This tale is go­ing to be a Woosie

Welsh­man brings some class to char­ity event

The Star Early Edition - - SPORT - GRANT WIN­TER

IAN WOOS­NAM, golf’s mighty mid­get, re­turns this week­end to Sun City where 27 years ago he achieved one of the high­lights of his long and il­lus­tri­ous ca­reer by win­ning the “Mil­lion Dol­lar”, now known as the Ned­bank Golf Chal­lenge.

The 1.64m Welsh­man, who in spite of his short­ness of stature is able to smash the ball to king­dom come, is one of the star golfers play­ing in the char­ity-driven Gary Player In­vi­ta­tional on the Lost City course.

But it was on the ad­ja­cent Gary Player CC course in 1987 that he shot 274 over the four rounds to win golf’s rich­est pay­out at the time – the $1-mil­lion win­ner-take-all prize for what was only an eight-man line-up that year.

“Wee Woosie” hit one of the most mem­o­rable shots in the tour­na­ment’s his­tory, when at the par-4 17th in the fi­nal round, he holed his sec­ond shot with an eight-iron for an ea­gle two to dis­tance him­self from clos­est chal­lenger Nick Faldo.

Un­for­tu­nately, for TV view­ers, the only peo­ple who saw the ball go in the hole were the spec­ta­tors around the green, as they ob­scured the TV cam­eras’ view.

Only after re­peated cheers from the crowd did Woos­nam re­alise he had holed out.

Woos­nam has won 51 times around the world, in­clud­ing his only Ma­jor – the 1991 Masters. He played in eight con­sec­u­tive Ry­der Cups from 1983 to 1997 and in 2006 cap­tained the Euro­pean Team to vic­tory over the US.

To­day, at 56, he can still shoot the lights out and, player-wise, brings a good deal of qual­ity to the 36-hole GPI along­side fel­low Ma­jor cham­pion Padraig Har­ring­ton.

Woos­nam learnt the game on the Llan­mynech course (15 holes in Wales, three in Eng­land) on the bor­der be­tween the two coun­tries. He worked on the fam­ily farm after leav­ing school and cred­its his stocky but pow­er­ful physique to lifting heavy bales of hay. In the 2001 Open Cham­pi­onship, Woos­nam fin­ished third de­spite suf­fer­ing a two-stroke penalty for start­ing the fi­nal round with 15 clubs in his bag in­stead of the max­i­mum of 14.

While his cad­die, Miles Byrne, was re­spon­si­ble for this er­ror, Woosie sur­pris­ingly de­cided not to fire him stat­ing: “It is the big­gest mis­take he will make in his life.

“He won’t do it again. He’s a good cad­die. I am not go­ing to sack him. He’s a good lad.” Iron­i­cally, he did fire him soon af­ter­wards when Byrne ar­rived late for a tee-time.

As a teenager, Sandy Lyle – who was the same age – was a ri­val. “One day I’ll beat you,” Woos­nam said to Lyle after los­ing to him in the 1969 Here­ford Boys Cham­pi­onship. “You’ll have to grow a bit first, Woosie,” replied Lyle.

In 1987 the pair met in a bril­liant World Match Play fi­nal and Woos­nam gained his re­venge.

Re­mem­ber­ing their boy­hood match, Lyle said: “If Ian ever does grow up, he’ll hot the ball 2000 yards.”

The global GPI is about golf, but it’s al­ways about rais­ing money for char­ity as busi­ness­men and women and celebri­ties gather and put their hands in their pock­ets.

Over the years over R50-mil­lion has been raised in the South African edi­tion, and world­wide – the GPI goes to the US, Europe, China and Abu Dhabi – the fig­ure climbs to over R600-mil­lion.

This year two char­i­ties will ben­e­fit. Wings & Wishes is a NPO ded­i­cated to trans­port­ing crit­i­cally ill chil­dren, whose fam­i­lies do not have the means to do so, to places where they can re­ceive life-sav­ing treat­ment.

And the Wild­lands Con­ser­va­tion Trust is a cen­tre of ex­cel­lence whose vi­sion is to re­store and con­serve South Africa’s ecosys­tems through the de­vel­op­ment of in­no­va­tive so­cio-eco­nomic part­ner­ships.

PIC­TURE: GETTY IMAGES

UP AND AWAY: Rory McIlroy of North­ern Ire­land plays his third shot into the 18th green dur­ing the first round of the DP World Tour Cham­pi­onship at Jumeirah Golf Es­tates in Dubai.

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