A number of years ago I started writing down my recollections of my life in golf.

Whilst laid out in book form there is no real desire to write the book in it's entirety, more just something my kids can have one day.

I thought I would share the chapter about my early life in golf. Everyone has a start in their chosen career. Here's mine... Enjoy.

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I was recently looking at my first baby book that my mother had saved. She had penned some happenings from my early childhood. Besides the hair clipping and the family tree history I was interested to note that I received a set of clubs (probably only 2 plastic ones) for a gift for my first birthday. So I was no Tiger Woods at such an early age but I guess I was swinging a golf club much earlier than I could ever remember doing so.

It’s hard to believe that I have been travelling the world playing professional golf for a living for half my life. It only seems like yesterday that I was a participant in the 1982 Victorian Open being the youngest player to ever tee off in a major Australian PGA event on my 15th birthday. That was my first big taste of golf on a stage and I wanted to do nothing else since that February 1982 date.

Up until that point I always envisioned myself as an Australian Rules football player. That was my sport growing up in Melbourne Australia. I loved football. I played it almost every day since I could walk. In fact I learned to kick a football when I was just 11 months of age. I played three games a week at one stage. For my school St Bedes on a Wednesday. For Edithvale Aspendale under 19’s on a Saturday afternoon even though I was only 14 years of age. And then on Sunday for Edithvale Aspendale under 14’s my regular age group. Throw in a few nights training each week and I easily amassed the equivalent of running well over a marathon each and every week for close to 5 months of each year . That’s a lot of running. You really have to enjoy something to do such a thing.

When I was sixteen I managed to perform well enough in trial matches to be selected for the Victorian Under 21 golf team. That was great. Being a part of a team for golf just like I had been part of a team for football. However the individuality of golf won me over. I like being able to be solely responsible for the outcome. In football you had 17 other teammates at one given time who could make you look good or make you look bad. Golf was just you. You were the one who the outcome depended upon and that won me over in the end.

I liked the idea of practicing golf. In fact as time wore on even though I was still playing football I would quite often skip football practice and go play 9 holes at night instead. I still remember walking along the 8th fairway at Rossdale GC in suburban Aspendale and waving at my football teammates who were running football drills on the adjacent field as I was chasing a little white ball along the hole.

I grew up in the Melbourne Football Club zone, meaning that would be the team I would play for if I pursued a football career because of the area I lived in. It came to a crossroads when I was 16 years old. Decision time. Football or golf. It was too difficult and time consuming to put 100% effort into both pursuits. I clearly remember the Melbourne Football Club officials coming to my parents home to discuss my football future. They had decided that I was a good enough football player to pursue a league career. And they were right. I was definitely a better footballer than a golfer. However like I said the individual aspect of golf was slowly winning me over. Not to mention the fact that all the other footballers were getting bigger than I was. Also to consider was I was the best player on my successful team. The opposition realized the best opportunity they had to beat our team that day was to take me out of the equation. So they decided I would be their focus and not the football. Each week I was getting buried and hurt and it was starting to get old. The sweet quiet confines of a golf course seemed more and more appealing each day for that reason alone. So the Melbourne Football Club officials came to my house and tried to persuade me to stick at football and sign on as a member of the Melbourne Football Club. It was a big decision and I discussed it with my father for quite some time. In the end we all came to a compromise. I would still play football for now in the minor league teams however my main focus was going to be golf. They understood that and said that they would still like to officially sign me as a football player for the Melbourne FC just so if in the future I had a change of focus and decided I did in fact want to pursue football full time that I would be tied to them and no other team or club would then be able to make me an offer to play for them. The deal was done. So that was the extent of my football career. I was signed to play in the big leagues but never actually pursued it.

Golf was always a part of my family growing up. I vividly remember playing golf in my grandmother’s backyard in Mentone where my mother grew up. There were 4 or 5 old tin cans as holes cut into the not so smooth perfect grass and my uncles and sometimes I myself would whack balls around and then putt into the tomato cans that were planted in her yard. My grandfather (my father’s father) played most weekend’s and in fact won a division of his Club Championship on one occasion. Albeit, the C Grade Championship for player’s with a handicap of 21 or higher. My own father didn’t play much at all so there was no real pedigree for success flowing from my relatives veins. However once my father saw that I was interested in the game he took it up more feverishly and joined Rossdale as a member when I did when I reached the appropriate joining age of 12 in 1979. My father says he only joined to keep on eye on me and make sure I wasn’t throwing clubs and swearing but he was a natural sportsmen and played a decent game of golf. He still jokes at me that he won a monthly medal for best nett score at our club one Saturday and I never did!!!

Luckily for me most sports came naturally . Sport is a great outlet for young children. The comradeship of team sports. The passion required to pursue an individual sport. The patience needed to test and apply aspects to farther improve yourself are all associated with sport. Just like a baby learns to walk through trial and error so too does a youngster attempting different techniques to make themselves more proficient at a sport. Golf could well be the ultimate. There is definitely no other sport that intertwines so many complex actions into one game. Co-ordination, balance, agility, strength, fitness, patience, concentration, anger, frustration, jubilation. So many emotions and abilities affected by one game. When you really think of it the ability for anyone of any age to record a hole-in-one is amazing. To connect a moving club to a stationary ball at 100 miles per hour with the perfect force and direction and strength to travel 200 yards through the wind onto an uneven surface and fall into the 6 inch hole is nothing short of incredible. I firmly believe that the best time a person could attempt to learn golf and start a consistent learning curve is in their early teenage years. Things are learnt and forgotten through trial and error and our capacity to learn and forget is much stronger at such an age. There are not very many documented cases of successful professional golfers picking up a golf club at an age of 21 or more for the first time. As our age advances our capacity to learn deteriorates due to the many situations that our life presents us. We remember too many bad occurrences and have a hard time dispelling them as we mature.

Besides smacking a ball around my grandmother’s backyard my first attempt at an actual golf course was when I was 10 years of age. One of my football friends received some clubs for Christmas and asked if I wanted to go to the local Edithvale Public Golf Course with him to play some holes. Edithvale was a great learning ground for me. Mainly all par 3 holes with a few shorter par 4 holes. Par 31 for the entire 9 holes that now when I see it when I have driven by looks like it is only slightly bigger than the football field I used to run around. My start was inauspicious to say the least. With rented clubs I believe I shot approximately 62 for those 9 holes. A normal person would immediately see that shooting double par on every hole wasn’t a great achievement. Even though I do not remember one shot from that day in 1977 I must have hit a few good shots to allow myself to come back for more. So my life journey began right there and then.

