Interview: Sam Torrance on his golf career
TODAY, when he walks off the 18th green at the end of the Scottish Seniors Open, Sam Torrance will officially conclude his competitive life as a 50-something.
Next Saturday, the man who has played in a record number of European Tour events (706) and made more cuts than anyone (508) turns 60. For one of Scotland’s most recognisable and popular sportsmen, it is a landmark well worthy of commemoration.
Much has occurred in the 43 years since the “wee boy from Largs” turned professional. Armed with a swing honed by his father and lifelong coach, Bob, Torrance was European Tour Rookie of the Year in 1972, won 21 times on his home circuit and, most famously, distinguished himself as both a player (eight times) and a winning non-playing captain (2002) in the Ryder Cup. He didn’t slow down much during his sixth decade either. Three times Torrance topped the money-list on the European Senior Tour, the highlights being 11 tournament victories. His has been a career rich in achievement.
“Sam is a hugely significant figure on the European Seniors’ Tour,” says two-times Scottish Senior Open winner, Barry Lane. “It was so important that he played over here and didn’t go to the States. He’s a legend. It’s no exaggeration to say the tour was largely sold on his presence. Even now, it would come as no surprise to see him win out there.”
On that final front, Torrance is a little less confident than his friend. The most recent of those 11 wins came as long ago as 2009. As is invariably the case on what Lee Trevino christened the “round bellies tour”, the Scot’s ability to compete at the sharp end of tournaments is diminishing with age.
“My game isn’t as sharp as it used to be,” admits Torrance. “I’ve lost my edge and maybe a wee bit of drive. I still try just as hard but no part of my game works quite the same as it used to. It is true that almost everyone gets a five or six-year ‘window of opportunity’ in senior golf. But it goes by so quickly. So you have to make the most of it. Which I did.
“I tend to think of stupid things these days. ‘Don’t hit it there,’ comes up a lot in my head. The Irish tour pro Peter Lawrie once gave me a great answer to the everyday question, ‘how’s it going?’ ‘Too many don’ts and not enough dos,’ he replied. And that’s me nowadays.
“I also tend to get nervous, for whatever reason. I never used to. Maybe it isn’t quite nerves. But I’m definitely not as confident as I was. I’m not as good as I was. Nothing is as good as it was. Sometimes I do feel old in a golfing sense but I still feel like I can win out here. That’s why I’m still playing.”
He’s still around as more than a player too. Just last week, Torrance was appointed non-playing skipper of the Great Britain & Ireland side that will next month take on the Continent of Europe in the biennial Seve Trophy. And his commentary work – despite a sadly acrimonious departure from the BBC three years ago – continues through appearances on the “World Feed” that serves countries across the globe. Both are roles he is well qualified to fill.
“I approach commentary naturally,” he says. “I think of it as a chat with friends. I’m knowledgeable on the sport and I try to pass that along. I know how players are feeling in certain situations and what they are going through. I’m very enthusiastic, too. I love doing it. I don’t really have an overall philosophy though. But there are little things. I never talk while a player is hitting, for example.
“And yes, I’m delighted to be going back to captaincy at the Seve Trophy. It is very different to the Ryder Cup, though. I certainly didn’t think my next captaincy would be against the Europeans, put it that way. All ten players play all the time, so there is less for the captains to do, at least in decision-making. But I still have to make the pairings. I’m excited to be doing it. The big thing will be familiarising myself with the younger players.”
Another thing piquing the Torrance interest lately was the prospect – since denied by both sides – of the PGA Tour in the United States purchasing the European Tour and, with it, the Old World’s half share of the Ryder Cup. Perhaps surprisingly for one so steeped in both his home circuit and the biennial contest with the Americans, Torrance would be far from unhappy if this were actually to happen.
“It’s a tricky one, but I don’t see it as any kind of problem,” he says. “In fact, I see it as a huge plus. We are the Second Division to the PGA Tour’s Premiership. It’s always been that way and has never been in question. So I’d love to see a World Tour. I see only benefits in that. There would be more big events, more sponsors. I’m not saying better organisation, but that is also a possibility. One thing I would like to see is the introduction of a pension fund, one that could then be backdated 43 years. That would be very nice!
“I’m not an expert when it comes to business but, if someone wants to buy something, then that product presumably has to be good. And we have a good product, one the Americans can maybe make even better. Perhaps we are vulnerable in a business sense, but we’re talking about a tour staging 40-odd events. That’s not vulnerable in that it is in danger of disappearing. So maybe it is time to see what the Americans can do. They have been very successful. [PGA commissioner] Tim Finchem has been incredible. He’s made a lot of guys rich.”
Torrance is wealthy in ways other than financial, of course. Happily married to Suzanne, he has three healthy children and a close relationship with his parents. His father may have been the biggest influence on his career but his mother remains his greatest fan.
“I’m more like my dad,” he says. “My mother is a worrier. So was her mother. She worries about everything. Early in my marriage to Suzanne she told me, ‘worry is the interest you pay on the inevitable’. But she is still my biggest supporter. I had to laugh at the British Senior Open last month. She thought the scoring was wrong. I was playing so badly she thought it had to be a mistake. Unfortunately, it wasn’t.”
So, while he may not be making as many putts as he used to – or winning quite so regularly – life for Sam Torrance is just grand, thank you very much.
“I’m way under par for my career,” he claims. “I’m just a wee boy from Largs at the end of the day. I’ve had a fantastic 43 years. Yes, I could have done more. Yes, I could have done less. But for me, it has been great from start to finish. I have nothing to complain about. It’s been wonderful.”