The conquerer of Tiger Woods, top amateur Gary Wolstenholme talks about his life in golf and the decision to turn pro at 47 (From The Westmorland Gazette)
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The conquerer of Tiger Woods, top amateur Gary Wolstenholme talks about his life in golf and the decision to turn pro at 47
IT is often suggested life begins at 50 although very few sporting figures embark upon a professional career with such a milestone looming large.
However, eyebrows have been raised on more than one occasion during the life and times of golfer Gary Wolstenholme, including the time he inflicted defeat on Tiger Woods in head-to-head match play.
After a long and distinguished amateur career, Wolstenholme joined golf’s professional ranks in September 2008 at the ripe old age of 47 having compiled a CV that few can rival.
With six Walker Cup competitions under his belt, England’s most capped player is the Great Britain and Ireland side’s all-time points leader having surpassed Sir Michael Bonallack’s record.
The 53-year-old’s back catalogue of major tournaments includes the Masters, the US Open and the Open Championship while his silverware collection contains two Amateur Championships.
But despite an illustrious golfing heritage, Wolstenholme – awarded the MBE in 2007 for services to sport – is clear on his main success in the game to date.
“Winning the World Team Championship while representing Great Britian and Ireland in Chile in 1998 probably rates as my greatest achievement,” he said.
“Luke Donald was part of the four-man team which won the Eisenhower Trophy and my contribution was significant with all four of my scores counting.
“I had a 67 on the last day which was the best score from anyone in the leading groups which helped us beat Australia by two shots.
“Players of the calibre of Henrik Stenson, Sergio Garcia and Peter Hanson, real names of the game, were all playing in that championship.
“So for me to shoot a score like that under pressure when my team needed me was probably my crowning glory.”
Another highlight came in 1995 when Wolstenholme beat Woods, a future world number one and someone who would leave an indellible mark on the world of golf for years to come.
The rising star was at the top of the amateur tree at the time and set to turn professional when he came up against 35-year-old Wolstenholme at the Walker Cup in Porthcawl.
Within 18 months, the American would win the Masters by 12 shots but the then 19-year-old was no match for a man nearly twice his age.
“I will always look back on my first Walker Cup appearance in the mid-nineties when I played Tiger in the opening day singles and beat him,” he added.
“It helped the team win which was a rarity at the time but fortunately for me I was selected six times to play for Great Britain and Ireland against the United States.
“I ended up on the winning team four times which is a record in itself but this in many ways was a peripheral achievement.
“I’ve always said I would have loved to represent Great Britain at an Olympic Games so to win the World Championship and have a gold medal around my neck was special.
“The world’s best amateur golfers surrounded me while the national anthem was playing and the Union Jack was raised.”
Wolstenholme finished third on his European Seniors Tour debut, the Travis Perkins Masters at Woburn, but bettered that performance in his second outing.
He tasted victory at the 2010 Casa Serena Open and has since won the 2012 Mallorca Senior Open and the 2012 Benahavis Senior Masters.
And despite seeing many of his opponents in the amateur game attain success in the professional arena, Wolstenholme is philosophical about his own pathway into the full-time game.
“The temptation to turn pro earlier was always there but the opportunity never really presented itself as I was never good enough while young enough,” he said.
“By the time I felt I was at the right level I was into my thirties which is far too late to consider turning professional.
“Plus of course I didn’t have the finances to realistically have a go and I was never the home-grown boy come good.
“Having lived in different places I was often the interloper, beating the local hero and in some respects that never made me hugely popular, which of course affects potential sponsorship.
“As I have continued to play, I’ve seen the players who were part of those Walker Cups and international matches win major championships and head world rankings.
“But I’ve been fortunate to compete with and against some of the best present day players in the world, the likes of Graeme McDowell, Paul Casey and Rory McIlroy to name a few.
“And I have made my mark on the world, set records and achieved things which will be very difficult to beat in the future and could stand forever.”
Born in the Home Counties, Wolstenholme was raised in Grange over Sands, returning to the area from Leicestershire in 2008 and playing for Cumbria in the Northern Counties League.
An affiliate member of Kendal’s Carus Green Golf Club, Wolstenhome – who has 14 career hole-in-ones – heads to Rockliffe Hall this week for the next stage of the European Seniors Tour Order of Merit.
Despite another successful season, it has not been plain sailing for Wolstenholme this year and he is reluctant to talk up his chances as a result.
“I always look forward to competing but sadly I’ve had all sorts of setbacks this year which means I haven’t been playing as well as I would like,” he added.
“The driver I have been using for the last three years for instance broke and I’m really struggling to find an alternative.
“Expectations are low and I don’t foresee great things this week if I’m honest because of the knock on effects of those setbacks.
“But all pros have to go through periods like this. It’s normal and I very much hope I will be competing properly again in the not too distant future.”
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