The first golf event I ever went to see was a few months later. It so happened that the 1977 Australian Amateur Championships was being held at Victoria Golf Club just a 15 minute drive from my parents home. My father dropped me off early in the morning on his way to work and I walked all day long watching the head to head matchplay. I believe it was semi final day. I watched with interest as Tony Gresham, Randall Hicks, and Chris Bonython battled out that day. I had never heard of any of those players and thought they were God’s the way they maneuvered that little white ball around the tight fairways and onto the slick greens and eventually into the hole. Night time came and my Dad picked me up again on his way back from work. He could tell I loved it just by the way I was talking about what I saw that day. So very soon after I was presented with my very own half set of clubs. They were a little mismatched in lofts and variety but I thought I was a superstar now that I owned my own clubs, albeit only 7 clubs. I would now ride my bike to Edithvale GC approximately a mile and a half from my front door with my golf clubs in tow. One hand on the handlebar and the other pulling my golf cart and bag of clubs behind me to the right and rear of my back tire. That in itself was a difficult act but I was hooked and that was my fastest and best way to get to the course as soon as possible and play as many holes as daylight would allow.

My parents were fantastic through this stage. We never had a lot but my sister and I had whatever we needed. They would either make me a lunch or give me a dollar or so each day so I wouldn’t go hungry as I trudged the fairways. I was lucky enough to get to know the starter and green fee collector so well from being there every day that I became a sort of honorary member at my little 9 hole course. They allowed me to play free almost every time after a certain point and that made things easier. It allowed me to play more frequently and I could not have asked for anything better. My father also signed me up for a few lessons. Rossdale Golf Club was directly at the end of our street if you jumped the fence however the clubhouse entrance was about a mile ride on my bike again with clubs and cart dragging behind me. Laurie McConnell was the head professional and although he didn’t play often he had a beautiful swing and tempo. The only problem was he played left handed so that was hard to imitate but nonetheless he taught me the correct grip, posture and stance and I was on my way. Up until then even though I had a natural idea at playing I basically just smacked the ball around with a strong left hand grip and just chased it to where it ended up and then went through the entire process again. Those lessons were invaluable. Like I said being young and carefree allows you to learn more and learn faster. That was the perfect time for me to learn the basic fundamentals of the game of golf. 12 years old and wide eyed and a sponge for information.

12 years of age was also the time I could officially join as a junior member. I signed up and had other members nominate me and I received my Rossdale GC bag tag to show I was a fully paid member. It still amazes me that I was allowed to play golf each and every weekday and also Saturday and Sunday mornings for the grand sum of $120 for the entire year!!!! Did I ever make the most of that when the time was right. I didn’t really play a lot when I first joined due to schoolwork and my football games, but come school holidays you would’ve had to literally drag me off the course. I would get to the course right after daybreak and walk around swatting at my Spalding Hot Dot until the sun went down at night. I vividly remember sometimes playing 54 holes in one day!! And on many an occasion mind you. I didn’t care who was around and most of the holes were played in isolation. Just myself, the course and my clubs. My parents could relax throughout the day knowing I was safe and sound strolling around the acres of grass and bunkers. They knew where I was and that no real danger could come of me while I was playing golf. Now it was time to get an official handicap so I could start competing in the club’s weekly events. To do so required playing with full members on a weekend. I had to play 6 entire full rounds in their presence and hand the scorecards in to the committee and they would average out my scores and allot me a handicap according to my scores submitted. I must say I felt pretty good however the scorecard lied about that. An average score of over 100 didn’t really show that I had an ability to play golf for a living in my future, but nonetheless it wasn’t too bad for a 12 year old kid on a golf course that had staged 2 Australian PGA Championships in the early 1960’s. Not a tough course but it had narrow fairways, and small greens as targets that normally rolled quite fast, meaning you had to be precise and have a good feel around the greens. I was awarded a 29 handicap and that gave me plenty of reason to work hard and see how low I could reduce that handicap as quickly as possible.

It was also in 1979 that I met my idol for the very first time. My father had dropped me off at Kingston Heath Golf Club in suburban Melbourne so I could go watch the professionals prepare for the Victorian Open Championship which was a high scale event at that period. I had never seen golf professionals play a tournament live and I walked away memorized. As luck would have it the very first golfer I saw when I walked through the gate was a big blond haired man. 24 years of age at the time dressed in skin tight clothes with the biggest Wilson golf bag I had ever seen. His name was Greg Norman. At that point he was no-one to me but by days end he was the very reason I decided I wanted to make a living from playing golf. It is hard to fathom that his gallery for that practice round that day totaled one…ME. There I was. A little 12 year old boy walking right next to this goliath of a man who would soon after dominate world golf for years to come. There were no gallery ropes to hold the people back. I could walk right next to him and his caddie at the time, Scotty Gilmore and match my step stride for stride and get an up close and personal view of golf at it’s very best. I got to talk a little with him even though I was frightened to death to intrude too much as I didn’t want to interrupt the job he was trying to perform. I was floating that day and when my father picked me up again on his way home I told him unashamedly that I had just seen the greatest golfer ever. I was in awe of his posture over the ball. The way he would hover his clubhead above the back of the ball. The slow long wide takeaway and the aggressive smack at impact. The sight of that ball screeching off the persimmon wood at a height of no more than 20 feet in the air for what seemed like 200 yards cannot be described. And then that ball would make a hissing noise and start an upwards climb towards the clouds and drop down on the closely mown fairway 300 yards from where it originated. All this with a persimmon head barely larger than the golf ball itself. That was something I had never seen before and somehow wanted to emulate. To have control of the ball like that, making it do what I willed it to do. That was what I wanted more than anything.

