US Open champ Ogilvy back from Down Under and back to golf
By DOUG FERGUSON
PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. (AP) No matter what golf course design Geoff Ogilvy had in his head or on paper, he spent the better part of three years staring into a computer screen for video calls on those projects until he realized what he had been missing.
"Golf is still the best job I've ever had," Ogilvy said Thursday. "I'd prefer to do it while I still can - if I still can. I don't know. I feel like I can."
To that job he has returned, filled with more anticipation than expectations.
Ogilvy, the former U.S. Open champion at Winged Foot and a three-time winner of World Golf Championships, is at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am this week, the first of what he hopes is enough tournaments to give him a reasonable chance to get back into the game.
He opened with a 2-under 70 at Pebble Beach, with some magic on the final hole.
A cold, raging wind off the ocean pushed his second shot well right of the green and blocked by a tall Monterey Cypress tree. He had a 10-foot window to carry a bunker and avoid going into more sand along the sea wall. The pitch came out to 3 feet for a birdie.
It wasn't as memorable as his pitch up the hill to the 18th at Winged Foot for a par that turned into a winner at the 2006 U.S. Open. At this moment, it was pleasing.
"There's some pretty good stuff in there," he said.
The odds are not in his favor. Ogilvy turned 45 last year - one reminder of that was one of his PGA Tour pension plans kicked in because he stopped playing a full schedule five years ago - and this is increasingly a young man's game. Eight of the top 10 players in the world are in their 20s. The oldest is top-ranked Rory McIlroy at 33.
Ogilvy moved his family to his native Australia in 2019. He wanted his three children to experience the joy he had growing up in Melbourne, to broaden their experience, and that part was a big hit. So was living Down Under, where his OCM Golf Course Design thrived.
Ogilvy has three projects in the United States, the most notable the No. 3 course at Medinah in the Chicago suburbs, which has hosted the U.S. Open, the PGA Championship and the 2012 Ryder Cup. Next up for Medinah is the Presidents Cup in 2026.
He says there isn't one factor that made him itch for competition, though eventually he stopped in mid-sentence and cut to the heart of it.
"I missed it, to be honest. I missed the tour," he said. "You undervalue it when you've had it for 20 years, or whatever I had it for. It's a pretty nice thing to play out here."
He returns at a chaotic time in golf with the entrance of Saudi-funded LIV Golf and the PGA Tour's response by creating more tournaments for the top players with $20 million purses and bonus programs to make the PGA Tour as attractive as ever.
He was effectively retired from competition after 2018, when he missed 14 of 16 cuts and was increasingly jaded by tour life and the quality of his play. He has mostly played in Australia, most recently the TPS Victoria, a winter event he hosts.
He never had to face the temptation of LIV, though without retirement, Ogilvy might have fit the profile. He didn't pursue it and no one pursued him.
"I was probably a bit invisible from golf at that point," he said.
He was at the Masters last year to meet people for his design work, right about the time LIV Golf was placing tempting offers in front of players.
"It was like, 'Wow, I'm glad I'm not there because that's a tough decision.' Both were right decisions and both were wrong decisions," Ogilvy said. "It was almost like win-win, lose-lose all at the same time. It's awkward what they put everyone in. So I'm sort of glad I didn't have to deal with all that."
And then after a brief pause he added with a laugh, "But I'm glad I've come back now and the prize money has doubled."
His only status is as a past champion, though Ogilvy is likely to get a few exemptions and other tournaments will have room for him. For now, it's about getting his legs back and, in runners' terms, logging the miles.
Staying active and keeping busy are not the same. Ogilvy did a lot of sitting - a product of all those video calls on OCM projects - and it took a toll. He need a break from golf, for sure, but with the lockdown in Australia from the COVID-19 pandemic, it was too much.
"I was just sort of sitting in Zoom meeting after Zoom meeting and thinking, `What am I doing? Why don't just go play golf?'" he said. "It's not the easiest thing to get back out here, so I have no real expectations. I just wanted to come over and have a crack."
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Updated February 3, 2023