Wilson back at The Open after years in the dark
From beating Phil Mickelson in the Ryder Cup to limping around the Challenge Tour missing cuts, Oliver Wilson’s journey from Valhalla to Carnoustie has been an arduous one.
The 37-year-old was once seen as a potential major champion but when he tees off on Thursday morning, it will be his first shot in one of the game’s four biggest tournaments in eight years.
Plenty has happened since. A first European Tour win came in 2014 but that was a rare highlight among a dark period which saw him lose his European tour card twice, re-model his swing and fall into Q-School.
But a storming performance in Final Qualifying at Notts Hollinwell, just a mile from where he grew up, has re-invigorated his game and boosted his confidence – vindicating the decision to carry on when he could easily have quit.
“I have given up on thinking like that. I knew I was still capable but whether the desire was still there is a different story,” he said.
Counting down to Thursday...😊 pic.twitter.com/3QvDoPV7ef— Oliver Wilson (@Oliver_Wilson) July 17, 2018
“I did not have a game to compete for years, I struggled with my driver so much that I could not get it round a golf course.
“That creeps into the rest of your game and when it becomes that hard, you don’t want to play – it is miserable, it is lonely and it gets you down.
“It changes your personality and changes you as a person. I had had enough of that but I have worked through it and here I am.
“I know my game is good in practice, better than I ever have been but there is some scar tissue in there that I need to get rid of in competition.”
It is easy to forget just how highly-rated Wilson was. It was far from a shock when he and Henrik Stenson beat Mickelson and Anthony Kim in the foursomes at Valhalla but just three years later he lost his European Tour Card.
He admits he almost quit the sport in 2014 before receiving an invitation to the Alfred Dunhill Links, which he went on to win – setting a then-course record at Carnoustie with a 64.
But that proved to be just a brief reprieve from the toil and two years later he lost his European Tour Card for a second time.
Golf became a struggle and his happiness suffered. Wilson’s game seemed to be in an irreversible decline and at Christmas he again opted to consider his future.
One more go was his decision, and it’s paid off handsomely. His game is improving and, in Final Qualifying, he was a cut above the rest.
“My goal at the beginning of the year was to enjoy golf again and find a standard that I knew I compete with,” the world number 1983 added.
“If I couldn’t then I was not interested in doing it. But it has been fun to play golf in the last four weeks and to be honest I don’t know if I have ever enjoyed it, even when I have played my best.
“You enjoy being outside, and when you hole out are done there is some satisfaction but during tournaments I would never say I have enjoyed it.
“But at Hollinwell, I genuinely had fun and liked it. I did not want it to end and I don’t think I have ever said that in my career.
“You enjoy walking in if you have won or shot great scores but during the round, that is the first time I have ever had fun actually being out there.
“That has been my goal this year, to enjoy golf.”
Wilson’s history at Carnoustie stands him in good stead and with the fairways as slick as greens, the driver is likely to remain in the bag for much of the week.
The wind blew Wilson out of contention when The Open last visited the Angus coast in 2007, but conditions are likely to be kinder to him this time around.
Wilson added: “I have no expectation. I just want to go out and put a couple of rounds together and see what happens. When I have had that attitude, I play my best.”
After years of frustration, struggle and pain, for Wilson just being out there is good enough.
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