I had now seen golf at it’s very best, and wanted more. I read every golf magazine I could get my hands on. I watched as much golf as I could on television so I could mimic the people I was watching. I saved some money and bought myself clothes that only the pros would wear. I made my own putting course in the backyard of my parents house and would putt and chip around the big gum tree positioned in the middle of the yard. I had 6 holes which even included a par 3 because of the severe dogleg I designed around the tree. I used the tool shed as my own clubhouse even putting up an honor board listing myself as the Club Champion and listing each hole in one I had made on my makeshift course. I guess it was a great test of concentration and perseverance to putt around that unkempt rough grass and get that ball to finish up in a John West sardine can. Being the only member it wasn’t hard to be my own “Club Champion” but I would work on my personal best each time around and putt for hours around those 6 holes honing my putting skills. Putting on greens that could only be best described as worse than today’s fairways I putted and putted and holed out and worked my way around and around that miniature course. My one and only attempt at golf course design to date and certainly a course that is not listed in the 100 best courses to play before you die. It was however mine and a great training ground. The uneven turf of my putting course made me work on feel and imagination rather than a technique. I had to find a way to will that ball into the hole. It didn’t matter much to me how I looked doing such a thing as long as my goal of fewest strokes possible was achieved. A terrific lesson to be learned just from that sentence there. A sentence that has been repeated over and over throughout the years in another form….. “It’s not how…It’s how many”. Something that has been lost in today’s technology and instruction ideals. Too often today people look at golf as a science and must do this and a must do that to get results. In hindsight all we really have to do is look back at the ‘swings’or ‘strokes’of all the greatest golfers ever and you will pretty much get an understanding that no two swings of the greats are similar. They all look different in some regard and the fact that has been sadly lost is the greats worked out their own style or flair to playing the game. They had no computer screens working them into positions. They practiced. They trialed. They worked it out how to deliver that club back into impact that gave them the desired results. Results that far exceeded a swing made by a computer with lines or supposed positions all stamped over it. It cannot be lost that the greats of the game although looking different in some regard all were in prime impact position… they all had the moment of truth pegged no matter how ungainly or ‘incorrect’ their swings seem to appear.

I myself mimicked Greg Norman’s swing. I worked on the long wide takeaway. This allowed me to load the club severely into a downswing position with tremendous lag and then I sped up and whipped that club through and up into a furious follow through, even getting the right foot drag that made Norman’s swing so distinctive from others of his era. I worked it. I copied it. I felt it. I watched the ball’s flight. I had the vision of Norman’s shots in my head and a swung away…swing after swing…shot after shot….until I saw the same flight his ball had that was tattooed in my brain from watching him play. The low boring flight. The hissing and rising of the ball up into the sky. The immense distance that it traveled. Even the sound the ball made. The absolute compression of that ball against clubface. The sound of a gun going off when persimmon struck balata. It was an awesome feeling. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. No photographs of my swing. No slow motion snaps. Nothing to compare the look to. Just an inner body experience and internal feeling that I was creating a golf swing based on what I thought Greg Norman did….and the results were incredible.

Summer holidays had started and the Rossdale Golf Club announced they would hold a series of junior events over the summer break. An 18 hole event each Friday morning for the juniors to compete in. I was nervous but excited to go play. New friends were made. A handshake hello and we were off the first tee in a flash and my journey had begun.

I was still holding close to my original 29 handicap as I had not played much golf at that stage. All I had to fall back on was my practice on the range and a few quick 9 holes at night after school. And of course my back yard putting prowess on my own championship 6 hole putting course.

Rossdale Golf Club in 1979 was an outstanding layout. Tight tree lined holes where the emphasis was on hitting fairways or you were in trouble with nigh impossible recovery opportunities. A missed fairway often meant a lost ball. If you could find your ball the next shot would have to be some low hooking or slicing shot under tree limbs in a run up fashion between well placed bunkers to greens that were not much larger than a coffee table. Although the course was not overly long in length it brings on a different perspective if you picture yourself as a 12 year old staring down each hole you will no doubt feel the gargantuan task ahead that each hole promised to a little boy’s eye. Demanding to say the least.

The Australian PGA when it was a matchplay format had been held at Rossdale in 1961 and 1962 and produced two outstanding winners in Alan Murray and the little dynamo Billy Dunk. Dunk was a master craftsman at navigating his way around a golf course and was a prolific tournament winner and still holds many course records even to this day. His praise of the course was evident after his victory when he stated …” I wish I could roll these greens up and take them home with me”. An obvious pointing to the quality of the course and especially the greens. Dunk could putt with the best of them but his ballstiking abilities were second to none in Australia during that era and the tight fairways and small greens as well as quality surfaces made the course an absolute haven for Dunk and his abilities. He stomped on his opponents and won the event in convincing fashion.

Those facts were not lost on me. I realized long from the tee was beneficial but long and straight was the ultimate. That’s what I had groomed my swing to produce. And these events as an almost 13 year old would be the start of my progression towards the attraction that golf has held over me for all these years.

The very first Friday Junior Golf event I competed in I was nervous and eager. I was playing with two boys slightly older than myself who would later become great friends- one in fact would become my brother-in-law. I remember peeling around the dog legs and kikuyu grass in a score of 89—a nett 62!!! My 27 handicap which I had at the time of that first junior competition wasn’t going to hold up long at this rate.

There were 7 Friday events during the holidays. I won 6 of them and came 2nd in the other one and by the end of my first summer as a member of Rossdale Golf Club my handicap had dropped down to 14.

I lived and breathed golf during those school holidays and was very happy to see my playing golf every day was allowing me to learn fast and put into practice my feel and instinct at what it took to hit a little white ball around. Apparently the members of the club noticed my exploits on the course that summer and I was asked to play with the captain and other committee members one Saturday afternoon. Junior members were restricted from playing on Saturday afternoons until they achieved an ‘A’ grade handicap which at the time was 14 and below. I felt it a great honour to be asked such a thing and proceeded to again play well and shoot a 78 from my 14 handicap – a nett 64. Little did I know that they were actually monitoring me as they thought I may have been cheating in the Friday junior events to be able to win prizes- as I mentioned I won 6 of the 7 junior competitions that summer earning pro shop vouchers in the process. So my afternoon round with the club hierarchy put to rest any cheating rumours in a quick hurry.

Summer holidays came and went and although the golf bug had hit me hard my first passion was still football. As summer moved to autumn and then onto winter Australian rules football took over as my pastime. I was 13 years of age and either trained for or played football 5 days of the week. After school, during school, on weekends, morning, noon and sometimes at night! Football was my game. Golf took a back seat until the football season had expired in September. Spring was coming and my golf clubs were being dusted off in preparation for another assault on lowering my handicap.

