. Tiger Woods, for instance, did it for years. More recently, we saw Bubba Watson hole a bunker shot at the last as he went on to win the HSBC Champions.
“It seems as though some bit of magic happens between the 16th and 18th. It’s creating something. I’ve done it myself enough times when my back has been against the wall. Whether it’s been at Q-School or when winning the couple of Challenge Tour events.
“It’s about trying to recreate that. Take Ian Poulter, for instance. His Ryder Cup record has been fantastic, but he’s never managed to show that same grit or determination to win a major.”
Like Poulter – Paul Lawrie, too, of course – Drysdale came through the PGA ranks as opposed to carving out a reputation as an amateur. Add Craig Lee and Chris Doak to that list among the eight Scots holding 2015 European Tour cards and it’s easy to see why there’s a growing belief that future funding should shift more towards PGA products than players coming through the SGU system.
“What makes a Tour player?” said Drysdale. “I’ve no idea, really, but Paul Lawrie was a five handicapper at 17 yet look at the fantastic career he’s had. I wasn’t any good at 16. Indeed, the last thing I was thinking about then was playing golf for a living. I was working for Derek Small in the pro shop at Dunbar and working for my old man (the family run a successful vegetable produce company in Berwickshire) in the winter.
“At that stage I was just starting to contemplate what to do with my life. Would I become a club pro? Should I get involved with my dad’s business? I was playing off two and at that stage I wasn’t going to be a standout at anything. It’s been a hard old grind for me. I’ve played at every level through from the Tartan Tour, EuroPro, Challenge Tour, everything. It’s taken me a long time to get out here.”
Jamie Donaldson, too, and, having gone from journeyman to Europe’s Ryder Cup match-winner over the past couple of seasons, the Welshman is the inspiration for the likes of Drysdale at the dawn of a new campaign. “I’ve played a lot of golf with Jamie over the years and he was always a good player,” he said. “Since winning the Irish Open a couple of years ago, he’s just gone from a good player to world class. He seems to be up there every week and in the top events, too. The shot he hit at the 15th at Gleneagles in the Ryder Cup summed up what he has achieved in the last couple of years and I definitely take inspiration from that.”
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