With Stuart Appleby holding the third round lead at the Masters, I thought it was a good time to revisit a piece I wrote about playing with the Australian for PGATour.com a few years back. It was a great experience, with Appleby’s restrained, but friendly, personality shining through. I hope he wins Sunday, though I expect he probably won’t.
Playing a round with affable Appleby
Watching Stuart Appleby up close is an awe-inspiring [photopress:appleby.jpg,full,alignright]experience for any golfer who at some point has considered themselves even partially proficient at the game.
The ease with which he coils his shoulders and smoothly transfers his weight, thumping the little white ball well into the fairway is awe-inspiring. Unless you have to tee it up chasing him in a tournament — then Appleby’s swing is something to fear.
Playing in pro-ams with a PGA TOUR player is always a little bit like Christmas morning. You look forward to it for weeks, but when the event actually occurs there’s always the possibility of being disappointed. In this case, the disappointment doesn’t reside with receiving a bad winter sweater. Rather, it has everything to do with embarrassing yourself in front of someone who has mastered something so difficult.
I had the opportunity to tee it up with Appleby earlier this summer when he was in Toronto at the Altamira Charity Challenge, a golf exhibition that featured the likes of Shaun Micheel, Craig Stadler and organizer Peter Jacobsen.
It wasn’t the first time I’d had the good fortune to play a game of golf with a PGA TOUR pro. In the past, I’ve been lucky enough to hit the links with Kirk Triplett and Matt Gogel, as well.
These are experiences I’ll remember all my life. Triplett, dressed as Tiger Woods as a Halloween stunt, wanted to talk about Toronto, having spent time playing the Canadian Tour. He also gave each person in our group a tip on how to improve his game. Gogel spent time talking about his equipment and how difficult it was to fine a driver that worked for him.
Although every player I’ve spent time on the course with was friendly, I still find it a daunting experience to tee it up with a PGA TOUR pro.
When you hit the course with a seasoned golfer like that, you quickly find out just how far removed a good amateur is from the realms of the best in the world. When I teed it up with Appleby, alongside a mutual fund CEO, a marketing director and a television sportscaster, I was playing to a solid 2 handicap. But once I watched the Aussie bust one off the first tee, I knew he was in a league with which I couldn’t ever compete.
Thankfully, given that some in our group were standing on the first tee feeling tighter than a cork in a wine bottle, Appleby turned out to be friendly and fun. He loosened up our group, something we needed badly. After all, there’s nothing like adding several hundred spectators to the mix to make a bunch of weekend hacks look like they’ve never picked up a club. Thankfully no spectators were hurt in the first few holes, giving our group an opportunity to get to chat with Appleby, relax and keep a few balls in play.
Even with his outgoing Australian nature, it was hard not to recall that the 33-year-old Appleby had undergone a personal hardship few have experienced at such a young age. In 1998, just after the British Open, Appleby’s wife, Renay, was killed in a freak car accident while unloading luggage in London, England. I’m a month younger than Appleby and am relieved to say that I haven’t experienced anything like what Appleby went through following his wife’s death. I hope I never do.
Perhaps not surprisingly, Appleby struggled immediately after Renay’s death. He has since remarried, though, and is now is regarded as one the best players in the world.
“A few years ago, you couldn’t ask him to do these things,” Jacobsen says, referring to corporate outings. “But he’s such a great guy. I’m glad he’s doing so well.”
Appleby was affable throughout our round. It’s a good thing he was — the game lasted almost six hours, more time than I like to spend golfing with anyone.
The highlight of the day came, not surprisingly, from the pro golfer in our midst. After hitting a tee shot into a greenside pond on the par-4 fourth hole, Appleby picked up and coached our group through the rest of the hole. On the following hole, a 176-yard par 3, he hit a little riser that finished over a slope in the green and found the back of the cup for a hole-in-one.
Given his level temperament, Apple didn’t get overly excited about what had just transpired. As opposed to weekend players, who can tell you the exact distance and ball spin that resulted in their ace, Appleby couldn’t even recall the last time he pulled the feat off.
On the next hole, a mid-length par 4, the tall Aussie drove the green and tapped in an 18-inch putt for eagle to go 1-2 on his card. As a spectator and playing partner, I watched this unfold with wide eyes, full of excitement and fascinated by the ease with which Appleby played the game.
It is hard to imagine anything better.