Each school day I couldn’t wait for the final bell to ring to chime to signal the end of another day behind the desk studying topics that I knew would have little bearing on my future life. School home work became a last minute exercise. Most mornings I would be scribbling my notes in my folder on the 15 minute train trip to Parkdale train station. At which point I would toss my book back in my bag and sling my bag on my shoulder and finish the final10 minute walk to school just in time to walk through the school gates as the morning bell was calling me to another day of Math and English and doodling imaginary golf course designs in the back of my Biology folder.

Whilst I was a decent student I never really liked having to be book smart. I always had a good intuition for daily occurrences and problem solving. To be told what to do by some supposed expert in words in a book took away the entire learning experience and I can honestly say even to this day I can barely remember anything I was meant to be learning whilst in the classroom. But every life memory I do remember was a direct result of traveling to weird and wonderful places with little knowledge of the region before touchdown. My life has been an entirely remarkable way to learn and grow from first hand experience. I have learned lessons that could never be taught in a classroom or can even never be learned online on a computer as children of today use to gather information.

Around this time I vividly remember being summoned to the front of my class by my math teacher to do an equation that had been chalked on the board and needed solving.

It was one of these x + y = z triangular multiplication equations that has never reared it’s ugly head in my life after school. It seems this type of question is a must teach in high school to make a student’s mind tick over and tremble with fear whilst evaluating an answer that won’t embarrass them in front of 30 other snickering students all watching and wanting you to fail when you are all alone with chalk in hand trying to figure out what sense any of these symbols make.

I scratched a few numbers and symbols with my piece of chalk working my way downwards until I was satisfied that I had given enough explanation as to my process of solving the equation and hopefully arriving at the correct answer for ‘z’ in my efforts.

I replaced the chalk in the crevice and stood back waiting for the teacher’s approval. “Well done”, she said. “You have given us the correct answer, however in this occurrence your method was out of sequence and you should have done this and this…”

I drowned her words out at that point with my mind wandering off to green pastures enveloped with sand bunkers and flagsticks showing the final destination of that little dimpled ball. Enthralled that I had got the answer correct, I had little desire in the process. I had solved the problem correctly. My only difference being in the way I worded it, or presented it. I believe the teacher was slightly upset that I was taking little notice of her guidelines for gaining the correct answer and called me aside at the end of class to discuss exactly how I achieved the answer I did. I believe the conversation ended with my telling her “Well I did get the correct answer and in hindsight all I really care about is if I should hit a 5 iron or a 6 iron”.

School holidays finally surfaced in mid December and with a few more rounds under my belt my handicap was still on the downward spiral. Shell Corporation in association with The Victorian Golf Association ran a series of events for junior golfers aged from 13 up to 17 during the school holiday period. Aptly named The Shell Schoolboys Events a player could enter up to 3 different events at a series of approximately 10 venues, with the winners of the events from each age group qualifying for the final. I did well in my events I chose to compete in and won all 3 for the under 14 age group receiving a medal and a ribbon for each success. The final was held at Long Island Country Club and it was the biggest tournament I had played in to date. With players from all over the state of Victoria competing it was a who who of junior golf and I was excited just to be able to make the final. Little did I know just how great the end result would be a few hours later.

I was paired with Greg Ellery, a 17 year old in the Under 18 division who from all accounts and word of mouth and whisperings around town was the ‘gun’ player. He had immaculate clubs, a great big golf bag, colour co-ordinated clotes, foot-joy alligator shoes and even wore a bracelet on his right wrist, long before that became the fashion.

I was nervous as can be as we were introduced on the first tee, especially as I was in the youngest age group competing and I had been thrust into his elite company for the grand finale event . The announcer called my name and I managed to rip a 3 wood down the fairway. My second shot found the green about 40 feet away. The Long Island greens were immaculate that day and I had never witnessed greens that were so fast to putt on. As luck would have it I drained the long putt on the first hole and I was away, embarking on the first round of golf that would put my name in the papers and give me the knowledge that just maybe I had a knack for playing the game of golf. I finished the round with a 4 over par 76. An excellent score considering the demands of the tight tree lined course and the fact I was only 13 years old at time. I won my under 14 age group division in a canter and incredibly had the best score of the day out of all the participants. A skinny 13 year old had shot a score that had beaten every 17 year old or younger in the entire state. My name got plastered in the news paper and I received another medal and rested easily that evening knowing I had done so well in my first foray into golf on a big stage. I could only hope that this was a sign of bigger things to come.

It was around this time that my handicap had reached single figures and was rapidly dropping due to my good play in the schoolboy events.

With my handicap tumbling I could also look at entering major amateur events in the region. There was no bigger amateur event then the State Amateur Championship. It consisted of 36 holes of qualifying where the best 32 scores would then advance to the match play format the following week in head to head competition until a winner was announced. It was the most prestigious event going and seeing I could enter on my own accord, I placed my entry and eagerly awaited the qualifying rounds in a few weeks time.

I honestly don’t remember where those two rounds took place but I do remember this. I was placing my golf bag on my pull cart and started walking over to the practice area or check-in area getting ready for my warm up. My Dad was walking alongside me through the car park. A gentleman came up to me and asked how old I was. “I have just turned fourteen years old”,I said. He said that was great and amazing and hoped I would learn a lot by caddying for my father in the event and it could perhaps get me interested in golf long term, as junior golfers are what the game is all about.

“I am not caddying, Sir”…I said…”I am playing, my father is caddying for me”.

He was literally amazed and from that day onwards said he would follow me with interest. The man’s name was Don Lawrence. Little did I know at the time he was considered the doyen of golf writers in Australia.

He has been credited with actually naming Jack Nicklaus “The Golden Bear”, a nick name that Nicklaus has used to great affect throughout his career as a logo and brand name for anything associated with the Nicklaus name.

Don Lawrence also took in a young Greg Norman to his home as a guest when Norman first appeared in the state of Victoria to play a professional event. Lawrence was walking from the press tent to his car at the end of the day and saw a blond man sitting on the edge of the curb, with his golf clubs and a travel bag of clothes sitting next to him. He asked this man where he was staying and if he needed a lift to his hotel. Norman introduced himself and replied he had nowhere to stay as it looks like his friends who he was going to share a room with that week had forgotten to come pick him up and his plans were now up in the air. Lawrence took his bags, placed them in his car and drove Norman to his house, which he would use as his ‘hotel’ for the week, free of charge.

