Ian Woosnam’s painful progress

February 26, 2008

From the "Golf365" website

After the stresses and strains of the Ryder Cup – and the celebrations, of course – Ian Woosnam wanted 2007 to be the year when his life returned to normal and he showed he was still a force to be reckoned with on the golf course.  

It wasn't. In many ways it was his annus horribilis. Look for Woosnam's name on the final European Order of Merit and after reading through 370 names from Justin Rose to Kariem Baraka you still won't find it. He never earned a penny.

Suffering from what was eventually diagnosed as post-viral chronic fatigue syndrome he played just six events, did not survive a single cut and after the European Open back at the K Club in the first week of July did not make another appearance.

Simply getting out of bed was hard some days.

At last, though, Wales' former world number one, the man who won the Masters in 1991, is about to return to action.

This coming Sunday Woosnam is 50 and three days later he will be making his debut on the European Seniors Tour at the DGM Barbados Open.

"A few more days left and I'll be at it again," said the relieved Welshman, who admits there were times last season when he wondered if he would ever be fit enough to play competitively again.

"The thing was I didn't know what it was. I kept fearing it was my back."

In 1987 Woosnam was told he had the spinal disease ankylosing spondylitis and although weekly injections he started 18 months ago had eased the pain there was no knowing if there was a connection to the tiredness.

"Even at the end of the day when they say chronic fatigue syndrome – ME – or whatever you're still not convinced, but you have to put it down to that. After 30 years travelling the world my body said to me it's had enough.

"Just after the Ryder Cup I started feeling tired – obviously it was all very stressful – and I got a virus when I went from Barbados to Thailand. I think it put me over the top. I've not been right since.

"I tried different treatments, but it's a long, slow process. You've basically got to do nothing and that's very difficult. I tried to play a bit in Jersey on a cart, but the problem was that when I was walking my legs would get tired and my whole body would then get tired.

"It's one of these things when you've got to do half what you think you can do. I tried to go in the gym and do a little bit, but it just knocked me backwards. You've got to learn your own body and know how much it can take.

"Even now I've got to watch what I'm doing, but the good thing about the first event is that it's played in golf buggies."

And also that it is on the Caribbean island where Woosnam spends much of his winters with his wife Glendryth.

"I've still got ambitions and on the US Champions Tour there's quite a bit of money on offer, but first of all I've got to enjoy it and if I'm not then it's a waste of time.

"I haven't played properly for a year and I can't expect too much – it could take months to get into it. It's all right playing some friendly stuff, but all of a sudden having a card in your hand is a totally different ball game, so I've got to get used to that again.

"My mind's got to be right and that's another part of this ME thing, concentrating tires you out as well. I've just got to get into it and I'm not going to put too many hopes on doing well quickly."

One tournament Woosnam will certainly not be preparing a winner's speech for is The Masters, now only six weeks away.

He has not made the halfway cut there since 2000 and the lengthening of the Augusta National course has done him no favours, but that did not affect the massive disappointment he felt when he travelled there last year after practising in South Carolina, only to be forced out before the start with spasms in his hips.

"There'll be no using a buggy there and that will be my first test really, but I just hope it doesn't happen again because I'm really looking forward to it. I always do."

During his long absence, of course, the race for places in Nick Faldo's Ryder Cup team has begun to take shape and that brings back all the memories – good and bad – from two years ago.

The bad was most definitely the mauling Woosnam took from Thomas Bjorn after his wild cards were given to Lee Westwood and Darren Clarke and not the Dane.

Bjorn described his former team-mate – indeed his partner at Valderrama in 1997 – as "barmy", calling his captaincy "the most pathetic I have ever seen" and adding: "It sure doesn't seem as if he is burdened with too many leadership qualities."

Those comments brought a £10,000 fine, but also led to Woosnam needing the support of the team to continue in the job and seeing it through to what turned out to be a record-equalling nine-point thrashing of the Americans.

"I was all right until I got to Germany (for the announcement of his two picks). I was really enjoying what I doing up until that point, but what Thomas said really, really, really knocked me sideways.

"I'd always got on with him, but when I walked into that press room people don't really know how I felt. It was a hard decision because I am really close to the players. I was really nervous about it. I was going to be gutted whichever one I left out.

"There was a lot of writing about it, but it turned out right for me. Darren won three out of three, Lee four out of five. Darren was inspirational – brilliant."

Clarke had lost his wife Heather to breast cancer a mere six weeks earlier.

"It made the team very close and that's the way I wanted it to play out. They give 100 per cent any way, but because of that they gave even more. When I look back at the dvd everybody seemed to really enjoy it – despite the weather."

The fatigue that followed stopped him from basking in the glory.

"After winning the Ryder Cup it was going to be my last full year on tour and I didn't have the chance to get out there and do what I wanted. That was disappointing, but I've got a new challenge coming up and life's a lot better now."

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