Ian Woosnam on playing with Seve and Greg Norman and his life in golf

“Playing the Benson and Hedges at Fulford in 1982,” begins Ian Woosnam.
Ian Woosnam: In action at Ilkley GC this week.Ian Woosnam: In action at Ilkley GC this week.
Ian Woosnam: In action at Ilkley GC this week.

“That was the year I had eight birdies in a row and finished second to Greg Norman.

“I hadn’t won on tour by then. I’m playing alongside Greg, Pete Coleman is caddying for him and we’re playing the second hole.

“Greg’s ripped it down there, I’ve ripped it down there.

Winner: Europe Ryder Cup captain Ian Woosnam with the trophy at the K Club, Co Kildare in 2006. Picture: Rebecca Naden/PAWinner: Europe Ryder Cup captain Ian Woosnam with the trophy at the K Club, Co Kildare in 2006. Picture: Rebecca Naden/PA
Winner: Europe Ryder Cup captain Ian Woosnam with the trophy at the K Club, Co Kildare in 2006. Picture: Rebecca Naden/PA
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“We’re walking down the fairway, Greg’s in front, he comes to the first ball, walks another 30 yards on. Coleman puts the bag behind the first ball and says ‘he’ll learn’.

“Greg had to walk all the way back from the second ball with his head down. He said to Pete, ‘who’s this little sh*t?’”

It is a story that Woosnam has no doubt recounted numerous times, but some people in sport have earned the right to tell their stories.

As a winner of the Masters, a former world No 1, a winning Ryder Cup captain and a member of golf’s Hall of Fame, the 62-year-old from Oswestry in Wales has more than earned the right.

Ian Woosnam playing at Ilkley Golf Club this week (Picture: Welcome to Yorkshire)Ian Woosnam playing at Ilkley Golf Club this week (Picture: Welcome to Yorkshire)
Ian Woosnam playing at Ilkley Golf Club this week (Picture: Welcome to Yorkshire)
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He has hundreds more stories like it, each one of them captivating because of the personalities he was with.

“I remember playing at Sand Moor (in Leeds) in a tournament, playing alongside Seve,” Woosnam continues.

“Halfway round I’ve hit nine greens, I’ve had 17 putts and I’m one under par. Seve’s hit two greens, I’ve never seen him all the way around and he’s two under par.

“That was 1983, and for me learning about golf, it was not all about how you hit it, it’s about scoring.

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“Others might have looked at it differently, but I just looked at it and thought ‘I’m a better player than him, if I can chip and putt as well as him I’m a world-beater’. So that’s what I did, I learned how to chip and putt better.”

Woosnam would become a world-beater eight years later, taking his place at the top of golf’s world rankings and holding firm for the best part of a year.

“You play golf to be the best golfer in the world, and I got there, I was there for 50 weeks. That’s one of my biggest achievements,” he reflects.

“Obviously the Masters is my greatest win. Year-wise, I know ’91 was a great year but ’87 was a year which pitched me into the limelight.”

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He was blessed to be part of Europe’s ‘big five’ in the 1980s and early 1990s – Seve Ballesteros, Nick Faldo, Sandy Lyle, Bernhard Langer and Woosnam – each man playing his part in transforming European golf from the poorer relation to the United States into not only its equal, but on occasions through the Ryder Cup, its superior.

“I came up with Sandy, he was another player I looked up to,” says Woosnam, a veteran of eight Ryder Cups. “I knew how good Sandy was and he dragged me along with him.

“In that era if you think of how many tournaments we won between the five of us, we must have won 130 tournaments between us.

“It dragged you on. You were playing with them all the time.”

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Norman was another one, the laid-back Australian, who was the game’s dominant figure in the 1980s.

“Greg still won the tournament at Fulford,” says Woosnam, referring back to his first story.

“At the winner’s speech afterwards he said of me ‘this guy’s going to be a star’.

“I went and won the next week.

“Having someone like that, saying something like that about you, the respect of someone who can play the game as well as he could, boosted my confidence. It was the start of my run.”

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And what a run. Fifty-two wins worldwide over two decades, a level of consistency and dominance that ensures that 19 years after his last win on the circuit, he is still revered.

So much so, that when he puts his name to a seniors event in Ilkley as he did this week, people flock to support it, even in unprecedented times for society.

“I think you’re going to see a lot of these events, only bigger,” he tells The Yorkshire Post after playing in the pro-am of the Ian Woosnam Senior Golf Classic at Ilkley Golf Club.

“Hopefully, we can make this one in Yorkshire a permanent annual fixture.”

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Woosnam has enjoyed some success on the Champions Tour in America but grew frustrated at how long it took him to be accepted onto that tour, despite all he had achieved.

He is a home bird, after all, as proud of the European Tour as anyone.

“I couldn’t get into anything in America, I was so angry, I had to ask for invites,” he reflects. “I went over trained a little bit and won a tournament and that got me into the Hall of Fame.

“Ten years too late, so it was annoying really. But at the end of the day I love playing in Europe and love supporting Europe.

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“It’s not all about money. I like socialising and having a great time, going to different places in Europe and the world.”

Golf-course design takes up a lot of his time nowadays – “you’ve got to look at whether you’re making it to be a tournament venue, a resort or for club members” – and he still plays as often as he can.

He will not make it to Augusta in November for the rearranged Masters.

As a former champion he can play the tournament whenever he wants, as well as take part in the par-3 contest and take his place at the champion’s dinner.

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The coronavirus pandemic means he will stay at home in Jersey this year. He last took part in the Masters two years ago but missed the cut for the 10th year in succession.

“I’m just not fit enough,” he admits, almost apologetically. “I had my back operation, I could just walk around there, but I don’t want to just walk around Augusta.

“Hopefully, I’m back there next April.”

The US Open, which teed off in upstate New York on Thursday, is a topic of conversation.

“It’s bloody hard that course,” he says of Winged Foot, where he missed the cut at the 1997 US PGA.

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“All I can remember is it was too difficult. You watch golf now and you see these guys hitting out of the rough and they hit the green and it spins.

“Twenty-five years ago you just couldn’t do that. With the modern equipment the ball comes out quicker. You can hit down on it and it’ll pop up quicker, so that’s a big advantage.

“I did a lot better at the US Open than I did the PGA. I finished second at Oak Hill (1989), should have won really. I three-putted the 14th.”

One of many memories that comes flooding back on occasion.

“I tend not to dwell on things,” he says, taking a drink of his rhubarb spritzer with ice, a long way from the pint of Guinness he famously downed when celebrating captaining Europe to a convincing win over the United States in the 2006 Ryder Cup in Dublin.

Just one of the many stories Woosnam has to tell.

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