I am proud to say that Don Lawrence become one of my closet friends over the upcoming years. He was in his 60’s and here I was in my teens, but we both had a passion for golf albeit in different capacities and were on the same wavelength in our views and our respect for anything golf. Over the years I would go to Don’s house for a visit whenever I was back in town. Just to say hello or shoot the breeze about my game and my thoughts. He would relate all these great stories about when he traveled the tours writing about the greats of Australian golf. Ossie Pickworth, Norman Von Nida, Peter Thomson all allowed him into their private circle whilst traveling the circuits in Australia and in the United Kingdom. Those stories were priceless to my education and learning as a golfer and I can’t thank him enough for what he shared with me. When Don Lawrence eventually succumbed to illness and passed away I was honoured to receive a vast collection of his personal golf books. All with notes and underlines of special passages he liked or had used in his writings. They don’t make golf scribes like him any more and he has been sorely missed by many.

I didn’t qualify for the top 32 in my first Victorian Amateur event, but I didn’t disgrace myself either and although disappointed not to advance it was a great learning experience.

By the spring of 1981 I was ready to enter my first major event at the Rossdale GC. The Junior Championship. I was 14 years of age and the Junior Championship stretched up to the age of 20 and under. So I was one of the youngest in the field but held my own and with 3 solid rounds I won the Junior Championship and received my first trophy emblazoned with the Rossdale Golf Club logo.

Little did I know what was just around the corner in the upcoming months. Another school year came and went and every waking hour was spent playing or practicing or chipping or putting. I had made some acquaintances from playing the Shell Schoolboy Events. Junior golfers like myself, who lived nearby but were members at other clubs in the area. One of those friends was Steven Earle. “Turtle’ as he became known was a golf tragic himself. He loved the game and had all the gear entitling him to look and play like a good golfer.

Earle was a member at Keysborough Golf Club not too far away from where I lived in Aspendale. We would get together and spend our days playing at Keysborough and at Rossdale, taking turns at being the ‘host’ for the day.

In early December 1981 we were about to head out and play at Rossdale. The course was relatively quiet and void of many players. When we used to make our treks down to the practice range for hours on end beating balls with all different swings and shots playing out in our mind, we would have our packed lunch in tow and a wireless radio blaring in the background playing songs from the radio. I presume we did this to avoid having to talk non stop tone another, so it broke the silence as we were working on our swings. On this early December date we hung the wireless radio over the handle of my pull cart and eased the volume up and headed to the first tee.

I was 14 years of age and had broken the par of 73 at Rossdale Golf Club maybe a couple of times to that date and was now down to an offical handicap of 4, but I never imagined the day I was about to have as I teed my ball up the par 5 first hole and got the round under way.

I don’t remember any of the round, in fact I don’t even remember which holes I birdied and which holes I parred. The scorecard, last time I looked, was still hanging up in the clubhouse at Rossdale Golf Club showing possibly the round of a lifetime for any 14 year old golfer the world over. I tore the course up that day. Nine birdies and nine pars for a 64. Nine under par !! The only tidbit I vividly remember is that I had only 23 putts for the day…Boy I wish I could putt like that these days!

Working off twenty three putts as a total that means I had thirteen one putt greens. So I hit fourteen greens in regulation. I birdied nine of the greens in regulation and must have salvaged par on the four greens I missed in regulation. In the end it was a day to remember, alas, I don’t remember any of it. I do have some photographs from the evening before, that my friend Turtle had snapped on the range and during a quick nine holes we played. I also have one photo from that day of me hitting a wedge approach into the second green, with the wireless radio in plain view hanging from my pull cart and my big red Spalding golf bag (just like Greg Norman had!!) sitting on the pull cart. It is great to view those old photographs even to this day, as it clearly shows great swing intentions that were learned from countless practice sessions and rounds of golf putting these theories into action.

Obviously buoyant with such a great round of golf, we went out and played another nine holes later on in the evening. The form wasn’t as good as I was still on a high from shooting such a score, but I do remember holing a wedge shot during that extra nine holes which was another highlight to add to the day.

The seventeenth hole at Rossdale Golf Club, because of the re-design two years earlier was set approximately a three hundred yard walk away from the eighteenth tee. In the path to the eighteenth tee was the second tee and the first green with the eighteenth tee tucked on the other side of those holes. Just for fun, and after we made sure there was no-one approaching that green, we would drop a ball beside the seventeenth green and get our wedges out and take dead aim at the flag positioned on the first green. We called it the seventeenth and a half hole. Measuring somewhere around 100 yards in length it was your classic non designable hole, seeing the line was obstructed by two strands of huge pine trees going over the second tee and approaching a green that ran diagonal to our position. It took a few playings of the hole to determine the exact club we needed to hit and the desired strength we needed to swing that club, but over time we realized it was a flat out sand iron or a three-quarter wedge, depending on the weather conditions.

That evening as the sun was dying a slow death in the sky I pulled out my sand iron, picked a nice lie and lofted the ball high into the sky. The raised green made it impossible to see the result of the shot but it was headed at it’s target so it wasn’t going to be too far away from my aim point- the flag. And sure enough when no ball was visible on the green after our cross country walk to that invented seventeenth and a half hole, we looked in the cup, and there it was. A ‘fake’ hole-in–one. Another memorable experience from a memorable day.

I again went on to win The Shell Schoolboys Events over the summer holiday period in 1981 for my age group of under 15.

With my handicap now down to a three I could also enroll in playing Open Amateur events. Throughout the year the majority of the clubs in Melbourne would hold their own Open Amateur event. Players on a handicap of four or below could enter these events. It was great practice to be able to pit yourself up against the best amateur golfers in the state. I, being a sponge for information, could now also get an up close view of the best golfers of my area and watch them up close and personal and see how they managed their games during an event.

In January 1982 some members of my club were traveling across town to Latrobe Golf Club for their annual amateur open event. I was asked to come along and play and seeing I now had a ride because others were heading that way I signed up. Latrobe was a tight tree lined course. Not overly long , but precision was needed to dissect the fairways and the greens were well guarded by bunkers and some elevation changes made for interesting club selections at times. I had previously played one of the Shell Schoolboy qualifying events there, so I knew the course and besides, practice rounds were pretty much not done in that day and age as preparation for an event.

