Peter O’Malley’s amazing finish at Gleneagles defined his career and is unlikely to be emulated
IN THE long history of competitive golf at the highest level, it stands out as perhaps the most spectacular finish ever. The record book baldly states that Peter O’Malley shot 262, 18-under par, at Gleneagles to win the 1992 Scottish Open by two shots from Colin Montgomerie. Nick Faldo, who would win his third Open Championship a week later, tied for third. And two Masters winners, Bernhard Langer and Ian Woosnam, also finished in the top ten. So the Aussie known as “Pom” saw off a strong field to claim the £100,000 first prize.
“The numbers speak for themselves,” says former Presidents Cup player Greg Turner. “But for me the most impressive part of it all is who he beat. That was special for a young guy who had only been on tour a relatively short time.”
Ah, but it was how O’Malley beat them all that resonates still. Even now, 23 years on, it is hard to believe just what he did. Over the last five holes of the fourth and final round over the Kings course, the amiable Australian was seven under par. Yes, seven. Eagle. Birdie. Birdie. Birdie. Eagle.
“I can’t remember what I was thinking standing on the 14th tee, but I’m sure it would have been something related to winning one of the five spots available in the Open,” says O’Malley, who today in Switzerland will play the final round of his first tournament as a senior golfer. “There was a bit of a delay. I hit a good drive on to the green and Faldo was in a bunker. I got a break when he came out to maybe a foot outside me on the same line. So I got a good ‘teach’ on my putt. I can still remember the roar I got when I holed it. The noise was incredible. I was shaking on the way to the next tee.
“The drive at 15 was the worst shot I hit all day. But I hit it far enough right that I was on the spectators’ walkway. That was a big break. But it wasn’t until I made two at the 16th that I thought I could win. Although I was really pumped up, that was the first time I had felt adrenaline and been able to control it.
People forget that I won by two shots. I didn’t actually have to hole that putt at the last
“The drive on 18 was awkward for me. But I flew it right over the hill. Faldo couldn’t do it. He wasn’t that long off the tee for such a big man. I then hit a 6-iron to the back edge of the green. I struck the putt a little too hard, but it hit the back of the hole, jumped up and went in.”
A couple of hours later, O’Malley and girlfriend (now wife) Jill were back at the front door of the Gleneagles Hotel. Due to pre-qualify for the Open at North Berwick the following day, he had checked out that morning.
“They were very nice and gave us a suite at the same room rate I had paid for the previous nights,” says O’Malley with a smile. “We had dinner with a group of friends. Rodger Davis was there. So was Craig Parry. And Greg [Turner] came back to help us celebrate. I spent more on dinner than I had for everything else that week.
“The next day we checked into a B&B at North Berwick. When we went to a local pub for something to eat, everyone in there knew me. I’ll never forget that. It really brought it home to me what a big deal golf is in Scotland.
“But what happened that day will be in the first paragraph of my obituary. It gets mentioned almost every time someone writes about me. It was something I’m not sure anyone else has ever done to quite that extent. It hit me the next day. In the moment, I was just hitting shots. But people forget that I won by two shots. I didn’t actually have to hole that putt at the last.”
Still, for those familiar with O’Malley’s metronomic long game, such a scenario was far from typical. Over those last five holes, the straightest and most accurate hitter on tour holed 85 feet of putts. It was shocking stuff, especially from the former Australian junior champion. Let’s just say wielding the shortest club in his bag has never been the strongest part of O’Malley’s otherwise admirable game.
Indeed, it is hardly to the credit of golf at the highest level that those with O’Malley’s attributes have been so marginalised by the “advances” in equipment technology. While the ability to hit long drives should bring with it an advantage, that edge is now so disproportional it virtually eliminates all but the chosen few.
By way of example, O’Malley cites the 2002 US Open at Bethpage Black as a course where he had no chance to make the cut, never mind win the tournament.
“I was first off the tenth tee on the Thursday morning,” he says. “But I couldn’t reach the fairway. I wasn’t alone in that and it was the same at the 12th. I wasn’t so much angry as perplexed at how stupid it all was.
“I remember [former USPGA champion] Wayne Grady asking a USGA official if they were going to move the tees forward. I’ll never forget his reply: ‘Where in the rulebook does it say you have to be able to reach the fairway?’ I didn’t say this to the guy, but I said it to Wayne: ‘Where in the rulebook does it say you have to have a brain to be a rules official?’”
Still, senior golf is different. How the newly-minted 50-year old Australian does on the “round bellies” tour remains to be seen – he hasn’t played anything like full-time since leaving the European Tour at the end of 2011 – but chances are his more traditional brand of golf will fare pretty well in an environment where length off the tee is not the biggest factor in the battle between success and mediocrity.
At the end of this year, O’Malley will attempt to qualify for the Champions Tour in the United States. That won’t be easy – he failed by one shot to get his PGA Tour card at the end of 1997 – but the next couple of months will tell him much about how competitive he can be amongst his direct contemporaries.
Whatever happens though, O’Malley is reasonably content with his lot. He won a few tournaments. He beat Tiger Woods in the World Match Play Championship – “Tiger putted like Pom and Pom putted like Tiger,” joked former European Tour player Mike Clayton. And he is happy living with his wife on her family farm two hours south–west of Sydney.
“I’m alright with what I’ve achieved,” he says. “I’m a little short on wins. I could have done better in that respect. The one disappointment I have is that I never got to play in the Masters. I spent a long time between 60 and 75 on the world rankings. But I never cracked the top-50.”
No matter, the memory of Gleneagles in 1992 will surely live forever. Seven-under par for five holes – astonishing.