The Daily Telegraph - Business

‘I en­joyed a front-row seat at the wildest fin­ish in ma­jor his­tory’

Hum­ble for­mer pro Ken­neth Fer­rie re­mem­bers his flir­ta­tion with celebrity at Winged Foot’s 2006 US Open with pride

- By James Cor­ri­gan GOLF COR­RE­SPON­DENT Sports Il­lus­trated. Sports Il­lus­trated Sports · Golf · United States of America · US Open · Phil Mickelson · Jim Furyk · Ashington · Shaquille O'Neal · PGA European Tour · New York City · Tiger Woods · England · North East, NY · Jean Van de Velde · Colin Montgomerie · Padraig Harrington · Nick Faldo · Ernie Els · Northumberland, NY · Kenneth Ferrie

Never have so many play­ers blown it. To mark the US Open of 2006, Winged Foot de­cided to stage a vast Jean van de Velde trib­ute act, with Doug Sanders as the sup­port.

Phil Mick­el­son took a dou­ble­bo­gey six down the last when a par would have se­cured him the ma­jor he craved above any other. Colin Mont­gomerie made the same score on that 18th when he seemed cer­tain to achieve the sta­tus his ca­reer de­served. Jim Furyk yanked a four­footer to miss out by one. Padraig Har­ring­ton fin­ished with three straight bo­geys to fall short by two.

The par­tic­i­pants at this week’s US Open will be well aware of the venue’s rep­u­ta­tion. They called the 1974 US Open “The Mas­sacre of Winged Foot” and while 32 years on the billing was not so hy­per­bolic, the mas­cara was still run­ning down so many faces at Winged Foot. It was the most dra­matic hour of any male ma­jor this cen­tury, with Ge­off Ogilvy the last vic­tim left stand­ing.

Ex­cept it was not the Aus­tralian cham­pion who, eight months on, had left the big­gest im­pres­sion in the of­fices of It was not “Phil the Spill” or “Mad Monty” (who fa­mously ended up in a barg­ing match with a state trooper be­hind the fi­nal green). It was not Har­ring­ton, the great Ir­ish hero, or blue-col­lar Jim, the trades­man’s torch­bearer.

It was Ken­neth Fer­rie from Ash­ing­ton, 12 miles north of New­cas­tle.

“The call came out the blue,” Fer­rie says. “Com­ing sixth in that US Open got me into Au­gusta, and they had me do­ing all gim­micky things, like hold­ing up aza­leas, and that re­ally isn’t me.

“I thought it went ter­ri­bly, but they rang up and said, ‘The edi­tor loves it, you’ve got the cover!’. I was like, ‘Erm, yeah, great’ – didn’t re­ally know what a big thing it was. They then told me that Tony Jack­lin and Nick Faldo were the only other English golfers who’d ever been on the cover.”

The tag-line was “Re­mem­ber Superman?”, and soon Fer­rie found him­self in Au­gusta restau­rants sign­ing cov­ers by the dozen. “I’d been wear­ing a Superman buckle on my belt for a while and had got a few com­ments in Europe, but noth­ing like I was to in Amer­ica. I was 26, had won a few tour­na­ments, beat­ing Thomas [Bjorn] in the Euro­pean Open and had fin­ished 11th in the Euro­pean Tour or­der of merit, so I was es­tab­lished.

“But to Amer­i­cans, of course, I was just this huge no­body wear­ing the big S and they took to me. The New York­ers love an un­der­dog, es­pe­cially one who didn’t fit the iden­tikit for a pro.”

At that point the weight was, in fact, fall­ing off this son of a din­ner lady. Fer­rie es­ti­mates he was 20st when he won the Span­ish Open in 2003 and 18st when he hum­bled Bjorn the pre­vi­ous July. Even­tu­ally he slimmed down to 14st, but the mashed potato mer­chants were not fret­ting about any diet.

Cover story: Ken­neth Fer­rie was the un­likely front page star of

“They looked at me as one of them. It was funny, be­cause ev­ery day I’d come off the course p----d off at what I’d shot – 71, 70, 71 … Yet each time, I’d look at the leader­board and see I was right up there.”