I was again no doubt the youngest competitor in the field, weighing in at 14 years and 11 months of age. However after a nervous start to the first round I had ground it out for a 4 over par 76. Quick turn around were the norm for these events. With many players in the field you would sign your card, drop it off to the scoreboard, garb a sandwich and then head straight back out for the next 18 holes.

I had no idea where I stood after the first round. I was young and wasn’t expected to do any good so I just played away and did the best I could. In the second round I shot a 1 under 71.An excellent score by my reckoning and I was hopeful of maybe winning a toaster for best nett score. Amazingly my scores of 76-71 won the entire thing! I had won an Open Amateur event at the ripe old age of fourteen, which could well still be a record for such events in the state. I had to nervously stand up at a presentation ceremony and make a victory speech and then I received a big silver platter from the Latrobe club captain engraved with the name of the event and the best words of all- CHAMPION 1981

Whilst all the previous episodes were fantastic for a young man to learn from and experience, the next event to take place really shaped my life and outlaid the path my life would take.

On February 8 1982 I teed off in the Monday qualifying for The Victorian Open Championship at Keysborough Golf Club. the very same course that I played numerous times with my friend Steven Earle. Keysborough was a par 73 and had an excellent variety of short holes, long holes, doglegs, straight holes, par 5’s that you could reach in two shots if you were game enough and tightly bunkered par 3 and par 4 holes. Driving the ball straight was a necessity. Anyone who grew up on the Melbourne sand belt courses knows about tea-tree. These are more bushes than trees so they are probably inaptly named in that regard but very well named when you think about trying to avoid them with the tee shot.

These tea-trees were put on golf courses with one intention in mind. To swallow golf balls that were off target. There was no escape. Most visits to the tea-tree would result in a lost ball and if you were lucky you may well find your ball and be able to take a line of sight drop for an unplayable lie. This line of sight option was limited at times because the tea trees were built around the base of towering gum trees or pines and line of sight relief really offered little such relief most times because you would then be confronted with a 100 foot tree in your way to avoid with your next stroke. As such the tee shot at Melbourne golf courses was an important part of golf.

I was nervous as can be teeing off on the par 5 first hole and it showed by bogeying that hole straight out of the blocks. Nothing great was happening during the round. I expected I needed a good score of maybe 75 or better to advance to the tournament proper as there were only around 20 spots open for qualifiers and there was a lot of good players on the course that day.

In Australian PGA events of that era the top 60 players of the previous season were fully exempt to all events the following season. All other players were involved in Monday qualifying. If you made the event proper and subsequently made the cut you were straight into the following week’s event. If you played and missed the cut you were back out there on Monday trying to earn your place in the field.

The Victorian Open was one of the marquee events on the summer golf calendar. Transformed into a ‘star attraction’ by journalist and promoter Tony Charlton, The “Vic Open” attracted huge names in the golfing world. I remember going to the event when I was just starting out golf and had already been able to witness Arnold Palmer, Curtis Strange, Bobby Clampett and Greg Norman working their way around the tight fairways of The Metropolitan Golf Club in suburban Melbourne.

The guest celebrity player for the 1982 Victorian Open was Lee Trevino. I had watched Trevino on television late at night on many an occasion during the Pro Celebrity matches that he and Johnny Miller would play against one another on the great links courses of the UK.

Trevino and Miller would team up with a celebrity amateur of the entertainment world such as Sean Connery or Ronnie Corbett and play head to head nine hole matches with Peter Allis doing the commentary. Trevino as well as having major championships under his belt and being an incredible shotmaker was known for his banter and would talk with anyone who cared to listen between shots and even when he was hitting a shot. He could talk during his backswing and still hit shots that not many human beings could imagine, let along do with repetition.

I had been to Metropolitan Golf Club for a couple of lessons with Brian Twite who was a respected teacher and my father thought it would be good to hear swing thoughts from a more advanced teacher than I had seen at my local club where I was taught the basics. I did get to play a few holes at ‘Metro’ with Brian and the course astounded me, especially the fact that greats had walked it’s grounds in their quest for glory even dating back as far as 1936 when Gene Sarazen had won The Australian Open there.

I couldn’t think of anything better than to be able to taste Metropolitan in a professional tournament for myself. That option didn’t seem a reality however when in my qualifying attempt I hit my second shot on the par 5 16th hole at Keysborough into cross bunkers some 50 yards short of the green, already standing at 5 over par and in a poor position to improve on that.

I stepped into the bunker with my sand wedge in hand and with a quick glance wailed away. A splash of sand went up and the ball sailed out. Solid contact had been made. Through the haze of sand a ball suddenly appeared, lodging itself on the green four feet from the pin….Birdie…. Back to four over and desperate for at least one more birdie to close out the round.

Two pars however were the result and I signed for a 4 over 77. Not a bad effort for a 14 year old up against pro golfers and leading amateurs who had a lot more than a few days off school at stake hanging on the result. As luck would have it, scores kept returning to the clubhouse and my score was hanging on inside the cut off mark. Only a few more groups remained. Surely some cruel twist of fate couldn’t rob me of this dream of teeing it up with my idols in a major four round professional event. It didn’t. My score was exactly the perfect score to make the Victorian Open proper. No need for a playoff to determine the final spots. There was exactly 18 players on 77 or better and I was one of them.

A sleepless Monday night was followed by an early breakfast, get dressed and you guessed it….off to school!!

I didn’t know what to do. I had never played a professional event before and had no idea as to procedure. So, I just upped and went to school.

My parents were both working so my uncle picked me up after school and took me off to Metropolitan Golf Club to see what I had to do to get my playing credentials and my tee times for the event, so I could plan the rest of the week. I arrived at Metropolitan around 4pm and signed the registration form. Luckily I wasn’t 30mins later. The PGA had a clause in affect that players had to register and pay for the event before 4.30pm on the Tuesday otherwise they would lose their spot in the tournament and an alternate player would be called in to take their place. That was one lesson I learned early on about the rules of tournament golf and I made sure I was always on site and registered by Monday or Tuesday mornings at the latest for my future events when tournament golf became my way of life.

When I decided I would hit the driving range late that afternoon to hit a few balls to soak in the tournament atmosphere I was suddenly surrounded by photographers and reporters all wanting a picture and a story about my accomplishment.

I didn’t know it at the time, but they were telling me I was officially the youngest player to ever qualify and tee off in a major Australian PGA tournament. I was oblivious to all this 24 hours before but things had suddenly changed overnight.

I awoke to my name and face being splashed across the back page of every newspaper in the country and that took a little getting used to. I was always quiet and didn’t really like attention but this was something I couldn’t avoid and had to get used to in a hurry.

The phone rang and next minute I was being whisked away to school in a limo to do an interview for a local television station in the classroom surrounded by my classmates during a math class.

Then I was taken to the Hilton Hotel in Melbourne. Apparently Don Lawrence had set up a surprise for me and was waiting in the hotel lobby when I walked in. He lead me to a private room and lo and behold I was suddenly confronted by my hero Greg Norman and a birthday cake. This day happened to be February 10. It was my 15th birthday and Greg was celebrating his 27th birthday the same day. Don Lawrence had reached out to Greg and got the birthday picture organized and it was great publicity for me and the event. I mean how many 15 year olds can say Greg Norman came to their birthday party!!

I was then taken back to Metropolitan. I was so worn out and delirious with the day’s events I didn’t even hit balls. I walked a few holes of the pro-am event and got to see Lee Trevino live in person doing what he does best, entertaining the gallery with his game and his antics.

I was teeing off at 9.06am the following day with local pro Steve Youdan, who was amazingly the pro at Latrobe Golf Club where I had just won the open amateur event a few weeks previously, and with Bob Castles a local amateur player who was a member of the state team for Victoria and acknowledged as one of the top 8 amateur golfers in the state. I don’t remember sleeping that night but I must have because the alarm was ringing to wake me up for battle on the biggest stage I could have imagined at the time and showdown was just a few hours away.

With me on the tee was my friend from Rossdale, Rohan Dummett. He was a junior member at the club also and a terrific player in his own right. We linked up together by being the two junior members of the club that seemed to spend the most amount of time playing at practicing at Rossdale.

He lived directly across the outer fence of the golf course on the opposite border of the clubs confines. Over the years we would spend a lot of time playing, traveling together and he would eventually become my coach years later. It was only fitting that Rohan be my caddie for my first steps onto the world stage as a golfer.

The crowd had started to mingle around the first tee. Graham Marsh was teeing off directly in front of me. Marsh was a prolific winner all around the world of golf and his brother was the wicketkeeper and prolific run scorer for the Australian cricket team. The family Marsh was not short of talent and I was excited to be following in his footsteps around the course throughout the first round.

Marsh’s group teed off, but the people stayed around the first tee. I presumed they were now waiting for me to tee off and witness my first tee ball in exclusive competition. The butterflies arrived and the only way I could ease my tension was to swirl my PGF ‘Ziggy’ persimmon driver around in my fingers anxiously waiting for the clock on the tee to tick over to 9.06 am so I could hear my name being called and get this show on the road.

The time had come. I put the ball on the tee without juggling it to the ground. I took a deep breath, stood back and had a practice swing and addressed the ball. The clubhead moved back, I waited for the right moment to begin my downward move and thankfully persimmon hit balata and my ball sailed down the middle of the fairway and the journey had begun.

Metropolitan Golf Club in 1982 was a long course as far as yardage goes. Six par 4 holes measured over 440 yards which made it a beast of a course in 1982. The total yardage of the course was just over 7000 yards. Metropolitan’s greens were well bunkered and had a distinct pattern of having the greens edge run right up to the bunker edging. There was no fringe. It looked magnificent and sometimes seemingly good shots, chip and even putts could run off and into the bunkers at a moments notice if you were too greedy in your efforts to get too close to the hole.

I must have been pumped up as after my opening drive I only had an 8 iron to the green for my second shot. This was the same club as I had seen Greg Norman hit into that green in previous years. This was fun.

A nice solid two putt par. Another par on the second hole and then the third also produced a par. So far so good. The 4th hole was a par 5. I smashed a drive and hit a 3 iron onto the green and two putted for birdie. In red figures. I parred 5, 6 and 7 and then onto the par 5 eight hole. A long dog leg right. The drive had to be kept to the left side of the fairway so you could actually view the small elevated green that had bunkers left, trees right and a swale short to mess with less than perfect approach shots. I again pumped a drive and pulled my 3 wood out taking dead aim at the green with my second shot. I executed the shot to perfection and made the putting surface in two. Two putts later I was two under for the first eight holes and you could hear the buzz around the gallery as I stepped to the ninth tee.

The ninth hole at Metro is one of it’s toughest. 445 yards and doglegging to the right a fade tee shot was needed to get into good position to approach the undulating green to give yourself any chance of a birdie or a par.

It was on this hole in 1968 that Jack Nicklaus snapped his 5 iron with a second shot approach when his ball was too close to a tree after trying to cut the corner and finding the right hand trees. Nicklaus apparently decided he could reshaft his club after the round,so instead of chipping out and playing safe he opted to take dead aim and let the shaft break around the tree trunk in his effort to reach the green in regulation and salvage par. He did both, saving par and snapping his club.

I didn’t want to go the same route as Nicklaus. I hit a pretty fade around the bend and again had an eight iron to the green. As I think of it now I never used a yardage book or anything back at this point in my golfing life. My eyeballs made the decision a to what club I needed to hit and I could never self doubt myself using that as a measurement. There was no pre conceived ideas about what club to hit based on the correct yardage my book in my pocket told me. It was look, see, choose a club and hit it, based on instinct.

My instinct on the second shot was a yard off. My second shot headed directly at the flag but rolled one foot too far and caught one of those drop off areas where green meets bunker without interruption and just fell into the back bunker. I was only 15 feet from the pin but not in the ideal place.

As I walked up to the 9th green a large gallery had circled the green. The 9th green came back to the clubhouse so it was obvious that more people would be gathered in that area especially with grandstands circling the green for spectators to sit and watch a few groups at a time approach and depart.

Also next to the 9th green was a scoreboard with up to date information about how play was progressing out on the course. Right there near the top of the board I saw my name in bold print. Bradley Hughes with a big red 2 sitting next to it stating I was two under for my first eight holes. Well that scared me to death seeing my name on that board. Due to my age I wasn’t even meant to be playing in this event let alone appearing on the leader board, but there I was up in lights and it certainly dazzled me at the time.