By the Satur­day night, Fer­rie was shar­ing top spot with Mick­el­son.

“I was chuffed I’d got into the fi­nal group. I was paired with Ge­off, a great guy, in that third round and he glanced at me, then at the score­board and said, ‘Last group with Phil in New York? Good luck with that!’.”

New York adores Mick­el­son any­way, but with three US Open run­ner-up fin­ishes al­ready be­hind him (he now pos­sesses six) and with the 2005 USPGA and 2006 Mas­ters ti­tles gleam­ing on his mantle­piece, the adu­la­tion was ab­so­lute.

“Phil was on for a tre­ble and I was a bit wary the crowd would get lairy. But they were bril­liant. It didn’t hap­pen for me over that first 11 holes, I dropped a cou­ple with­out do­ing too much wrong and, by the last few holes, was out of it.

“At least I had a ring­side seat and the at­mos­phere was in­cred­i­ble. There was this huge cheer when Ge­off, in the group ahead, chipped in from the back of the 17th and then the fans told us that Monty had made his six on the last from the mid­dle of the fair­way. So we knew, on the last tee, that Phil had par to win.

“You try to keep out of the way at that point and I just con­cen­trated on my­self – I made a four on the 18th that day and could have sold that for a right few quid – but it was ob­vi­ous that Phil was thrash­ing around in the trees.

“Peo­ple ask me what I said to him when we shook hands. I said nowt. What could I, a no­body, say to him? That was his life’s am­bi­tion. Ev­ery one re­mem­bers Phil say­ing after­wards, ‘How stupid am I?’ and he was plainly dev­as­tated, but I’ll tell you the class of the man.

“When I went into the locker room he was sign­ing au­to­graphs and when I came out 45 min­utes later he was still sign­ing. And he was the only one of three run­ner­sup who agreed to go to the prize­giv­ing. I saw him a few times in the years af­ter and we’d al­ways have a good chat. Not about that 18th, though.”

By then Fer­rie’s ca­reer was on the slide. He ad­mits to a cer­tain amount of re­sent­ment at his treat­ment by the Euro­pean me­dia.

“Some of the TV guys pulled me up that week for get­ting an­noyed with my­self on the course, in­stead of see­ing this young player com­ing sixth in his first US ma­jor as a pos­i­tive. I thought I was treated dif­fer­ently be­cause I was dif­fer­ent.”

There was a brief dal­liance on the PGA Tour and a no­table come­back tri­umph at the 2011 Aus­trian Open, but he recog­nised his peak had long past. “To be hon­est, I fell out of love with the game. For a few years there I was travers­ing the globe, pick­ing up big cheques, play­ing with peo­ple like Tiger [Woods], Phil and Ernie [Els]. And then you strug­gle, worry about keep­ing your card and it be­comes a self-ful­fill­ing prophecy.”

Fer­rie still tees it up in the oc­ca­sional lo­cal event but has not played on the Euro­pean Tour in four years. He is in­volved in course de­sign and is often found at Mat­fen Hall, the stun­ning golf set­ting in Northum­ber­land where his wife Lisa, a for­mer Eng­land am­a­teur, is the di­rec­tor of golf. At 40, Fer­rie’s love for the game has re­turned, but now the phys­i­cal side is the prob­lem

“I’ve been di­ag­nosed with a pro­lapsed disc in my neck and the sur­geon said, ‘You can have an op­er­a­tion, but if it goes wrong, you could end up a quad­ri­plegic’. Well, b------s to that. I’m happy with how my ca­reer went, haven’t any re­grets and when I watch this US Open at Winged Foot, I won’t be sat there think­ing what could have been. I’ll be say­ing to my­self, ‘I’m just a dumb bloke from a small min­ing town in the North East. All that was not meant to hap­pen to me’. I’m proud, not bit­ter.”

What could I, a no­body, say to some­one like Phil Mick­el­son. That was his life’s am­bi­tion gone

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