Hundreds of people were around me now watching and hoping that I could continue my run. I stepped into the bunker with my sand iron and surmised the difficult situation. The face of the bunker was deep. The green sloped away from me all the way to the hole. About 12 feet past the hole was a deep tier in the green that would also send the ball another 30 feet farther away if the approach cam out too strong. Showing my true age and not thinking correctly, I got too cute with my bunker shot. In an attempt to play a flawless shot and make par, I left the ball in the sand back at my feet. Now I was faced with the same shot but also with the embarrassment on my shoulders of already having played once from this position. I took my medicine this time and played out more on the side of precaution. I two putted for double bogey and in a thud I was back to even par. Mind you if someone said I would be even par after 9 holes I would have gladly taken that and met everyone on the 10th tee. I lost my concentration a little after that episode and the entire back nine became a battle.

Two bogies and a birdie on hole 16 and a three putt double bogey at the par 3 13th put me at 3 over par standing on the eighteenth tee. Wanting a strong finish I unexpectedly become too aggressive with my tee shot and hit a violent hook into the left trees from where an unplayable lie amongst the tea tree was my only option at advancing the ball. I dropped outwards still in trouble, but managed to hit a big rope hook five iron up towards the green. That shot unfortunately hooked too much to find the narrow opening to the green and wound up in the front bunker. Now I faced a long 25 yard bunker shot with the hole positioned only a few feet beyond a huge tier in the green that would send my shot backwards towards me if I didn’t time it just right. I hit a beautiful long floating bunker shot carrying the tier and spinning up approximately 5 feet short of the hole. I managed to will the putt in for a bogey and walked off slightly disappointed. A four over par 76.Not bad at all, but oh..what could have been.

Round 2 was an entirely different day. I was mentally tired from all the attention and the juices just weren’t flowing at all. I peeled off bogey after bogey and threw a coupleof double bogeys in for good measure. The only highlight of the day being an eagle 3 on the par 5 fourth hole, where I had striped a 3 iron into 8 feet and made the putt.

My date with destiny was over for now.

On Saturday of the event I went back out and watched the tournament unfold. I still had my player’s badge in my hand so I wanted to get as much of the action as I still could, at least for another few days.

I trudged around behind the ropes watching my hero Greg Norman. During the 3rd round on Saturday. Graham Marsh was playing in the same group as Norman and I had wanted to see him play also, as he was an absolute star all around the world winning events in every corner of the globe. I had two bites of the cherry playing together to spy on and watch and hopefully learn from as I studied their swings and thoughts as they worked their way around moving day of the tournament.

On the fourth hole I had positioned myself ‘pin high’ with where the drives had finished so I could get a terrific view of their set up position and swing from a front on look. The fourth is a reachable par 5 and there was a wait as the group in front where still chipping around and putting out.

Greg Norman was walking directly towards our area behind the ropes. I thought he was going to stretch his legs or kill time by wandering around or even venture off to check the wind by looking down the fifth fairway. He stopped right in front me and dragged me out under the ropes. Wow!!.He remembered me and wow!! how first hand and up close can you get?

I was now walking the fairways with Norman and Marsh basically being chaperoned around. They were both talking to me and letting me in on club selections and caddie talk before the shot was selected. How could you not learn incredible insights into golf when you are offered that type of free tuition?

Graham Marsh even asked me about my eagle on that same fourth hole the previous day and what club I used to pitch in with for my eagle. When I informed him I had hit a drive and a 3 iron to 8 feet and made the putt he was dazzled. I guess he couldn’t believe a kid two days removed from his 15th birthday could hit the ball that far. Just as far as him I suppose when I learned by my observations what clubs he was hitting from certain areas of the course.

It was a truly amazing week. All the above and then Lee Trevino said hello to me on the practice green and had a few putt putt holes with me. I wished it wouldn’t end but it did. The weekend was over. Mike Clayton, a Metropolitan member in his amateur days who had only recently turned pro upstaged the stars in taking out the title. Monday morning was fast approaching and that meant school was back in session.

The following week was The Australian Masters at Huntingdale. I didn’t get to miss any school that week but did get out to watch Saturday’s play. I of course headed straight towards the Greg Norman group. He was playing with Tommy Nakajima, the Japanese player who I remembered from a few years previous from The British Open at St.Andrews. Nakajima was in contention coming to the 17th green ‘The Road Hole’ and proceeded to hit is long approach from the front of the green off line and the contours of the green gathered it and swept it into the bunker. Four bunker shots later he evacuated Road bunker and putted out sending him rocketing down the leader board.

I arrived on the 4th hole of their round and got right behind the tee. The 4th at Huntingdale is a sweeping dogleg to the right where most players just place an iron down the fairway towards the fairway bunkers and leave themselves an 8 or 9 iron approach. Norman must of decided it was ‘go time’ and had the driver in hand. I watched in amusement as he lined up over the huge gum trees bordering the right side of the hole taking dead aim at the green. There it was, the big wide takeaway, the downcock of the hands, the club dropping directly into the slot, the right foot beginning to slide giving out to his aggressive body action and WHAM!... the ball took off almost heading directly at the 3rd tee on a low altitude. Instinctively as it neared the gum tree in it’s path, the ball fizzed and climbed and cleared the gum tree out of sight. I stood there in amazement. Nakajima hit off and I took off immediately down the gallery ropes in search of just where Norman’s ball had ended up. It came into view just short of the front bunker leaving him a relatively simple up and down for birdie and the charge had begun. Norman again pulled out driver on the short par 4 5th hole and proceeded to knock that in that front bunker and made another birdie. Nakajima to his credit also tonked his driver on the 5th hole and actually put it on the green. Over 300 yards away with the old persimmon woods and balata balls. It was as I was walking down the 5th fairway Norman again saw me in the gallery and brought me out into the fairway to view proceedings up close and personal. What a treat. People then began to recognize who I was from my playing in The Victorian Open the week before. I was a little embarrassed and after the 9th hole drifted off back under the ropes and went and watched some other players. I was thankful for Norman giving me the opportunity to get such an up close look at tournament golf but I also realized he had his own job to do and didn’t want to get in his way and diminish his concentration on performing in the tournament. Norman didn’t win this one but Graham Marsh did, so I felt some sort of victory in his winning also seeing he had been so nice to me the previous week

Penned For My Memoirs- A Life In Golf